European resistance movements towards the Holocaust — the first day of the conference

The conference devoted to the European resistance movements towards the Holocaust closes the first day of the conference entitled “Being a witness to the Holocaust”.

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The conference devoted to the European resistance movements towards the Holocaust closes the first day of the conference entitled “Being a witness to the Holocaust”. Speakers from Poland and other countries took part in the event.

The conference, chaired by dr Krzysztof Persak, started with the speech given byClaire Zalc. The researcher talked about different reactions of Jews against the persecution in occupied France. The speaker shared her findings which allowed her to identify variables, such as social background, time spent in France, gender. Such data had an influence, positive or negative, on taking up resistance actions against the German terror. Zalc also talked about the significance of micro-history in research of the mechanisms behind the Holocaust.

Dr Adam Puławski took up in his speech the subject of the problem of the attitude of the Polish Underground State towards the Holocaust. The researcher remarked that the leaders of the Underground State had been convinced that publicizing the German genocide of Jews would be enough to effectively limit its scale. However, he noticed that the information about what happened to Jews in Poland was dispatched to the State in London casually, without any suggestions on what should be done or without asking for any suggestions on prevention. Till September 1942 numerous statements and appeals issued by officials of the Polish Underground to the Polish were only about Polish matters. Only on 17th September the first statement was issued that referred to the extermination of Jews (conspirational press had written about the extermination of Jews since mid 1941). Dr Puławski raised a question if the silence of the Polish government in London on the subject of “the Great Liquidation Action” in 1942 was not an element of his conscious politics. According to the speaker, the current state of the research does not allow us to give an unambiguous answer to this question.

The subject of the reaction of the Ukrainian guerilla warfare to the Holocaust was brought up by prof. Grzegorz Motyka. He highlighted the fact that it is still a very politicized subject and the standpoints taken by Ukrainian and Western European researchers could be extremely different. Their opinions are divided, among others, by the attitude towards the issue of Jews joining the Ukrainian Insurgents Army, who decided so because they hoped it would rescue them from the German occupier’s actions. According to the Ukrainian historians, when the situation during the war had changed and their country was again taken by the Red Army, Jews were released from the guerilla warfare and were allowed to leave in peace. The opponents claim that the vast majority of them was then murdered by the UIA guerillas. Prof. Motyka tends to support the second version of the events, emphasizing that there are only w few cases that we know of when Jewish guerrillas managed to survive.

A different view on the situation of Jews in the East was present in a paper by dr Kiril Feferman, who talked about the attitude of Soviet guerilla warfare towards Jews and the Holocaust. According to the Professor, the areas controlled by the guerillas were the only, more or less, safe places for Jews. However, he emphasized that it never equaled giving them the humanitarian care, because protecting civilians was not a part of the guerillas’ main job. The involvement of Jews in the Soviet guerilla warfare reflected, more or less, the percentage of them in the society. However, troops almost merely consisting of Jews also functioned there. The commanding officers accepted and supported them as long as they took part in armed struggles. The picture presented by prof. Feferman was not entirely positive. Whereas the commanders of certain troops were lucky to be rather independent, among them were also those full of prejudice towards Jews, which they did not hide.

The panel discussion was closed with a speech given by Michał Trębacz, who described the situation of political parties in the ghettos in Warsaw and Łódź. By pointing out the differences in their functioning, he tried to explain why Jews rebelled in Warsaw and in Łódź they did not. The main reason for that was the weakness of political elites in the Łódź Ghetto, because vast majority of it had been murdered shortly after the creation of the closed district. A lot of activists decided to run away to the East. The weakness of political life also had an impact on the possibility to issue illegal papers and magazines, which was less hard in Warsaw. Even the chairman of Judenrat in Łódź, Chaim Rumkowski had technical problems with printing his announcements. Trębacz notices that Rumkowski was determined to prevent the development of political and organized activities in the ghetto, because he was worried about his position. On the other hand, Adam Czerniakov did not show similar ambitions.

Today is the second day of speeches given by the researchers at the conference “Being a witness to the Holocaust”.

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