"Protest!" – 75 years ago Zofia Kossak condemned the Holocaust

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 11th August 2017
11th August 1942 – the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto (the Gross Aktion) had already been underway for twenty days. As part of the German "Operation Reinhardt" in occupied Poland, a mass extermination of Jews was taking place in death camps. That day, on the streets of Warsaw, a pamphlet entitled "Protest!", was distributed by the underground Polish Revival Front. It author, writer and columnist Zofia Kossak, was known before the War for her anti-Semitic views. She appealed to Poles to condemn the crimes being committed against Jews. On the 75th anniversary of this appeal, POLIN Museum is displaying originals of this pamphlet from its collection.


       In the Warsaw Ghetto, behind walls cutting them off from the rest of the world, several thousand condemned people await death. For them, there is no hope of rescue, no one to help them. Executioners roam the streets, shooting anyone who dares leave their home. They also shoot at anyone who stands at their window. The streets are strewn with unburied bodies.

      The daily quota of victims is 8,000-10,000. Jewish policemen have the responsibility of delivering them into the hands of German executioners. If they fail to do so, they will also perish. Children, without the strength to go themselves, are loaded onto carts which is so brutal they very few arrive at the ramp alive. Mothers watch in hysteria. The number driven mad with depair and terror equals the number shot dead.

      Railway wagons wait at the ramp. Their executioners stuff the condemned 150 to each wagon, on the floor of which is a thick layer of lime and chlorine covered in water. The doors to the wagons are sealed. Sometimes, the train leaves immediately after loading. Sometimes, it is moved into a siding where it stands for a whole day, two days... By now, this is of no significance to anyone. In the tightly packed wagon, those who die remain standing shoulder to shoulder with the living, who are slowly dying from the mists of lime and chlorine, a lack of air, a drop of water and food – no one remains alive anyway. Wherever and whenever these death trains arrive at their destination, very few remain alive.

        An early demise would be a relilef from such an agiony. The executioners knew this. All the pharmacies within the ghetto confines were closed to prevent them from providing poisons. There were no wepons. All that remained was to leap out of a window onto the pavement, an action taken by many in order to thwart their executioners.

      What is happening in the ghetto is a repetition of what had been happening, over the previous half year, in hundreds of bigger and smaller Polish towns. The total number of those killed has already passed one million, with that number growing daily. All are perishing - the rich and the poor, the old, women, men, youth and infants. In the name of Jesus and Mary, Catholics are dying just like Orthodox Jews. The crime of being born a Jew was being punished, by Hitler, with the death penalty.

    The entire world watches these crimes, the worst in history, and remains silent. The slaughter of millions of defenceless people is met with a universal, portentous silence. The executioners remain silent, not wishing to boast of their deeds. England and America remain silent. Even influential, international Jewry, which is sensitive to anything detrimental to it, remains silent. Poles also remain silent. Polish politicians, friendly to Jews, restrict themselves to diary notes. Poles antogonistic to Jews declare themselves disinterested in a matter which does not concern them. Dying Jews are surrounded by Pilates washing their hands. That silence can no longer be tolerated. Whoever remains silent in the face of murder becomes an acomplice to that murder. Whoever does not condemn, consents.

     Therefore, we, Polish Catholics, speak out. Our feelings towards Jews has not changed. We will continue to consider them as political, economic and idealistic enemies of Poland. Furthermore, we realise that they hate us more than they do the Germans, that they are responsible for their misfortune. Nonethless, a confirmed fact is that, being aware of this fact does not discharge us from the duty of condemning a crime.

      We do not wish to be Piłates. We do not have the ability to actively counteract these German murders. We can give no advice. We cannot rescue anyone. But, with our hearts filled with mercy, indignation and terror, we protest. God demands us to protest – God, who forbids us to kill. A Christian conscience is necessary. Every human being is entitled to the love of their neighbour. Defenceless blood calls to the heavens for vengeance. Whoever is not with us in this protest is not a Catholic.

      At the same time, we protest as Poles. We do not believe that the taking back of Poland can benefit from these German atrocities – to the contrary. In the stubborn silence of international Jewry, in the efforts of German propaganda to counter the odium behind the slaughter of Jews in Lithuania and ...  Poles, we sense the planning of an operation hostile to us. We also know how poisonous a criminal culture is. The forced participation of the Polish nation in this bloody event, carried out on Polish soil, can breed an apathy towards harm, sadism and, above all else, a dangerous conviction that it is permissible to murder our neighbours with impunity.

      Whoever does not understand this and links a proud, free future of Poland with a despicable joy at the misfortune of his neighbour – is therefore neither a Catholic nor a Pole.


Read more about the circumstances which surrounded the publication of the "Protest" pamphlet

The story of Zofia Kossak, co-founder to the Council to Aid Jews "Żegota", a Righteous among the Nations