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By: Terese Pencak Schwartz
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Terese Pencak Schwartz is a Polish American
Jew born in Germany
after World War II, currently conducting research on
Polish citizens in Warsaw, lined up to pass large
chunks of a demolished building to build barricades against German tanks, look
up anxiously as German planes pass over.
Kidnapped and Deported:
One Man's Story From the
Poles who rescued Jews from the Holocaust
One Pole Tried to Stop the Holocaust
The Holocaust Forgotten Memorial is a not-for profit organization with a
goal to acknowledge and memorialize the millions of Non-Jewish victims of the
Holocaust of World War II. This Internet site is made possible by the
continued work of volunteers and the contributions and financial donations from
friends and supporters. We greatly appreciate any donations. With your
support, we will be able to further develop and enhance this global memorial to
the forgotten victims.
Donations may be mailed to:
4924 Balboa Boulevard, Suite 255
Growing up in a Polish community, and
Polish-speaking parents, I heard many stories about the atrocities of the
Holocaust. I learned very early how one of my family's homes in
Poland was burned to the ground by Nazis. I learned
that my uncle was shot in the head by Nazi soldiers because they suspected that
the family was hiding a Jewish woman. Painful as it was for them to speak about
it, my parents felt it was important that I knew the story of the Holocaust.
It was only after I moved to the Los Angeles area several years ago that
realized that many people were not aware that millions of victims of the
Holocaust were not Jewish. Outside the Polish community, I heard very little
mention about the five million non-Jewish victims -- usually referred to as "the
Whenever I would say that my parents were
of the Holocaust, people would look at me oddly and say, "Oh, I didn't know
you were Jewish?" The impression I got was that people were not aware of
any other Holocaust victims except Jews. This concerned me greatly.
I am Jewish. I converted in 1979 after studying at the University of
one year before marrying a wonderful Jewish man. I belong to a temple where
our daughter attends religious school. I love the Jewish religion and I admire
the Jewish community. In no way do I want to diminish the enormous magnitude of
the victimization and murder of the 5,860,000 Jewish people during the
Holocaust. The Jews were singled out by the Nazis for total extermination -- a
significant fact that I do not repudiate, nor want to diminish in any way. The
Jewish people have done an extraordinary job of making the younger generation
around the world aware of their persecution and immense tragedy during the
But what about "the others"? There
five million of them. Who were they? Whose children, whose mothers and fathers
were they? How could five million human beings have been killed and forgotten?
Thus, I began my search. After studying several carefully documented books,
and interviewing non-Jewish survivors, I found more information about the five
million forgotten than I had ever imagined. I found out things that most of the
world does not know. My parents were correct. They were truly victims of the
Holocaust. All Polish people suffered enormously during the Holocaust -- Jews
Eleven million precious lives were lost during the
Holocaust of World War II. Six million of these were Polish citizens. Half of
these Polish citizens were non-Jews. On August 22, 1939, a few days before the
official start of World War II, Hitler authorized his commanders, with these
infamous words, to kill "without pity or mercy, all men, women, and
children of Polish descent or language. Only in this way can we obtain the
living space [lebensraum] we need".
Hitler's decree: "All Poles will disappear from the world.... It is
essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to
destroy all Poles."
On September 1,
Hitler invaded Poland from three directions. Hitler's invincible troops
attacked from the west, the north and the south. Poland never had a chance.
By October 8, 1939, Polish Jews and non-Jews were stripped of all rights and,
were subject to special legislation. Rationing, which allowed for only bare
sustenance of food and medicine was quickly set up. Young Polish men were
forcibly drafted into the German army. Use of the Polish language was
forbidden. Only the German language allowed. All secondary schools and
colleges were closed. The Polish press was liquidated. Libraries and bookshops
were burned. Polish Art and culture were destroyed. Polish churches and
religious buildings were burned. Most of the priests were arrested and sent to
concentration camps. Street signs were either destroyed or changed to new
German names. Polish cities and towns were renamed in German. It was Hitler's
goal to obliterate all traces of Polish history and culture. Proportionately,
Poland suffered the largest loss of life and property during World War II.
Hundreds of Polish community leaders, mayors, local officials, priests,
teachers, lawyers, judges, senators, doctors were executed in public. Much of
the rest of the so-called intelligentsia, the Polish leading class, was sent to
concentration camps where they later died.
The first mass
of World War II took place in Wawer, a town near Warsaw, Poland on December 27,
1939 when 107 Polish non-Jewish men were taken from their homes in the middle of
the night and shot. This was just the beginning of the street roundups and
mass executions that continued throughout the war. The goal of these
executions, deportations, and the ruthless domination of citizens was to
terrorize all Poles into docile subservience.
At the same time,
the eastern border of Poland, the Soviet Union invaded and quickly conquered.
Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland in half -- each grabbing as much
land as possible. The western half, occupied by the Nazis, was decreed in
October 1939 as a new territory: "General Gouvernment". The eastern
half was incorporated within the adjoining Russian border by Soviet
This new border "realignment" conferred Soviet citizenship on its new
Polish inhabitants. And all young Polish men were subject to being drafted into
the Soviet army.
Just like the Nazis, the Soviets also reigned
in Poland. The Soviets took over Polish businesses, Polish factories and
destroyed churches and religious buildings. The Polish currency (zloty) was
removed from circulation. All Polish banks were closed and savings accounts
During the war, Poland lost 45% of her doctors,
of her attorneys, 40% of her professors, 30% of her technicians, more than 18%
of her clergy, and most of her journalists. Poland's educated class was
purposely targeted because the Nazis knew that this would make it easier to
oversee the de-Polonization campaign and control the country.
Non-Jews of Polish descent suffered over 100,000 deaths at
The Germans forcibly deported approximately 2,000,000 Polish gentiles into
labor for the Third Reich. The Russians deported almost 1,700,000 Polish
non-Jews to Siberia. Men, women and children were forced from their homes with
no warning. Transferred in cattle cars in freezing weather, many died on the
way. Polish children who possessed Aryan-looking characteristics were wrenched
from their mother's arms and placed in German homes to be raised as Germans.
The Polish people were classified by the Nazis according to
racial characteristics. The ones who appeared Aryan were deported to
Lodz for further racial
examination. Most of the others were sent to the Reich to work in labor camps
for the benefit of the Germans. The rest were sent to Auschwitz to die. Polish
Christians were actually the first victims of the notorious German death camp.
For the first 21 months after it began in 1940, Auschwitz was inhabited almost
exclusively by Polish non-Jews. The first ethnic Pole died in June 1940 and the
first Jew died in October 1942.
Because of the obliteration of the Polish press by the Nazis,
the world was not aware, including many parts of Nazi-occupied Poland, of the
atrocities going on. Even to this day, much of the documentation of the
Holocaust is not available. The entire records of Auschwitz were stolen by the
Soviets and not returned. The Nazis' goal was to rewrite history. They
destroyed books, monuments, historical inscriptions. They began a forceful
campaign of propaganda to convince the world of their invincible superiority and
power and likewise the inferiority and weakness of the Polish people.
While there is no argument that Hitler abhorred the Jews and
almost six million to be ruthlessly killed, often non-Jewish victims are
tragically forgotten from Holocaust remembrances. Eleven million precious
human lives were lost during the Holocaust. Five million of these were
non-Jewish. Three million were Polish Christians and Catholics. It would be
very sad to forget even one precious life extinguished so ruthlessly. It would
be a tragedy to forget five million.
Information for this article was taken from "The
Holocaust", by Richard C. Lukas, The University Press of
and "The Jews and the Poles in World War II" by Stefan
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