Friday, January 02, 2009

Polish slavery under the Nazis strangely omitted from American history

And I'm not using slavery euphemistically but in a literal sense. The Nazi plan for Poland and elsewhere was to establish slave labor plantations where the local population would belong to new German lords and would work for them. This plan was implemented. Here is a good article about it from, a site commemorating the Holocaust. The official term is Polish forced laborers. Here's an excerpt from the article, which is titled "The Question of the Polish Forced Labourer during and in the Aftermath of World War II: The Example of the Warthegau Forced Labourers"

"The group of Polish forced labourers with which I am familiar with come from the "Gau Wartheland", one of four administrative districts which the Nazis cut out of the part of Western Poland which they annected in l939. The "Warthegau", as many Nazis referred to this district, was a Nazi creation with little or no bearing on the historical realities of the region. It was to become an experimental laboratory, where the economic, cultural and social supremacy of the German people would inevitably lead to the extermination of all other indigenous peoples in the region (most Poles and all Jews).

In a complicated system of burocratically determined ethniticity, "Volksdeutsche" (Germans by descent, but not by citizenship) were to be segregated from the rest of the population. Jews were to be crowded into local and then consolidated regional gettos. Following the Wannsee Conference (January 20, l942), the Nazis planned the industrial murder of these and all other European Jews en masse. The Poles were to be used as an inexhaustible source of slave labour for the colonisation of this and other regions of Poland and were then to be eventually exterminated. Germans from all parts of Eastern and Western Europe were to be brought in to take their place in the biggest colonisation project ever planned in Europe.


While more than 360,000 Poles from this "Warthegau" were deported to other parts of Germany to do forced labour, many more Poles were made to do forced labour in their home country during World War II. How many is a question of definition: Who is a forced labourer in a war situation? Are all native workers in an occupied country "forced labourers"? Or are only those who are deported "forced labourers"? How does one define this concept? And how can one define this concept and still do justice to the victims of these horrendous crimes to humanity without overreaching the bounds of common sense? A reasonable educated guess is that somewhere around l to l l/2 Million Poles in this "Warthegau", above and beyond those who were deported, were engaged in some sort of forced labour in the course of the war. (The pre-war population in the region that became the "Warthegau" was around 4 Million.)"

So here we have the situation of millions of Poles not only in this area but in Poland as a whole facing forced labor including deportation to Germany itself as slave labor for German industry under the Nazis, yet here in the U.S.A. there's absolutely no recognition that this happened, or that it mattered.

It wasn't just Poland either. In the book "Hitler's Table Talk", a record of conversations (Hitler's part of them at least) that took place informally with the inner circle during the war, Hitler makes a comment that the schools in the Ukraine should all be shut down and Ukrainians only taught how to read road signs and other basics in order to help them serve their new masters.

Interestingly enough, even severe tragedies that happened during war time, that happen to be documented by top level foreign directors, don't make an impact. The film I'm talking about is "Katyn" by Andrzej Wajda. Wajda is possibly the most prominent film maker in post-World War II Poland. Katyn was a massacre of thousands of Polish Army officers by the Soviets in the area of Poland given to them under the Nazi-Soviet pact of '39. "Katyn" was released in 2007 and was nominated for an Academy Award. Yet although it's been released in Europe, and been available for some time, it's unavailable in the U.S. The only versions that have subtitles are European region DVDs that are being sold used on eBay. Strange treatment for an academy award nominated movie. I guess that the Polish Army victims at Katyn, one of which was Wajda's father, had the misfortune to be born Polish.

*on edit: ah, the actual number of people killed at Katyn is 21,768. From Wikipedia:

"The Katyn massacre, also known as the Katyn Forest massacre (Polish: zbrodnia katyńska, 'Katyń crime'), was a mass murder of thousands Polish military officers, policemen, intellectuals and civilian prisoners of war by Soviet NKVD, based on a proposal from Lavrentiy Beria to execute all members the Polish Officer Corps dated March 5 1940."


Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning Polish slave labor on your blog, John. My father was one of these slaves. I've never seen one mention of this in any US media through my lifetime. The suffering of Poles and the injustices brought upon over the centuries, including WWII and afterwards, are not mentioned in any World History class beyond the Sept 1, 1939 invasion. If its not Jewish suffering, then American educators and media don't want the public to know about it.

Anonymous said...

