Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation
Richard C. Lukas, ed.
Wanda Lorenc watched horrified as the first Wehrmacht soldiers stormed into Warsaw. Jan Porembski witnessed the mass executions of Polish civilians. Barbara Makuch became a courier for the Polish underground until she was caught and tortured. Jan Komski was thrown into the very first transport to Auschwitz and observed its rapid expansion firsthand. But, unlike the nearly three million other Polish Christians (and three million Polish Jews) who died during World War II, they survived.
Richard Lukas presents the compelling eyewitness accounts of these and other Polish Christians who suffered at the hands of the Germans. They bear witness to unspeakable horrors endured by those who were tortured, forced into slavery, shipped off to concentration camps, and even subjected to medical experiments. Their stories provide a somber reminder that non-Jewish Poles were just as likely as Jews to suffer at the hands of the Nazis, who viewed them with nearly equal contempt.
“The most significant contribution of this book . . . [is that,] through the media of personal recollections, we are given insights into the numerous Polish rescue and aid organizations. . . . Overall, this collection of survivor accounts is a valuable addition to the historiography of Nazism and Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War. It will be a particularly useful resource for those students and teachers who are reliant on English material. Quite naturally, the book benefits from the many strengths ingredient to a collection of personal memories . . . ”
“As a memorial volume, the text works well, aided by the inclusion of photographs of each survivor (then and now) and eight pages of sketches of life in Auschwitz by the survivor Jan Komski. . . . If approached as a memorial volume and/or a collection of oral histories, this is a fascinating book. . . . ”
—SEERSee all reviews...
“These stories are moving and powerful. Lukas's introduction is a well-written, clear, and masterful summary of just what that ‘forgotten Holocaust’ of Polish Christians entailed during the six long years of Nazi occupation. That chapter alone should be required reading. . . . These testimonies, painful as they are, must be listened to because the story of Polish Christian persecution during World War II has been largely unheard.”
—Polish American Journal
“While the Holocaust is well known, the fate of Polish Christians in the camps is far less so. This is a much needed, important, and moving book.”
—Piotr S. Wandycz, president, Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America
“Lukas pays special attention to the sufferings of Poland’s Catholic majority, presenting stories from the resistance and the risings, from Auschwitz and Mauthausen, and from the death marches and forced labor camps. . . . A wonderful testament to the survival of the human spirit in adversity.”
—Norman Davies, author of God's Playground: A History of PolandSee fewer reviews...
Zbigniew Haszlakiewicz remembers being brutally whipped and tortured-hung by his arms and legs, hands tied behind, and repeatedly stabbed: "I prayed to lose consciousness, but it was impossible. The Gestapo soon tired and started to drink beer and smoke cigarettes as they sat at that big desk. And I hung like a hammock."
Lorenc tells of encountering starving Jews: "I broke an end off one loaf [of bread] and threw it to a woman in the group. An SS guard saw what I had done, rushed over to me and began to beat me with her stick. When I fell, she beat me with her boots. Two of my teeth dislodged and my mouth filled with blood. When I returned to the barracks, no one recognized me."
But Dr. Jan Moor-Jankowski also recalls: "One night they took a prisoner and hanged him. He died in front of our eyes. I remember seeing a tiny twig of a tree from the window. As time passed, I saw a bud on the twig and soon leaves came out. It was something that gave me hope."
Through the survivors' voices we also learn about the Polish underground, the Council for Aid to Jews (Zegota), the Jewish Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Home Army's heroic battle during the Warsaw Uprising in late 1944. Lukas places the narratives in their historical context and Jan Komski's drawings capture the horror of concentration camp life.