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Postwar Justice


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A Call for Information on War Criminals

Central Jewish Historical Commission (Poland) call for justice documents and testimonies of Nazi crimes 1949
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
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tags: law & the courts

type: Letter

Secret archives, such as the one founded in the Warsaw ghetto by Emanuel Ringelblum in 1940, represent some of the earliest efforts within Jewish communities to compile documentation about the Holocaust.1 After the war, newly established Jewish historical commissions and documentation centers launched several archival and documentary projects, and their findings would provide important evidence in postwar trials of Nazis and their collaborators.2

One such organization, the Central Jewish Historical Commission (later the Jewish Historical Institute) in Poland, opened at least 25 regional branches within a year of its founding in August 1944. Growing rapidly into the first large-scale Holocaust research center, the Commission amassed almost 4,000 interviews with Holocaust survivors, forming the basis for 38 books published in the first three years of its operation.3

Drafted by the Commission in 1947 and distributed to the local branches of its parent organization, the Central Committee of Jews in Poland, the featured memorandum showcases the extent of the Commission's activities, and announces its intention to expand and rationalize efforts to investigate and apprehend war criminals. The authors provide a detailed list of those whom should be prosecuted, from ranking Nazi officials to local collaborators “over the whole of Poland.”4 In order that "not a single German criminal should slip away," every member of the Jewish community should join the pursuit of justice.

While the text cites Jews' "moral duty" to pursue the Holocaust’s perpetrators, the Commission's efforts to facilitate mourning and commemoration, or even exact "just punishment" of the Holocaust's perpetrators, collided with Cold War politics. The memorandum's disdain for the "Anglo-saxon defenders of 'oppressed Germans'" hints at escalating tensions within the Allied zones of occupation in Germany, and points to the deepening politicization of the Commission’s work. By 1948, its activities fell fully under the influence of the Polish Communist party (known as the Polish United Workers Party); by 1950, the Commission's founders—like thousands of Polish Jews—had fled the country.5

For more on Ringelblum's activities, see Samuel D. Kassow, Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007). 

For more on Jewish organizations' efforts to collect Holocaust documentation in postwar Europe, see Laura Jockusch, Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).

Included in this collection, the item Moyshe Feygnboym: "Why Historical Commissions?" provides more context for the creation of historical commissions in postwar Poland.

This push built on the Commission's first post-liberation campaigns to collect testimony from Jewish survivors in Poland. See the item Testimony of Fiszl Kuszner for more detail.

For more information on the history of the Central Jewish Historical Commission, see Eleonora Bergman, ed., Jewish Historical Institute: The First Fifty Years, 1947–1997, Conference Papers, trans. Robert L. Kirkland, III (Warsaw: ŻIH, 1996).

Reference to the Moscow Declaration of October 30, 1943, according to which Nazi criminals were to be extradited to the country where they committed their crimes.

A historical commission aimed at preserving records of the Holocaust, set up by the Central Committee of Jews in Poland in August 1944. See the item Testimony of Fiszl Kuszner in this Collection for further detail.

The Union of Jewish Former Participants in the Armed Struggle Against Fascism, an organization of Jewish World War II veterans existing between 1947 and 1950.

The Union of Former Political Prisoners of Nazi Prisons and Concentration Camps, an organization set up in February 1946, gathering former inmates of German prisons and concentration camps and focusing mainly on commemorating the Polish struggle against fascism.

The Polish Western Union, an organization set up in 1921, revived in 1944 and operating until 1950, concerned mainly with organizing life in the western territories annexed by Poland.

German: Geheimstaatspolizei, or "Secret State Police."

German: Kriminalpolizei, or "Criminal Police."

German: Schutzstaffel, or "Protection Squadrons," an elite organization of Nazi personnel with wide ranging responsibilities and an integral role in carrying out Nazi policies of mass murder.

German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, official name of the Nazi Party, which functioned in Germany between 1920 and 1945.

Leader of the local branch of the Nazi Party or leader of a province.

German: Sturmabteilung, or "Storm Troopers," a paramilitary organization also known as the “Brownshirts.” Founded by Adolf Hitler in 1921, the SA played an important role in his rise to power, including carrying out violence against Jews, until its marginalization in 1934.

German: Schutzpolizei des Reiches, or "State Protection Police" in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe, part of the Ordnungspolizei ("Order Police"). Along with the Gestapo and criminal police, the Schupo participated in implementing Nazi racial policies on a local level. 

German: Grenzpolizei, or "Border Police," part of the Gestapo.

German: "Auxiliary Police Force" responsible for carrying out attacks against those labeled opponents of the state in Nazi Germany. It functioned for a short period of time in 1933 and was disbanded due to international protests.

German: "Ethnic German," a person living outside Nazi Germany identifying as a member of the "German race." In Nazi-dominated Europe, some Volksdeutsche profited from Nazi policies against the populations of occupied territories. 

Popular name of the Polish Police reconstituted in occupied Poland by the German authorities on October 30, 1939, and disbanded on August 27, 1944.  

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Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland
at the Central Committee of Jews in Poland
Łódź, ulica Narutowicza 25, tel. 157-10

---

Account no. 228, Nat. Agricultural Bank
L.Dz.524/47 S.G.

