The Holocaust in Poland

David Engel

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
The Holocaust in Poland


The phrase “Holocaust in Poland” is generally taken to refer to the set of individual or group decisions, actions, and processes that catalyzed or contributed to the deaths of nearly 3 million of the approximately 3.5 million Jewish citizens of the Second Polish Republic between the years 1939 and 1945. By extension it is also employed to refer to a similar set of decisions, actions, and processes that contributed to the survival of the remainder. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the government of Poland has protested use of the phrase, objecting to what it considers the implication that Poles were primarily responsible for the Jewish deaths. It has preferred to speak of the “Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland.” Indeed, the primary killers of Jews were German citizens acting on behalf of the Nazi regime, which occupied approximately half of the territory of the Polish state in September 1939 and the remaining half (which had been occupied by the Soviet Union, also beginning in September 1939) in June 1941. However, scholars have generally included under the rubric the situation of Jews in the territories under Soviet occupation as well as that of several hundred thousand Jews who fled or were deported to the Soviet interior between 1939 and 1941. They have also considered the relations between Poles and Jews under both German and Soviet occupation as a factor that bore upon both death and survival. A minority of scholars apply the term “Holocaust” additionally to the deaths of some two million Polish non-Jews at German hands. Most, however, have identified an essential difference between Nazi policy toward Jews, which sought the death of every Jewish man, woman, and child within reach, and the regime’s policy toward non-Jewish Poles, which aimed at the elimination of leadership strata in order to reduce the Polish population to the status of a helot work force. The listings in this article consider the term in the narrower sense with emphasis on the treatment and fate of Polish Jews.

Article.  10312 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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