Radzilowski on Paulsson, 'Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945'

Gunnar S. Paulsson
John Radzilowski

Gunnar S. Paulsson. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. xxii + 298 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-300-09546-3.

Reviewed by John Radzilowski (Piast Institute)
Published on H-Holocaust (October, 2003)

Unveiling the Secret City

Unveiling the Secret City

Of all the ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland, none is better known than Warsaw. The dramatic, tragic, or heroic scenes of the Umschlagplatz, Janusz Korczak's orphanage, or the Ghetto Uprising of April 1943 are burned into the mind of anyone who has studied the Holocaust. They have been portrayed in novels and plays, as well as on television and in movies. Yet it may be this very notoriety that has led many to take for granted or ignore surprising and important facts about the fate of Warsaw's Jews during World War II.

Because of this, the author of Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, Gunnar S. Paulsson, has rendered scholars and the general public a great service by casting new light on a well-known topic and on familiar sources. Although this book is not without its errors and problems, Paulsson's Secret City is one of the most important books published in recent years on Nazi-occupied Poland and on wartime Polish-Jewish interaction. Along with Alexander Rossino's Hitler Strikes Poland, Paulsson's book challenges shopworn assumptions and simplistic stereotypes, revealing a more complex picture of these topics that is long overdue.[1]

The heart of this book is the author's attempt to calculate the number of Jews hiding on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw. His dramatic imagery of a "secret city" of hidden fugitive Jews, rescuers, and the criminals who preyed on them illustrates his subject though may also raise some objections. Paulsson revises the number of hidden Jews upward and makes the further point that leaving aside acts of war (e.g., the two uprisings against the Germans in Warsaw), the rate of Jewish survival in hiding in Warsaw was similar to that of Western European countries with a far less severe occupation regime such as Holland or even Denmark (p. 230).[2] In light of the way so many historians and polemicists alike have treated the Danish and Dutch cases in contrast to that of the Polish experience, such conclusions are earthshaking, if not, in some quarters, downright heretical.

Escape, Evasion, Hiding

Paulsson identifies "evasion" as an important and understudied Jewish response to escalating German repression and murder (pp. 7-13, 246-247). A long thread in the historiography of east European Jewry has been the tendency to view Jews as passive recipients of either anti-Semitic actions or, in a few cases, of aid and rescue.[3] The literature on Jewish resistance movements is a notable exception, but between armed resistance and passivity there is little middle ground. Even armed resistance, I would argue, is seen as a reactive response to existing circumstances. What is lacking is the sense of Jews as having historical agency. The author consciously counters this tendency by stressing the process of escape, evasion, and hiding as one initiated by Jews themselves. He describes this as an "inspiring story of self-help" (p. 14) and even suggests that rescuers are secondary in importance in the process of Jewish escape, evasion, and hiding.[4]

The majority of Jews in Warsaw did not have an opportunity to escape the Ghetto. For the majority, until the deportations began in earnest and the German plans for mass murder became clear, leaving was seen as a form of betrayal. In addition, until nearly the end, it was not clear that conditions on the outside were that much better. It was a widespread myth that survival on the outside was nearly impossible, especially for those without connections or "good looks" (i.e., non-Semitic appearance). For many Jews, especially those who were unassimilated, language, appearance, lifestyle, and lack of connections made existence on the outside seem impossible. Even for those who might have contemplated escape, two years of isolation from the rest of Warsaw left an information vacuum that the regime of smugglers, black marketeers, and political resistance activists could not or would not fill.

The first to leave the Ghetto (aside from those few who "passed" as Poles from the outset) were those with good connections on the outside. Usually such connections were born of pre-war business, political, or social connections and were found most commonly among the most assimilated Jews. As time went on, connections between Jewish fugitives and their rescuers became more and more tentative. Nevertheless, even Jews without connections and without "good looks" stood a far better chance of survival outside than inside. Paulsson estimates that 28,000 Jews sought to hide in occupied Warsaw at one time or another and that about 17,000 were still alive and in Warsaw at the start of the Warsaw Uprising on August 1, 1944 (pp. 199-200). (The biggest losses occurred due to the Hotel Polski affair, which resulted in the capture of some 3,500 hidden Jews.)

