Could Poland’s “Blue Police” be Prosecuted for Nazi Crimes?

In 2012 I wrote about an “uncomfortable truth” that Poles who either murdered Jews during WWII or allowed it to happen continue to believe the Germans are the only ones to blame.

It makes sense why someone in Poland would object to Nazi death camps being labeled as Polish death camps. People unfortunately blur geographic location with who came up with an idea. Language should be precise where needed to avoid false attributions.

However, trying to draw clear lines in a very blurry situation also can go too far. Poles should not use a campaign for Nazi attributions to become a blanket excuse to deny any crimes committed by Poles, or to silence discussion of Polish logistics for death camps located in Poland.

The historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) wrote an excellent and detailed summary of the situation:

As German authorities implemented killing on an industrial scale, they drew upon Polish police forces and railroad personnel for logistical support, notably to guard ghettos where hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were held before deportation to killing centers. The so-called Blue Police was a force some 20,000 strong. These collaborators enforced German anti-Jewish policies such as restrictions on the use of public transportation and curfews, as well as the devastating and bloody liquidation of ghettos in occupied Poland from 1942-1943. Paradoxically, many Polish policemen who actively assisted the Germans in hunting Jews were also part of the underground resistance against the occupation in other arenas. Individual Poles also often helped in the identification, denunciation, and exposure of Jews in hiding, sometimes motivated by greed and the opportunities presented by blackmail and the plunder of Jewish-owned property.

I bring this up again because a guard of a death camp now is being tried on the basis of observing people go in who never came out.

Bruno Dey, 93, has claimed he had no idea Jews were being murdered in the Stutthof camp near what’s now Gdansk, where he began working in 1944. But he admitted at trial that he saw Jews taken into gas chambers at the camp, heard their screams and watched the frantic rattling of locked steel doors, The Guardian reported. On at least one occasion, “I didn’t see anyone come out,” he testified.

The USHMM historian estimates 20,000 Poles served in the “Blue Police” (Granatowa policja). They easily could have been in a similar situation as described in a USHMM paper on the subject (PDF).

And, as I’ve also written before, forced deportations since at least 1942 were known (even by the Allied forces) to mean people being sent to Nazi death camps in Poland. Those observing knew that by 1943 only 50,000 Jews out of 350,000 were in Warsaw, and it was this knowledge of certain death that led to the famous uprising.

4 thoughts on “Could Poland’s “Blue Police” be Prosecuted for Nazi Crimes?”

  1. You raise an excellent point yet “The Waffen-SS: A European History” (edited by Jochen Böhler, Robert Gerwarth) on page 175 says we have to estimate and may never know the truth due to effects of occupation both during and after WWII:

    It is furthermore extremely difficult to arrive at a quantitative assessment of the degree of collaboration among Polish policemen. According to Adam Hempel, relying on information from the Polish resistance, up to 10 per cent of the Dark Blue Police and the Polish criminal police may have been collaborators. In the literature, scholars have assumed that collaborative behaviour occurred much less frequently among professional policemen. However many new recruits were guided purely by egoistical motives. Influenced as they were by the lower standard of morals resulting from the daily grind of surviving under the occupation regime and bereft of professional ethics, they were generally more susceptible in this regard.

    10 per cent is probably a fair estimate. Marek Edelman, leader of the Warsaw ghetto revolt, said in “To si? dzieje dzisiaj,” Tygodnik Powszechny (Kraków), April 18, 1993 that there always were collaborators among a crowd of Poles:

    After leaving the ghetto gate one of the Jews might leave the work column, remove his armband, and steal away. Among the crowd of several hundred Poles there would always be one, two, perhaps three betrayers who would apprehend the Jew…

    Nobody is saying 100 per cent were collaborators, but to even talk about the “always be one” or the 10 per cent of police invites angry whataboutisms from Poles.

    What you will find instead, whenever you bring up this sensitive topic, is Poles jumping to tell you how Jews were the collaborators with Nazis. Look at all the bad Jews, don’t criticize the non-Jews, they will say.

    It is crazy to hear, but it is very common.

    In 2012 Havi Dreifus wrote in “Jewish relations During the Holocaust” on page 73 how Polish collaborators have been able to remain so anonymous or even unaccounted for:

    …when Jews were denounced or attacked, the perpetrators usually remained anonymous. Persecuted Jews usually could not ask for the name of the denouncer or the extortionist, and descriptions such as “a young man with a black jacket.” or “a boorish woman” cannot be cross-referenced with other tesitmonies.

    So if you hear a Pole say “what about the Jews in Poland who collaborated with Nazis” be sure to respond 1) they still count as Polish collaborators 2) 10% of police collaborated 3) there was always at least one collaborator in a crowd of non-Jews 4) anonymity of collaborators makes over-attribution to Jews a dangerous practice

  2. Such an important post. It comes just as a US government pardons convicted war criminals and announces dear supreme leader can personally decide right/wrong. The US is virtue signaling that war crimes, abuse of women, torture of children all are new norms and accepted under a man who asks to be treated as US dictator for life. People need to look at the numbers of Poles who collaborated, no matter how small even if one person, and not lose focus of their accountability for crimes.

  3. Poles are fine with any truth – under one condition – it is truth. There were Poles who killed Jews – fact. Reality is not black or white we say. Appreciate you speak on such truths.

  4. It is so important to remember how evils done by thousands of Polish citizens still need focus, even out of 38 million people. It is also important to remember that out of 6 million Polish citizens from all walks of life and religious affiliations killed only about 40% of them were ethnic Poles; there were ethnic Germans, Russians, Roma, Ukranians and others who were ALL Polish citizens before the war and of differing religions. Saying Polish people collaborated with Nazis can mean ethnic Poles as well as others. Poles ironically like to ask “which Pole are you referring to” because they, like Nazi occupiers, like to claim a “pure” ethnicity as a form of superiority to escape blame. Don’t be surprised if someone demands to know if the accused are pure ethnic Catholic Poles in an attempt to make it look like Poland should be seen as a small elitist nation.

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