Over the years, there has been heated debate among Polish and Jewish academics over the treatment of Polish Jews by the Armia Krajowa (AK) during the war and the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation recently found itself in the midst of this controversy.
The Armia Krajowa, “Home Army”, was the largest underground resistance group in Poland, with an estimated 250,000-400,000 members. The group conducted sabotage and intelligence operations against the Germans. One of its main purposes was to fill the power vacuum in Poland that would inevitably follow Germany’s defeat with a nationalist Polish group. Originally, the AK planned to attack the Germans only upon their impending retreat.
It should be understood that Jewish resistance and Polish non-Jewish resistance were working under two different and conflicting time pressures. Ghettoized Jews had only until deportation to rise in arms, whether or not they had a chance for victory; otherwise it would be too late and they would be killed. The AK could wait until there was a chance for victory, until the Soviet army was within range. While individual Poles were being persecuted and the Polish nation decimated, there was no plan to murder all the Poles and they could choose when and where to battle the Germans.
Leading up to World War II, Poland experienced an increase in antisemitic sentiment following the 1935 death of its politically moderate Chief of State Jozef Pilsudski, and the subsequent rise of the nationalistic Endejca party which enacted a wide array of antisemitic laws aimed at disenfranchising the Jews and confiscating their property. Cultural differences also played a role in inciting antisemitism. In rural areas, Jews primarily spoke Yiddish and many Poles regarded this as their refusal to assimilate, a sign of disloyalty to Poland. The influx of Jewish refugees fleeing the Ukraine further accelerated antisemitism among Poles who feared that they brought Bolshevist and Communist elements with them.
Antisemitism predictably arose among nationalist groups including the AK. Virulent antisemitism was especially prevalent among the partisan contingent of the group (2,500 – 3,000 armed fighters), many of whom came from the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ), a Polish, anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi paramilitary organization, where there was already a strong undercurrent of antisemitism. There were also many members of the AK who, unaffected by this prejudice, took action to help the Jews. The famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal credits the AK with sheltering his wife during the war and there are other documented instances of friendly AK commanders helping Jewish partisan units in their area – even warning them of pending danger1.
JPEF acknowledges the honorable actions of individuals in the AK, but must also describe the antisemitic violence perpetrated by others within the organization. Over the years, it has conducted numerous interviews with Jewish partisans from Poland who routinely spoke of antisemitic actions directed at them and other Jews by the AK. Abe Asner reported that the AK often posed a greater threat to the Jewish partisans than the Nazis, as their familiarity with the forests and with local residents put them in a better position to locate Jews. Rose Holm stated that she escaped post-war Poland with her husband because of the AK’s continued reprisals against the surviving Jewish population. The survivor testimonies of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw also contain a number of references to the danger the AK posed to Jews in hiding, and of a prevailing air of antisemitism in the group. These testimonies were collected in the years 1945-1946, and are not affected by revisionists. View JPEF’s short film Antisemitism in the Partisans, narrated by Larry King, for more details.
The AK holds a near-sacred position in the hearts and minds of many Poles, representing their national counterpart to the Allied struggle – much like La Résistance does for the French. Questioning its treatment of Jews undoubtedly assails its credibility as a national icon, resulting in the failure to acknowledge this chapter of the AK’s history and the outright refusal to admit that many of its factions were not only antisemitic but engaged in the persecution and killing of Jews. When even the popular internet encyclopedia Wikipedia ignores this fact, and labels it “disputed”, it is incumbent upon the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation to ensure historical accuracy on its website.
JPEF’s glossary definition of the AK was developed through both extensive historical research and interviews with surviving Jewish partisans who interacted with the AK. While we understand that JPEF’s description of the AK may upset both surviving members and their families, we present the truth as best as we are able to discern from both written documentation and partisan testimony. JPEF acknowledges that there were many members of the AK who helped rescue Jews and collaborated with Jewish partisans to fight against the Germans and holds these honorable men and women in high esteem. We also hold the cause of the AK, the battle against German occupation, in equally high esteem.
1. War Of The Doomed, Ch.6, p.132