After making the initial decision to evade the Nazis and to escape the Ghetto, the Jews dealt with both allies and enemies. There were both those aiding Jews and those seeking to exploit or betray them, most of whom acted out of a range of motives. The majority of the population of Warsaw was at least partially aware of the "secret city," and for the most part kept silent about it. In the memoir of Anna Lanota, she describes how her cousin was spotted by a former schoolmate while riding a streetcar. The ex-classmate started shouting "Catch the Jewess!" Lanota's crippled cousin got off the streetcar and escaped into the crowd (p. 112). Paulsson suggests how such memoirs have been misread. How, for example, did a crippled Jewish girl manage to escape from a whole streetcar of apparently healthy anti-Semites? If all Poles were as ready to turn in Jews as has been popularly portrayed, why did this random cross sample of Varsovians take no action when a Jew in hiding was exposed in their midst? As Paulsson points out, a single hooligan or blackmailer could wreak severe damage on Jews in hiding, but it took the silent passivity of a whole crowd to maintain their cover.

Blackmailers (szmalcowniks) were plentiful in Warsaw. Jewish memoirs mention many encounters with gangs of them. Paulsson estimates that their total numbers, however, were very small, "1 or 2 percent" of all Warsaw Poles (p. 113). The damage that a criminal class could do, however, was substantial. Most blackmailers were interested in money and turning in large numbers of Jews to the Germans would have been counterproductive to their extortion business. Nevertheless, by stripping Jews of assets needed for food and bribes, harassing rescuers, raising the overall level of insecurity, and forcing hidden Jews to seek out safer accommodations (which was a risky business), blackmailers added significantly to the danger Jews faced and thus increased their chances of getting caught and killed.

Secret City

Paulsson's imagery of a "secret city" of hidden Jews within occupied Warsaw may seem at first glance overly dramatic. However, he makes a convincing case that such a thing did exist. It was a network connecting "every Jew in hiding to every other." It had its own culture, argot, and communication network. (News of the Hotel Polski trap, for example, spread with surprising speed among Jews in hiding.) Organizations like Zegota and the Jewish National Committee were the life of the secret city.

This imagery is in keeping with Polish descriptions of life in occupied Poland, stretching back to Jan Karski's wartime book Story of a Secret State. Where we might question Paulsson's description is in his depiction of a Jewish secret city that existed separately from the Polish one. (Paulsson alludes several times to a parallel Polish secret city and to the large number of Polish fugitives hiding from the Nazis in Warsaw.) While the author is right to stress the fact of Jewish self-help, in fact it is doubtful that the Jews in hiding could have survived as they did without the existence of a "secret city" of Poles (which the author mentions only in passing). Although Jews in hiding were a special target for both the German authorities and Warsaw's criminal class, the underlying context and the basic problems of life underground affected both Jews and Poles in hiding.

The data which form the heart of Secret City provide a too-rare example of how a historian can combine qualitative and quantitative sources to develop a fuller picture of a particular moment in time. The quantitative sources in question consist primarily of surviving lists of Jews in hiding who received assistance from aid organizations, while the qualitative sources are largely memoirs. Such an approach is not used enough and particularly in Holocaust studies there is too often an aversion to quantifying the past (pp. 18-19). Although a strictly quantitative historian might look askance at some of the material presented here and there is no such thing a "perfect" statistic or source, Paulsson uses numbers in a sensible and convincing fashion.

This is not to say that the book is completely free of problems in this area. The methodology used is sometimes unclear and the author sometimes omits explanatory footnotes (though this may have been a decision of the publisher instead of the author). Frequently there are interesting, controversial, or puzzling statements that a reader might like to know more about or that might serve as research projects in themselves that are not footnoted. One often gets the impression that the author is using more sources than appear in the notes. A case in point is table 1.3 in which Paulsson tries to calculate the number of Warsaw Jews who voted for non-Jewish parties in the 1938 municipal election (pp. 39-40). The figure of 18 percent is an "approximate picture" drawn from some source with "corrections" made for "various factors." There is no note and no source listed and no explanation of the corrections or the "various factors." Standard secondary sources, such as Edward Wynot's excellent history of interwar Warsaw, and primary statistical compilations (e.g., Concise Statistical Year-Book of Poland, Statystyka Polski) do not provide an obvious basis for such an estimate.[5] This is not to say that 18 percent is necessarily wrong, only that there is no basis to judge the validity of the estimate. It should not be necessary to remind the reader that notes serve a variety of important purposes. There is a "negative" function of simply backing up an author's assertions as well as "positive" function of providing guideposts for future scholars who will elaborate on the subject of the note. Notes provide important clues about sources and methods other scholars may wish to use and inadequate footnotes hinder scholarly communication.