My mother's entire family "came over on the boat" in the early 1900's. My grandfather, I learned much later in life, was educated at a top Russian military academy, scheduled to be part of the Czar's bodyguard. Kind of like being black and assigned to guard The Grand Dragon, not to mention the huge wave of violence then against Russian officials. So, he said .....this, I'm leaving.
Have read many times first of the 1.5+ million Poles sent both ways as slaves before US was ever in the war. Also, and how many have a clue, that the Nazis had very formal plans to use up Poland, oh, only 35 million or so of the non-Jewish populace, for 20-30 years till they were all dead and Poland was a totally German territory.
Last, funny and not so funny, many years ago I processed Passport applications at the Post Office. Two old married people were bickering, not harshly, in the lobby. When they came to the window, I said: you sound like my grandparents. Turns out they were Polish and the guy had spent from age 9 to 16 in Siberia, as a work slave! What a world.

shanta said...
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Tony said...

I just found out my mother and her first husband were Polish slave laborers sent to Germany to make munitions. Thank you for publishing this information. I think part of the problem with American ignorance of Polish history is partly due to the Cold War years, where obviously we could never say anything constructive about then-communist nations. Also, I don't have to tell you the average American is ignorant about ALL history, including his own! Why do I know more about The Civil War than Billy Bob, when my ancestors were busy dealing with the Czar? Just makes me laugh.

Unknown said...

My Father, Eugeniusz Popielarz, & his Mother, Marianna nee Gorniak Popielarz, & his three brothers, Zygmunt, Tadeusz, & Jozef were inhabitants of the so-called Warthegau in the village of Gasiorow Maly, near Koscielec, powiat (county) of Kolo. Following the Wannsee Conference, the slave labor deportation began. My Dad & his Family were taken forcibly by truck to Kolo where they were loaded into a rail cattle car. The date was 5 May 1942 - my Dad was just under 4 months shy of turning 12 years of age. The rail journey ended at Oldenburg, Germany where they were met by an air raid. They were herded into a shelter at the train terminal and... the entrance sustained a hit which buried the prisoners inside for about 8 hours. The only reason my Dad & the others were dug out was for their labor value.
After the rescue, they were again loaded into trucks to be taken to the peat digging camp at Wiesmoor bei Wittmund. Along the way, during a toilet break in a grove, my Dad was being hustled back to the truck & he lost his right wooden clog. He was refused permission to fetch it & severely stubbed his toe fracturing the nail.
The three years until liberation by the 1st Polish Armoured Division on 5 May 1945 were horrendous compounded by terrible. Rations were not enough to live & too much to die. Theft of food was punishable by death with the prisoner being condemned to digging out unexploded fragmentation, incendiary, & white phosphorus bombs from the peat. Eventually, the consequences were horrifically unspeakable - even at a distance when a fragmentation bomb exploded, because the shrapnel wire was capable of unzipping open abdomens with the victims attempting to push their intestines back in. The bombs came from nightly British air raids when the targets were missed & the peat fields were sown with UXBs due to the springy turf. At least Americans flew in the day time & hit their targets, however, dogfights had strewn the countryside with ammunition casings which, when it struck a hapless person in the head, was deadly. The aerobatics were something to behold, though.
There were prisoners from all over Europe there, mostly Poles. The Soviet POWs impressed into labor were segregated by barbed wire and were so starved that they denuded the earth of every last blade of grass & begged the guards for a nibble of bread. My Dad saw a Pole try to give a Soviet some of his ration & a cigarette. He was promptly shot. Prisoners caught in sexual relations, even married couples, were publicly hanged as were those who sabotaged the peat train (a narrow gauge railway) or disobeyed a guard.
When liberation came, they could not be reunited with their Husband & Father, my Grandfather, who was a POW since 1939 & turned into a slave laborer when most German males were conscripted & at the fronts. Grandpop Jozef Popielarz was held near Leipzig & the Soviets ordered his return to Poland after the war. My Dad & the rest were kept in UNRRA refugee camps for an additional 5 1/2 years before being allowed to immigrate into th USA on 27 December 1950.

nb said...

Indeed it is a topic almost unknown beyond Polish boardes. I deal with polish citizenship since very long and I have seen hundreds of documentation proving Polish slavory. I have a very strong and deep respect for the holocaust victims, something I hope will never happen again but it is also a pitty that many people doesn't know about the milions of Poles taken abroad for slavery and the many injustices that happend before-during and "after" War on this nation, then came the cold-war, the World was divided and every side wrote its history on their own way (with a mix of true and historical analphabetism). It is very complex and since few years ago the East Europe could finally show a part of history unknown. There are many material that attacks the Poles, Ucranians, etc...(some of them true some not) but that are a lot of history unknown in the Hollywood World showing their suffering and heroism. I am not Pole and I feel neutral in many aspects to listen to people without any pre-concepts and prejudices and after listening to people from everywhere for more thatn 20 years only about the II World War period, I can repeat what Szymon Wisenthal (the nazi hunter) once told: History is not black and white.