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.