Paulsson's treatment of qualitative sources provides an even more interesting subject for discussion. The author comments very positively on Jan T. Gross's "affirmative" approach to memoirs of Jewish Holocaust survivors in which scholars essentially suspend their critical faculties. He rightly notes that most Holocaust scholars follow such methodology (pp. 17-18).[6] Having said this, however, Paulsson then goes on to violate in the most shocking fashion Gross's "affirmative" approach. Although he describes his approach as "slightly more restrictive" than Gross's, in truth Paulsson, in contrast to Gross, is far more careful and judicious in using testimonies and memoirs. There are numerous examples of this in the book (see also the case of Lanota's memoir above ). Paulsson notes that survivor testimonies too often record the unusual:

"Another effect that has been stressed is that of the 'dog that did not bark in the night,' the natural tendency of untrained observers to pay attention to what is exceptional rather than what is representative. This is reflected in the historiography, which tends to focus on the extreme cases: people who risked their lives to help Jews, on one hand; rabid antisemites and collaborators on the other. Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski might not have liked Jews and might have felt nervous about having them next door in the face of German threats, but in situations where Jews faced immediate danger, they tended to be neutral or passively protective.

"One reason for distorted post-war perspectives is that much of our knowledge and many of our beliefs about this period come from Jewish activists, whose situation was not at all typical. Activists tended to come into contact mainly with problem cases, were forced to seek helpers on the open market since their own contacts were soon exhausted and moved in small circles in which everyone knew everyone else. Consequently, they tended to underestimate the amount of spontaneous help that was extended to Jews, overestimate the dangers facing them, and, because they were politically engaged, largely in anti-assimilationist parties, they often had a jaundiced view of Polish society" (p. 163).[7]

While the author might describe his approach as a "slight" difference from that of Gross's, this reviewer would describe it as "good historical methodology."

Not all of Paulsson's methodological choices are good ones. For example, he outright rejects the memoirs of Sara Kraus-Kolkowicz, merely because they do not portray the Jewish individuals in a positive light and because he could not find the author's name in any postwar survivor lists (which he himself notes are not always reliable). Nevertheless, this book is vouched for by Professor M. Wieliczko who prepared the manuscript for publication with the author, now a citizen of Israel. Clearly, this book should not have been denounced out of hand without further investigation.[8] At the same time, he accepts the memoirs of Jack Eisner, even though serious questions have been raised about its authenticity. Also rejected are all of the memoirs of Polish rescuers in the files of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw (pp. 21-22). The main reason for rejection seems to be that they were written by Poles and that some authors asked for monetary compension.[9]

Warsaw's Multi-Ethnic Criminals, the Polish Right, and Other Matters

One puzzling omission in Paulsson's otherwise solid discussion of the regime of blackmailers and criminals that preyed on people hiding in the "secret city" is that they are treated as entirely Polish. Since 40 percent of Warsaw's population before the war was Jewish, it is no surprise that Jews were also found in the city's criminal underworld and during the war these criminals, joined by others out of need or opportunity, would have been active at their former "professions."[10] So szmalcowniks and even German agents were not merely Poles, but Jews as well.

This is confirmed in both research and memoir literature.[11] Many szmalcownik gangs found it helpful to employ at least a few Jewish confederates to help them find Jewish victims. (As Paulsson points out, though, it was not strictly necessary to do so since Poles were able to do it themselves in many cases.) In addition, the various arms of the German authorities employed Jews as catchers to hunt down Jews in hiding both prior to and after the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The most infamous were the so-called "Thirteens" who took their name from their headquarters on 13 Leszno Street.[12] One memoir even records a child's rhyme that circulated at the time:

"Mummy, Daddy, listen do / With a German the Gestapo came two by two / What a shame, what a disgrace / The first was a Pole, the second a Jew! / Mummy, Daddy, listen do / Here come the Gestapo, do you know who? / What a shame, the worst disgrace / The first is a Jew, and the second is too!"

