1.09.1939

On 1st September, 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border. In „Nasz Przegląd” [Our Review], the leading journal of the Jewish minority in Poland, the following statement was released.

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On 1st September, 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border. In „Nasz Przegląd” [Our Review], the leading journal of the Jewish minority in Poland, the following statement was released:

The Zionist Organization and the Jewish people take the Polish side, ready to fight for their dignity and independence. This statement should be an example for the world Jewry. The position of the Jews all over the world is on the Polish side.

The second day of the war brought new proclamations of the leaders of Związek Rabinów Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej [The Union of the Rabbis of Rzeczpospolita]:

Blessed be the name of the Eternal.

Brothers in Israel, Citizens of Serene Rzeczpospolita!

In an evil, despicable way, the eternal enemy has attacked our dearly, beloved Fatherland: Poland. Literally bereft of reverence, faith, and all other human feelings, he brings murder, robbery and conflagration.

We Jews, the children of this land since time immemorial, we are all standing in disciplined line, serried and composed to the call of the President of Rzeczpospolita and Commander in Chief to defend our beloved Fatherland, each of us on a post designated by him, and we will give, when such need arises, on the altar of the Fatherland, our lives and our property.

It is our noblest civil and religious duty, according to the precepts of our Holy Faith, which with the greatest joy we will fulfil — So help us and Poland God.

We send up imploring prayers to the Creator for the victory of the Polish army and we shall be confident that he hears us, Amen.

Next to the rabbis’ appeal in „Our Review” there were words written by Związek Żydów Uczestników Walk o Niepodległość Polski [ the Society of Jews-Fighters for Poland’s Independence] which united the former members of Legiony Piłsudskiego [the Piłsudski Legions] and Polska Organizacja Wojskowa [Polish Military Organisation]:

Polish Jews! At this moment of history, you ought to understand that we are fighting for our holy cause, our Fatherland, Honour, for our bright future, for the freedom of all peoples and the Rebirth of Humanity. [...] Having in mind dear to us examples of heroes: Colonel Berek Joselewicz, Henryk Wohl, Rabbi Majzels, members of the Legions: Mansperio and Sternchuss and their many other comrades, Corporal Storch, who all with their own blood demonstrated their love for Polish Soil — we all pledge to carry on the struggle until victory.

During the September Campaign, in the ranks of the Polish Army fought against the German invader more than 120,000 Jews. 32 216 of them were killed and 61,000 were captured.

All war prisoners, Polish citizens, were treated in oflags similarly — the Germans respect an international convention defining the treatment of war prisoners, also towards the soldiers who had written down in the documents „Judaism”. However, the Jews were usually assigned barracks different from those of the Polish, or were closed in separate sub-camps. Sometimes, due to the intervention of high-ranking Polish officers, it was possible to avoid it. Those who effectively opposed the segregation were, for example, General Juliusz Rommel, imprisoned in Murnau, or Colonel Witold Dzierżykraj-Morawski from Gross-Born prisoner-of-war camp.

The soldiers locked in oflags reflected the full range of attitudes known from pre-war Poland. The attitudes of the soldiers towards the Jews ranged from hostility, through indifference, which was probably the most common, to understanding, or just a decent attitude. An anonymous sub-officer remembered when Germans were bullying Polish soldiers into ripping off the Jews out of their better clothes. Also, they tried to rob him of his shoes. However, from the row behind him, he heard a voice of a Polish private: Over my dead body will you take his shoes! Fortunately, the support turned out to be enough and the sub-officer of the Polish Army did not have to walk barefoot. 

After a relatively short period of time, the Germans decided to transfer to labor camps part of the Jewish sub-officers and private soldiers of the Polish Army. The rest was released. The decision was particularly deceitful. The Polish soldiers — the Jews were now deprived of the protection which so far had been ensured by the Hague Convention and as a result had to share the terrible fate that the entire Jewish nation met at the hands of the Germans.

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