Platform for Jewish-Polish Dialogue  
 

by HANNAH ARENDT

In this week's issue of The New Yorker, the Polish political scientist Jan T. Gross describes the July 10, 1941, massacre of some fifteen hundred Jews in the Polish town of Jedwabne. After studying the evidence, Gross has concluded that the murders were carried out not, as was previously accepted, by Poland's German occupiers but by the town's Polish residents themselves. His findings have stirred a great controversy in Poland. In 1963, the magazine published Hannah Arendt's provocative account of the trial, in Israel, of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Here she describes Hitler's long-range plans for Jews and Poles alike.


The massacre of Polish Jewry had been decided on by Hitler not in May or June of 1941, when he issued his order for the Final Solution, but in September, 1939, as the judges knew from testimony given at the Nuremberg Trials by Erwin Lahousen, of the German Counterintelligence. They also had before them the minutes of Heydrich's early conference with the commanders of the mobile killing units employed in the invasion of Poland--a conference that was held on September 21, 1939, and at which Eichmann, then still a mere Hauptsturmf√ľhrer, had been present, representing the Berlin Center for Jewish Emigration. This meeting, held almost two years before the Final Solution was ordered, dealt with the whole native population of the East--with the Poles, of whose "political leadership," it was reported, no more than three per cent was left, and whose "primitive strata" were to be used as seasonal unskilled workers before they were evacuated; and with the Polish Jews, who were to be assembled in ghettos for later "evacuation"--and, in addition, with German Jews, who were to be sent to the East in freight trains, together with thirty thousand Gypsies. All these measures, it had been pointed out, were preliminary steps toward the final goal of "complete clearance," but the mass shootings that had been going on would no longer be permitted. It seems that the Army commanders had protested against the massacres of civilians, and that Heydrich had come to an agreement with the German High Command establishing the principle of a complete "clean-up once and for all" of the Jews, the Polish intelligentsia, the Catholic clergy, and the nobility, but determining that, for practical reasons--that is, because of the magnitude of an operation in which two million Jews would have to be "cleaned up"--the Jews should first be concentrated in ghettos. And the decisions of the September conference were in strict accordance with a secret speech made by Hitler to the German High Command as far back as 1937, in which he outlined his plans for creating an "empty space" in the East for the settlement of Germans. The measures against Eastern Jews were not only the result of anti-Semitism; they were part and parcel of an all-embracing "demographic" policy, in the course of which, if the Germans had won the war, the Poles would have suffered the same fate as the Jews--genocide. This is no mere conjecture; as early as 1941, during a staff meeting in Hitler's headquarters, it was decided to impose the death sentence for sexual intercourse between Germans and Poles (Rassenschande) and to make Poles in Germany wear a distinguishing badge, with the letter "P" replacing the Jewish star, and this enforced wearing of badges was always the first measure taken by the police in instituting the process of destruction. Therefore, if Eichmann had next to nothing to do with what happened to Jews in Poland and the Baltic countries, in White Russia and the Ukraine, it was because no "Jewish expert" was needed there, no special "directives" for their evacuation and extermination were required, and no distinction between privileged Jews and the rest was ever contemplated. It was a foregone conclusion that they would all have to die. Even the members of the Jewish Councils were invariably exterminated. There were no exceptions, for the fate accorded the slave laborers was only a slower kind of death.

 

New Yorker

Posted 2001-03-12