Łódź, April 18, 1947

 

To:
Civil Court
at the Central Committee of Jews in Poland
Warsaw 

In connection with the Civil Court’s approval of our project to organize a general initiative of evidence-gathering with the aim of exposing all German criminals guilty of crimes against the Jewish people in Poland—we send attached the draft appeal and form we have developed and proposed for this initiative.

The appeal, as well as the form, should in our opinion be printed in an appropriate number of copies and distributed with instructions for provincial, district, and municipal Jewish Committees to join the initiative. Regardless of this, relevant extracts and appeals would have to be delivered to the press with the aim of promoting preparation for the initiative.

At the same time we inform you that thus far we possess no information regarding the activities of Altszuler in the Buchach ghetto.

Gen. Secretary:                                                                 Acting Director:
/-/ Dr. J. Kermisz                                                               /-/ N. Blumental

 

In accordance with the Allied governments’ agreement regarding war criminals,1  thanks to the Polish Government’s initiative a significant share of the Nazi criminals guilty of martyring and exterminating Polish Jews have already been delivered to the Polish authorities, with the evidence collected and presented by the Central Jewish Historical Commission of the Central Committee of Jews2 in Poland playing a decisive role. 

Some of these criminals have already been tried in Polish courts and been justly punished for the crimes committed against our nation.  The rest will be tried in the near future.

However, due to insufficient evidence, a large number of Nazi criminals guilty of crimes against our nation still remain in American or British camps, or even walk free, as there is no basis on which to demand their delivery to the Polish authorities.

This fact imposes a great moral obligation on the Jewish community in Poland. We must immediately launch a universal initiative to expose, gather incriminating material, and generate a full register of Nazi war criminals responsible for the tragedy of the Polish Jews in the years 1939-45. The material we collect will allow the Central Committee of Jews in Poland to demand, via the Polish authorities, that Nazi war criminals be handed over by the Allied authorities.

The Jewish committees, because of their pan-national character, should be at the forefront of this action. They should be in the field as agents organizing, managing, and responsible for the entire initiative.

Given the nature of this initiative, the entire Jewish community without exception should be brought into close cooperation, meaning: the Union of Jewish Participants in the War and Struggle Against Fascism,3 all political, youth, cultural-educational, economic, sporting organizations etc.

The active and mass participation of all of Jewish society would allow the organization of a dense network of exposure, evidence-gathering, and registration of Nazi criminals over the whole of Poland. Not a single German criminal should slip from our net.

Our initiative should be carried out on a basis of close cooperation with local governmental and municipal authorities as well as with Polish organizations and institutions (the Union of Former Political Prisoners,4 the Western Union,5 parties and political and cultural organizations, etc.).

A result of our initiative should be the generation of a complete record of all Nazi criminals operating to the detriment of Polish Jews in the period since 1939 in every camp, every town, village, city, county, and province.

The category of criminals must include all Germans initiating criminal activities against Jews from 1939-45, and belonging to the following organizations:

a) Gestapo6 - (all functionaries from the highest ranks to the lowest)

b) Kripo7 - '' " "

c) "SS"8 - " " "

d) Wehrmacht - commanders, officers and soldiers who during the occupation, and especially in 1939, performed criminal activity: murdering Jewish prisoners of war, civilians, etc.

e) N.S.D.A.P.9 - All members of the Nazi party active in 1939-45 in Poland.

f) German Administration – Starting with Governors and Gauleiters,10 and ending with the lowest official in the General Government and Polish areas annexed to the Reich.

g) S.A.11 - commanders, officers and members of the S.A. who participated in all criminal initiatives of the German authorities against Jews on Polish territory.

h) All other types of German Police - commanders, officers, soldiers of other types of police (Schupo,12 Grenzpolizei,13 Hilfspolizei,14 etc.), guilty of participating in the extermination of Polish Jews.

i) Representatives of German political life who, through their speeches, indirectly or directly caused the extermination of the Jewish population in Poland under Nazi occupation.

j) Representatives of so-called German cultural life, therefore directors of institutions of “science,” the press, and propaganda—guilty of propaganda that preyed on Jews, of the destruction and pillage of the cultural heritage of Polish Jews.

k) All other Germans not covered by the above-mentioned categories, Volksdeutsche,15 and also Poles (the Blue Police16 and others), as well as Jews who, for criminal activities against Polish Jewry and the Polish State, should be placed on par with Germans in the register of offenders and war criminals, and suffer due punishment.

In order for the register of offenders and war criminals to be of maximum value, we must make all efforts to obtain, as much as possible, complete and accurate personal information on every criminal, as well as a definition and characterization of his criminal activities.

It would be highly desirable for the management of this initiative to be entrusted to lawyers, within the limits of local capacities.

May a complete list of Nazi criminals, against the background enormity of the crimes they committed against Polish Jews, be an eloquent response to the Anglo-Saxon defenders of the “oppressed” Germans.

We must run our initiative until the last of the surviving German criminals is made an example of.

May the speed, universality, and efficiency of this initiative of exposure and registration of Nazi criminals be proof that Jewish society understands the significance and seriousness of the initiative we are undertaking to justly punish the murderers of our nation.

The Central Committee of Polish Jews
Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland.

 

 

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
RG Number 15.189M
Source Number 313/149
Date Created
May 18, 1947
Author / Creator
Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH), Warsaw
Language(s)
Polish
Location
Łódź, Poland
Document Type Letter
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