Following the German military defeat of Poland in September 1939, the Nazis launched a campaign of terror against the Poles, the predominantly Roman Catholic majority, whom they viewed as “subhumans.” German police units roved the country and executed thousands of Polish intellectuals, members of the clergy, and other civilians. Thousands were required to perform forced labor. In the lands vital to German expansion, hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported, replaced by ethnic Germans. Each of these measures was designed to wipe out Polish life and culture and to destroy Poland as a nation, making “living space” (Lebensraum) for the Germans. As a result, nearly every concentration camp had a sizable population of Polish inmates. The mortality rate for Polish prisoners was high. According to Franciszek Piper’s study, at least half of the estimated 140,000 Poles who were deported to Auschwitz perished in the camp, and all total, the Germans killed an estimated 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.
In the face of Nazi brutality, Polish resistance was wide-spread. An underground state tried to maintain ties with the Polish government-in-exile. At great personal risk, individuals such as Jan Karski reported to the world the atrocities committed by the Germans. Others worked to rescue Jews, though the punishment for doing so was death. Polish partisans also supported Jewish resistance fighters, supplying them with arms, provisions, and information about the enemy. Nevertheless, a few recent scholarly works have renewed questions concerning active participation by some Poles in pogroms and atrocities committed against Jews. Consult this bibliography’s section on Polish-Jewish Relations for more information.
The following bibliography was compiled to guide readers to selected materials on Poles during the Holocaust that are in the Library’s collection. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Annotations are provided to help the user determine the item’s focus, and call numbers for the Museum’s Library are given in parentheses following each citation. Those unable to visit might be able to find these works in a nearby public library or acquire them through interlibrary loan. Follow the “Find in a library near you” link in each citation and enter your zip code at the Open WorldCat search screen. The results of that search indicate all libraries in your area that own that particular title. Talk to your local librarian for assistance.
Berenbaum, Michael. A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis. New York: New York University Press, 1990. (D 804 .G4 M63 1990) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of essays first presented at a conference in 1987 on the Nazi persecution of non-Jewish groups. Includes chapters on the victimization of Poles and on the complex relationship between Slavs and Jews.
Borodziej, Włodzimierz. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. (D 765.2 .W3 B57713 2006) [Find in a library near you]
Details the Warsaw Rising of 1944 including atrocities that inspired it, planning and organizing the uprising, logistics of the battles, and eventual defeat. Discusses the roles of both Nazi and Soviet leadership in the destruction of the city and civilian casualties. Includes maps, abbreviations, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Borowiec, Andrew. Destroy Warsaw!: Hitler’s Punishment, Stalin’s Revenge. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2001. (D 765.2 .W3 B58 2001) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the destruction of Warsaw and the failed insurrection of August 1944. Includes maps, illustrations, chapter notes, a chronology, an appendix of military unites, a bibliography, and an index.
Debski, Tadeusz. A Battlefield of Ideas: Nazi Concentration Camps and their Polish Prisoners. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 2003. (D 805 .A2 D432 2001) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the organization and structure of concentration camps, prisoner categories, and daily life and activities of Poles, especially members of the intelligentsia. Includes chapter notes, a glossary of terms from concentration camps, and a bibliography.
Gellaty, Robert. “‘Racially Foreign’: Racial Policy and Polish Workers.” In The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 1933-1945, 215-252. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. (DS 135 .G3315 G45 1991) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the balance between Nazi attempts to eradicate the Poles while using them to meet labor shortages. Presents information on the legal constraints of Poles as policed by the Gestapo in both Occupied Poland and Nazi Germany. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Gross, Jan Tomasz. Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939-1944. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979. (D 802 .P6 G76 1979) [Find in a library near you]
Describes the Nazi occupation of Poland in terms of its economic control, exploitation of forced labor, terror, collaboration and cooperation, as well as the underground as a social and political movement. Includes a bibliography and an index.
Hrabar, Roman, Zofia Tokarz, and Jacek Wilczur. The Fate of Polish Children During the Last War. Warsaw: Interpress, 1981. (D 810 .C4 H7213 1981) [Find in a library near you]
An account of the suffering of Polish children, Jewish as well as gentile, under German occupation. Features a wealth of historical photographs, including reproductions of German decrees and orders affecting Polish youth.