The author, Ruth Altbeker Cyprys, also writes that after the liquidation of the Ghetto "the Jewish Gestapo men who remained alive were very dangerous. Their eyes were penetrating and Jews pointed out by them were lost without hope."[13]

Secret City devotes a lot of attention to the Polish Right but the author's portrayal of Polish conservatives is a two-dimensional stereotype peppered with factual errors. For example, Paulsson claims that the Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny (National-Radical Camp or ONR) was "modeled on the Italian fascists" (p. xvii), which is not true since ONR did not subscribe to the Duce principle. Nor did the Camp of Great Poland, disbanded before the war by the Sanacja government, co-found the Narodowe Sily Zbrojne (National Armed Forces or NSZ). The author also consistently confuses the relationship of the NSZ to the Armia Krajowa (Home Army or AK). In fact, the NSZ subordinated itself to the AK in March 1944 (save for the ONR faction). During the Warsaw Uprising, Paulsson claims that only individual members of the NSZ fought with the AK, which is patently false (p. 167). Even the ONR subordinated itself to the AK during the Warsaw Uprising.[14] This stands in contrast to Paulsson's laudatory treatment of the Polish communists, whose miniscule armed contribution is placed almost on a par with that of the AK (p. 167). The communists are even described as part of the "Polish" left (p. 39), when in fact the party rejected the whole notion of Poland as an independent state and sought subordination to the Soviet Union. Although the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Right comes in for much criticism, it is not clear that the phony philo-Semitic rhetoric of the left saved a single Jew. It certainly did not save the many Jews who were killed by Polish communists and their "fraternal" Soviet masters.

Paulsson mistakenly accuses the NSZ of the murder of Marceli Handelsman, now widely believed to have been done by an AK counterintelligence unit that had evidence implicating Handelsman as a communist agent (p. 45).[15] Nor does the author seem aware of (or perhaps interested in) recent research on the Polish Right's reaction to the mass killing of Jews, research that has shown that there was a significant reduction of anti-Semitic articles and an increase in pro-Jewish pieces as well as documentation of the German murder of Poland's Jews.[16] Finally the author mistakenly calls the Miecz i Plug (Sword and Plow) group "collaborationist."[17]

There are a number of minor errors here and there in Secret City. For example, the author mistranslates "rowny chlop" as "regular guy" when "cool guy" would be more accurate (p. 86). So, too, with his rendering of "cmentarz Ewangelicki" as "Evangelical cemetery" (p. 64) rather than "Lutheran cemetery." "Zgromadzenie Chrobrych" should actually be Zgrupowanie Chrobry II (p. 174), thus the translation "gathering of the valiant" is not relevant. "Brody quartermaster brigade" should be Baon "Broda" and "Baon Gozdawy" should be Baon "Gozdawa" (p. 184). More seriously, Paulsson erroneously (and sans citation) claims that the post-war Milicja Obywatelska (MO) was made up largely of pre-war and wartime policemen, when in fact these men were banned by communists from joining. He also falsely claims that during the pre-war era police did not oppose riots that attacked Jews, when in fact police beat demonstrators at Przytyk and killed demonstrators at Odrzywol (pp. 144-145).

The Warsaw Uprising

By far the most puzzling section of the book is the section that deals with the deaths of Jews during the Warsaw Uprising. At issue is whether the AK killed Jews. The so-called Prosta Street massacre and a few smaller incidents which claimed the lives of some 22 Jews and 4 non-Jews receive far more attention than the Hotel Polski affair (which claimed 3,500 Jewish lives) or the liberation of some 350 Jews from the Gesia Street concentration camp. (The meaning of this disproportional treatment becomes clear only later.) Paulsson's main source for this incident is a popular polemic by Michal Cichy that appeared in Gazeta Wyborcza in 1994. The article was widely criticized by Polish scholars and is a very thin reed on which to rest weighty accusations.[18]

