New Section of Polish Righteous Website: Jews in Hiding on the “Aryan Side”

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 8th October 2021
October 15th marks the 80th anniversary of an ordinance, issued by the Germans in occupied Poland, in which – on penalty of death – Jews were forbidden from leaving ghettos and Poles were banned from helping them. On the anniversary of this regulation, which determined the fate of Jews on the “Aryan side”, as well as the ability of Poles to help them, we devote a new section of our Polish Righteous website in which we discuss this context of the Holocaust. We discuss, in detail, the many aspects on the experience of Jews in hiding during the German occupation (1939–1945). In studies by scholars and researchers of the Holocaust, incl. Barbara Engelking and Justyna Kowalska-Leder, we present the types and characteristics of hiding places, we compare the conditions of hiding in cities and in the provinces, we present individual stories and related souvenirs from POLIN Museum collection. October 15th is also the Refugees Solidarity Day in Poland, which – in the face of the current humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border – prompts us to interpret the fate of Jews seeking help in a universal way.

“We decided not to leave the field, even at night, so that no one would notice our presence. [...] There was heavy rain at seven [o’clock] and we got wet. We waited for the rain to stop until one in the morning. We were exposed to the downpour for six hours, but it didn’t stop. We left the field and went to our peasants. He was afraid to shelter us in his home and put us in a potato hold where we spent the whole day. The darkness didn’t allow me to write. [...] A cold wind was blowing. We waited for the moment when the sun would come out and warm our frozen bodies. [...] Constant rainstorms flattened the grain in the field. As a result, we were noticed by a passing peasant. [...] I don’t know if I can continue writing my diary. For all I know, these could be my last words. I’m stopping now because it’s raining,” wrote Arie Klonicki, who was hiding in a field near the village of Trybuchowce near Tarnopol in 1943. He, his wife Malwina and his sister-in-law, whose name we do not know, were killed in January 1944.

The 80th anniversary of the ordinance, in the General Government, which, under penalty of death, banned Jews from leaving ghettos

The ordinance, which imposed “the death penalty for Jews leaving a ghetto and for Poles helping them”, was issued on 15th October 1941, by Governor Hasns Frank in Kraków. It aimed at completely isolating Jews from the “Aryan Side” as well as depriving them from any contact with the external environment:

“(1) Jews, who leave their assigned district without authorisation, are subject to the death penalty. The same punishment applies to people who knowingly provide such Jews with a hiding place.

(2) Instigators and helpers are subject to the same punishment as the perpetrator. An attempted act will be punished as a committed act. In less severe cases, imprisonment or harsh imprisonment can be ordered.

(3) Judgments are made by Special Courts.”

In the following months, similar regulations were issued in all districts of the General Government. They determined the futher fate of Jews who had not yet been ordered to move to a ghetto or who had risked reaching the “Aryan side” after having been locked up in a ghetto. In a study devoted to the death penalty, we have written, in detail, about the consequences of the German regulations on Poles helping Jews. 

The largest wave of Jews from the ghettos took place a few months later, in the period preceding their liquidation or immediately after it - that was mainly in 1942. The liquidation of a ghetto meant the deportationof it inhabtantsto extermination centres or the murdering of some of them on the spot. In order to survive, Jews had to hide on the "Aryan side" or change their identity.  

New Section on this Subject on the Polish Righteous Website

What was it that increased Jews’ chances of survival on the “Aryan side”? Where were they hiding in the villages and where in the cities? What did their day-to-day lives look like in hiding? What threats and dangers did they face? How many Jews survived the War in hiding? Where are their hiding placesd in Poland?

The experiences of Jews hiding on the "Aryan side", which is an important context for the stories of aid published on the Polish Righteous portal, are published in the new section on this subject [online from 15th October 2021].

In it, we publish studies which develop, in detail and in many aspects, selected issues. We cpompare the hiding of Jews in villages (Prof. Barbara Engelking) and in cities (Dr. Martyna Grądzka-Rejak). We discuss the typology and characteristics of the hiding places (Dr. Marta Cobel-Tokarska). We write about the cupboard as a symbol of hiding in Polish cullture (Prof. Justyna Kowalska-Leder) and about the living conditions in hiding (Joanna Król-Komła, together with Krzysztof Bielawski and Klara Jackl). We present the specificity of hiding in cemeteries and about those hiding places which still exist today in Poland (Krzysztof Bielawski), as well as the forms and commemorations of such places (Dr. Natalia Romik). The section is supplemented by the histories of selected hiding places (from our collection of stories of aid).

Grafika promująca nową zakładkę na portalu Polscy Sprawiedliwi; widoczne zdjęcia przedstawiające Abrama Grinbauma i Helenę Garbarek w kryjówce. Gąbin, ok 1945. Fot. ŻIH

In all the studies, we cite extensively the accounts of Jews hiding on the “Aryan side”, presenting their experiences through the prism of individual lives. The texts are illustrated with carefully selected photographs and the most valuable memorabilia from POLIN Museum collection, from other institutions and archives or from private collections. They include rare photographs of Jews in hiding, letters written in secret, or archival drawings and contemporary reconstructions of hiding places.

The Universal Dimension of the History of Jews in Hiding on the “Aryan Side”

October 15th is also the Refugees Solidarity Day in Poland. In the light of the current humanitarian crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, this day prompts us to interpret the fate of Jews in hiding, in this section, on a universal basis – to think about people who need help today and to actively act on their behalf.

“I firmly believe that, in Usnarz Górny [on the Poland-Belarus border – ed.], some Mrs Wyrzykowska is saving people, and that we’ll never know about her. […] I am deeply convinced that, somewhere in secret, some Mrs Wyrzykowska is keeping them  in a hiding place under a pigsty or in a barn. She is leading them along some side road, somewhere, to a place where they will be allowed to live”, said Konstanty Gebert, during a ceremony on the Warsaw Garden of the Righteous, on 23rd September 2021, referring to the story of Antonina Wyrzykowska, Righteous Among the Nations.

We dedicate this new section to refugees – people who wander through woods and in fields on the Poland-Belarus border, like those cited by Arie Klonicki, and to those who help them despite the difficulties. We are guided by the words of Marian Turski, a Holocaust Survivor and co-founder of POLIN Museum, who, during the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz added “XI Thou Shalt Not Be Indifferent”.

» Read New Section of Our Website: Jews in Hiding on the “Aryan Side” [online from 15th October 2021]