Lukas, Richard. Did the Children Cry? Hitler’s War Against Jewish and Polish Children, 1939-1945. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1994. (D 810 .C4 L82 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the experiences of Polish children, Jewish as well as gentile, under German occupation. Organized into thematic chapters such as “Invasion,” “Deportations,” “Hiding,” “Germanization,” and “Concentration Camps.” Includes a comprehensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources, and several photographic images.
Lukas, Richard. The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944. New York: Hippocrene, 1997. (D 802 .P6 L85 1997) [Find in a library near you]
An account of the systematic persecution of the Polish nation and its residents by the German forces. Features endnotes, a bibliography, appendices including lists of Poles killed for assisting Jews, primary source documents, and an index.
Meinecke Jr., William F. Nazi Ideology and the Holocaust. Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2007. (D 804.3 .N43 2007) [Find in a library near you]
Details Nazi ideology as applied to a variety of victim groups including political opponents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, Poles and other Slavs, as well as German citizens of African and Roma descent or persons with physical and mental disabilities. Supplemented by excerpts of writings by perpetrators. Includes photographs, a bibliography, and an index.
Piotrowski, Tadeusz. Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998. (DK 4400 .P56 1998) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses the terror and oppression of Polish citizens by both the Nazi and Soviet militaries. Includes analysis of cooperation and resistance to the occupiers by Jews, Poles, Belorussians, Lithuanians, and Ukrainians in the Polish territories. Includes tables, maps, primary source documents, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Piper, Franciszek. “Estimating The Number Of Deportees To And Victims Of Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp.” Yad Vashem Studies 21 (1991): 49-103. (DS 135 .E83 Y3 v. 21) [Find in a library near you]
Evaluates the scholarly methods used to calculate victim estimates, and provides total numbers for different victim groups killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, including Poles.
Rossino, Alexander. “Destructive Impulse: German Soldiers and the Conquest of Poland.” Holocaust and Genocide Studies 11 (1997): 351-365. (D 810 .J4 H6428 v.11) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the brutal invasion of Poland and the atrocities the German soldiers committed there against the civilian population. Quotes primary source materials, such as German soldiers’ letters and diaries.
Rossino, Alexander B. Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003. (D 765 .R596 2003) [Find in a library near you]
Analyzes the violent ideology of the Nazi invasion and initial atrocities committed by the Wehrmacht and Einsatzgruppen in Poland. Includes an overview of atrocities committed during the fighting, draconian reprisal measures against civilians, and the establishment of Anit-Jewish policies by the Nazi occupation authorities. Contains illustrations, footnotes, a bibliography and an index.
Rutherford, Phillip T. Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles, 1939-1941. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007. (D 810 .D5 R85 2007) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses Nazi policies and initiatives to “Germanize” portions of Poland through deportations of ethnic Poles and settlement of Germans to expand the notion of Lebensraum. Includes footnotes, a bibliography, maps and glossaries.
Explores what became known about the Holocaust at the time that it was occurring and the role the Polish underground played in getting the news out to the rest of the world. Based on previously unresearched material from archives in Warsaw and London.
Strzelecka, Irena. “Die ersten Polen im KL Auschwitz.” In Hefte von Auschwitz 18 (1990): 5-145. (D 805.5 .A96 Z4715) [Find in a library near you]
Chronicles the early history of Auschwitz concentration camp beginning in June 1940, when the first group of inmates, 728 Poles arrested for political reasons, arrived at the camp. Includes photographs, original documents, and a list of names of the prisoners. The Library also has the article in Polish under the title “Pierwsi Polacy w KL Auschwitz,” in Zeszyty Oświęcimskie 18 (1983), pages 5-144 (D 805.5 .A96 Z47).
Westermann, Edward B. Hitler's Police Battalions: Enforcing Racial War in the East. Modern war studies. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005. (D 804.3 .W445 2005) [Find in a library near you]
Discusses atrocities and the use of force by members of the Ordnungspolizei in Occupied Poland, distinguishing the violence by these police battalions from the Gestapo and SS actions. Includes illustrations, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.
Biographies and Memoirs
Karski, Jan. Story of a Secret State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1944. (D 802 .P6 K3 1944) [Find in a library near you]
Recounts the author's work as a courier for the Polish government-in-exile, including his arrest by the Gestapo and his clandestine visits to the Warsaw Ghetto. Originally published in 1944, prior to the war's end, it was republished in 2013 under the title Story of the Secret State: My report to the World.