As Paulsson shows the eyewitness accounts differ greatly in their particulars. Some of the eyewitnesses conclude that the Chrobry II unit was responsible, a claim even Paulsson rejects as implausible. In fact, it was Chrobry II members who helped report the crime in the first place. It is quite clear that the author did little independent investigation of this incident himself, basing his account largely on Cichy's newspaper article. Had he done otherwise, he would have discovered that the Chrobry II unit that he praises was in fact a unit made up almost entirely of members of the NSZ, Miecz i Plug, and ONR! Moreover, it was a unit that contained more than a dozen Jewish members, a fact confirmed by a recent history of the unit and by Chaim Lazar.[19] This, of course, does not fit at all with the polemical picture Paulsson presented of Polish "conservatives" who are supposedly the reason why Polish culture is "sick" (p. 182). While the killing of any innocent civilian--Jewish or not--is a black mark on the record of the Polish underground during the Warsaw Uprising, as distinguished historian Teresa Prekerowa noted, almost all of these killings were attributable to common banditry.


As noted above, in general, historians of modern Poland, scholars of World War II in east-central Europe, and historians of the Holocaust will welcome Secret City because of its basically solid research, its revision of received wisdom, and its condemnation of the spurious comparisons that are still too often made by some Holocaust scholars between supposedly "good" nations and "bad" ones. The book is well written, nicely produced by Yale University Press, and could be read with profit by graduate students and professors alike.

The book's one major problem (aside from any of the lesser issues noted above) is the author's willingness to engage in polemics that are not only not germane to the thesis of Secret City but in some cases hinder it. In addition to the puzzling overemphasis on some incidents and the virtual ignoring of other seemingly more important ones, in the conclusion of the book Paulsson launches into a long and angry polemic on behalf of Jan Gross's book Neighbors. What exactly this has to do with the subject at hand may be questioned by the casual reader and with reason. Some may also question why a work proclaimed by some as virtually without error even needs such a defense.[20]

The basic facts uncovered by Paulsson--while by no means closed to challenge--are quite clear and they show that the picture of wartime Poland portrayed in most popular and scholarly accounts of the Holocaust is simply not accurate. Barring acts of war, far more Jews were able to survive in Poland than has been believed. Warsaw, despite an extremely harsh occupation, compares favorably to Holland and even Denmark in the record of hiding Jews. If we accept "for the sake of argument" that Poles are/were more anti-Semitic than the Dutch, then it is clear that survival was much less dependent on the level of anti-Semitism in a particular society than we have heretofore been led to believe. In short, anti-Semitism is an imperfect and perhaps even poor predictor of Jewish survival and other factors need to be considered.

The unfortunate polemics in Secret City may be an indication that the author does realize how unpopular this conclusion may be in some quarters and are perhaps a way of anticipating the criticism that he is Polonophilic, a deadly "faux pas" in most Western academic circles. Nevertheless, the data are what they are.

The polemics against Polish conservatives and more generally against Polish Catholics and Catholicism found in Secret City would be embarrassing if applied to any comparable political or religious group in any other country. For example, Paulsson repeatedly sneers at the whole idea of Polish patriotism, essentially equating it with a desire to kill Jews. He uses the term "brave and decent" Poles (p. 173) to refer to criminals who are accused of killing Jews. This approach, a sort of "colonialist" reading of Polish history, seems to stem largely from Brian Porter's deeply flawed book When Nationalism Began to Hate.[21]. This is downright offensive to the memory of countless Poles who fought and died to defend their homeland from Nazi and Soviet tyranny. The author's claim that some significant body of scholars denies the existence or significance of Polish anti-Semitism makes for a fine straw man, but in truth no such group exists. To the contrary, the problem, as the polemical side of Secret City makes clear, is a myopic obsession with anti-Semitism that excludes every other causal factor in the one-thousand-year history of Poland.