Klukowski, Zygmunt. Diary from the Years of Occupation, 1939-44. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993. (D 802 .P62 Z3413 1993) [Find in a library near you]
Reproduces the author’s diaries and accounts of occupation as a doctor in Szczebrzeszyn, near Zamość. Includes day-by-day accounts of births, deaths, deportations, liquidations, atrocities and partisan activities. Contains an index of names.
Korboński, Stefan, and F. B. Czarnomski. Fighting Warsaw: The Story of the Polish Underground State, 1939-1945. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2004. (D 802 .P6 K6813 2004) [Find in a library near you]
Reproduces the author’s accounts of his activities as the head of the Polish underground organization during the war and their successful attempts to build a resistance movement. Includes photographs.
Lukas, Richard C., editor. Forgotten Survivors: Polish Christians Remember the Nazi Occupation. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. (D 804.5 .C47 F67 2004) [Find in a library near you]
Provides first-hand accounts of 28 Poles who survived Nazi oppression. Includes concentration camp artwork, pictures, a bibliography, and an index.
Nel Siedlecki, Janusz, Krystyn Olszewski, and Tadeusz Borowski. We Were in Auschwitz. New York: Welcome Rain Publishers, 2000. (D 805.5 .A96 N45 2000) [Find in a library near you]
A translation of the original 1946 memoirs of three prisoners who survived Auschwitz and the death march to Dachau. Includes a glossary of slang terms from concentration camps. The library also contains a copy under the title, Byliśmy w Oświęcimiu.
Rowinski, Leokadia. That the Nightingale Return: Memoir of the Polish Resistance, the Warsaw Uprising and German P.O.W. Camps. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999. (D 802 .P6 R6483 1999) [Find in a library near you]
A first-hand account of life in the Polish underground in occupied Warsaw and the failed uprising organized by the Polish Home Army. Recounts the author's capture by the Germans, imprisonment, liberation, and eventual emigration to the United States. Includes family portraits and documents.
Trzcinska-Croydon, Lilka. The Labyrinth of Dangerous Hours: A Memoir of the Second World War. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. (D 805.5 .A96 T79 2004) [Find in a library near you]
Recounts the author’s experiences as a member of the resistance, her time in Auschwitz, her survival of the death march, and liberation in Bergen-Belsen.
Wood, Thomas. Karski: How One Man Tried to Stop the Holocaust. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1994. (D 802 .P6 W65 1994) [Find in a library near you]
Documents Karski’s efforts as courier for the Polish government-in-exile, including his arrest by the Gestapo and his clandestine visits to the Warsaw Ghetto. Features several photographs, a glossary of names, and a section of sources and notes.
Explore our comprehensive entries on the events, people, and places of the Holocaust.
Bartoszewski, Władysław. Righteous Among Nations: How Poles Helped the Jews, 1939-1945. London: Earlscourt Publications, 1969. (D 810 .R4 B265 1969) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of testimonies from Polish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. Features many original documents, including transcripts and translations of German ordinances, as well as statements and reports issued by the Polish underground movement.
Borkowicz, Jacek, Israel Gutman, and William Brand. Thou Shalt Not Kill: Poles on Jedwabne. Warsaw: Tow. “Więź,” 2001. (DS 135 .P62 J448 2001) [Find in a library near you]
An anthology of articles by reporters, historians, and public figures published in Poland in response to the book, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Confronts the issues of collective guilt and the extent of Polish responsibility for the atrocities committed in that town.
Gross, Jan. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. (DS 135 .P62 J444 2001) [Find in a library near you]
Examines the slaughter of the 1,600 Jewish residents of the little Polish town of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors. Uses survivor testimonies, postwar trial transcripts, and a memorial book, to review the days leading up to the pogrom and the pogrom itself. Includes photographs, maps, and extensive notes.
Korboński, Stefan. The Jews and the Poles in World War II. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989. (DS 135 .P6 K55 1989) [Find in a library near you]
Documents how the Polish resistance movement assisted Jewish ghetto fighters and sought to gain international support for its activities. Describes Jan Karski’s mission to inform the world about Nazi atrocities. Analyzes Polish-Jewish relations in Poland as well as abroad from a post-Holocaust perspective. Includes historical photographs. Written by a former leader of the Polish Underground State.
Kurek, Ewa. Your Life Is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German-Occupied Poland, 1939-1945. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997. (D 810 .J4 K8313 1997) [Find in a library near you]
Focuses on the hiding of Jewish children in convents throughout Nazi-occupied Poland. Features an introduction by Jan Karski, interviews with nuns and child survivors, a listing of women’s religious orders and their locations, a glossary, and a bibliography.
Polonsky, Antony, editor. ‘My Brother’s Keeper?’: Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust. New York: Routledge/Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, 1990. (DS 135 .P6 M927 1990) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of fifteen essays, previously published in Polish journals in the late 1980s, on the question of Polish responsibility during the Holocaust. Also presents the transcript of a discussion held at the 1988 International Conference on the History and Culture of Polish Jewry exploring ethical issues of relating to the Holocaust in Poland. Includes an introduction by the editor and brief biographical statements about the contributors.
Główna Komisja Badania Zbrodni Niemieckich w Polsce. German Crimes in Poland. New York: Howard Fertig, 1982. (D 804 .G4 B53 1982) [Find in a library near you]
Reproduces translations of original findings and reports about Nazi war crimes and atrocities committed on Polish soil. Includes maps and charts.
Kunert, Andrzej Krzysztof, editor. Polacy, Żydzi: wybór źródeł = Polen, Juden: Quellenauswahl = Poles, Jews: Selection of documents: 1939-1945. Warsaw: Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa: Instytut Dziedzictwa Narodowego : Oficyna Wydawnicza Rytm, 2001. (Oversize DS 135 .P6 P628 2001) [Find in a library near you]
Provides 143 documents from Jewish communities, underground press articles, reports by the Polish Underground State and Polish Government-in-Exile, as well as Nazi occupation authorities about Polish-Jewish relations during 1939-1945. All documents are transcribed and presented in English, German, and Polish languages.
Kunert, Andrzej Krzysztof, editor. "Żegota": The Council for Aid to Jews, 1942-1945: Selected Documents. Warsaw: Rada Ochrony Pamięci Walk i Męczeństwa, 2002. (D 804.6 .Z4413 2002) [Find in a library near you]
Provides translations of 38 primary source documents reflecting aid given by Poles to Jews, and the attempts of Poles to inform the Western Allies of atrocities in Poland. Includes biographies of Żegota members, a document index, and images of original documents.
Ringelblum, Emanuel. Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1992. (DS 135 .P6 R45 1992) [Find in a library near you]
A collection of the writings and reflections of Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944), historian of the Warsaw Ghetto. Records his reactions to events in the Ghetto, particularly as they inform his understanding of Polish-Jewish relations. Anticipates the public debate on the question of Polish responsibility during the Holocaust. Includes a foreword by renowned Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer discussing Ringelblum’s life and work.
Wituska, Krystyna, and Irene Tomaszewski. Inside a Gestapo Prison: The Letters of Krystyna Wituska, 1942-1944. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2006. (D 805 .G3 W5713 2006) [Find in a library near you]
Reproduces translations of Krystyna Wituska’s correspondence from a Gestapo prison. Includes letters written by the courts announcing her death sentence for underground activities and the return of her letters to her parents. Contains an annotated list of people mentioned in the letters.
Museum Web Resources
Presents archival film footage held by the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum related to the Nazi occupation of Poland and persecution of Polish citizens.
Article summarizing the Nazi persecution of Polish citizens during World War II. Includes links to other articles and Web sites on the subject.
Learning materials and resources for students on the Museum's webpage.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has conducted nearly 500 oral history interviews with Poles concerning their experiences during the war and their actions concerning the Holocaust. Interviews are in various languages and can be watched online.
Ask at the reference desk to see the following subject files for newspaper and periodical articles:
- “Poland–History–Occupation, 1939-1945”
- “Poland–History, 1945-1950”
- “Poland–Jewish Relations”
To search library catalogs or other electronic search tools for materials on Poles during the Holocaust, use the following Library of Congress subject headings to retrieve the most relevant citations:
- Poland–Ethnic relations
- Poland–Foreign relations
- Poland–History–Occupation, 1939-1945
- World War, 1939-1945 Atrocities Poland