Far more serious and archival research needs to be done on this aspect of Polish politics. The Right and Center Right were highly complicated and resist this sort of simplistic generalization. One wonders how an author who can find a diversity of behavior and attitudes among Nazi functionaries cannot find a similar diversity on the Polish Right. Much of the rhetoric employed here, while rooted in earlier Stalinist-era propaganda and pre-war Polish political conflicts passed on to a new generation, is also the result of many Western scholars being too close, personally and ideologically, to left and liberal opinion makers in today's Poland who have cynically used highly charged issues (such as Jedwabne) as a way to get votes. To treat this subject seriously, scholars need to disentangle themselves from current political forces on either side.

More helpfully, Paulsson's book refocuses our attention on the range of behaviors and attitudes (often contradictory) held by both Jews and non-Jews during this period. He trenchantly suggests that the differences between resistance and evasion have been too often blurred (pp. 7-11). The categories of resistance, collaboration, evasion, and accommodation need further elaboration. Over the course of the war and occupation, a particular individual could fall into each of these categories at one time or another based on circumstances, the most telling of which were the policies of the occupiers.

In his de facto rejection of Gross's "new approach" to sources Paulsson has also refocused our attention on the need to maintain our critical faculties as scholars and not take short cuts that lead to politically useful but ultimately false and unsatisfying scholarship. That the author falls short of these ideals in a couple of spots in the book is of no great moment. On the main subject of Jews in hiding he is solid and serious.

Secret City is an important and path-breaking book that challenges many old assumptions and will, it is hoped, provide a basis for further fruitful work on Jews and Poles under the Nazi occupation.


[1]. Alexander B. Rossino, Hitler Strikes Poland: Blitzkrieg, Ideology, and Atrocity (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2003).

[2]. This thesis was first put forward by Paulsson in earlier journal articles, for example, Gunnar S. Paulsson, "The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi Occupied Poland," Journal of Holocaust Education 7 (1998): pp. 19-44; idem, "Demography of Jews in Hiding in Warsaw" Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 13 (2000): pp. 78-103.

[3]. See my review essay on Michael Steinlauf's Bondage to the Dead, "Bondage to the Holocaust," Periphery: Journal of Polish Affairs 4/5 (1998/99): pp. 50-55. One can see this tendency in early histories, such as Simon Dubnov's history of Jews in Poland and Russia. The current literature tends--quite correctly--to emphasize the conditions of the Nazi occupation as the main factor influencing Jewish actions. (Though not Polish actions, which are more often than not viewed as stemming from inherent Polish characteristics, i.e., anti-Semitism.) What is frequently lost in this case is a sense of the internal complexity of the Jewish community and extent to which Jewish responses were driven by that complexity.

[4]. The author's general point is well taken as a corrective to prevailing historiography and, as the bulk of the book shows, he discusses the actions and networks of Polish rescuers in sufficient detail. Nevertheless, this emphasis may strike the casual reader as a bit like a drowning man who calls for help from the lifeguard. Clearly, by alerting the lifeguard to his distress, he has "initiated" his own rescue, but it could hardly be called "self-rescue."

The question of agency among populations under severe repression is always one that must be handled with care, lest they somehow be made to seem responsible for that repression. Nevertheless, to take a comparative case, slaves in the antebellum American South also were able to exercise agency and affect the conditions of their enslavement to a certain degree. See, for example, Jack E. Davis, "Changing Places: Slave Movement in the South," The Historian 55:4 (Summer 1993): pp. 657-76.

[5]. The best secondary source in English on interwar Warsaw is Edward D. Wynot, Jr., Warsaw between the World Wars: Profile of a Capital City in a Developing Land, 1918-1939 (New York: Columbia University Press/EEM, 1983). The standard statistical compilation for Poland is Concise Statistical Year-Book of Poland, published in annual editions in Polish, French, and English. A more detailed statistical breakdown of voting results and other data can be found in Statystyka Polski (Warsaw: Glowny Urzad Statystyczyny Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej, 1919-38).

[6]. See Jan T. Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), pp. 139-40. The fatal problems of such an approach have been discussed elsewhere and lie outside the scope of this review, but it is worth noting that this approach seems to apply only to Jewish testimonies or to testimonies that agree with the author's thesis (whether that author is Gross or someone else). Polish testimonies and those not in agreement with an author's thesis are free to be treated with the opposite or non-affirmative approach (e.g., automatically taken as false unless proven otherwise). At p. 18, Paulsson, unfortunately, attacks Raul Hilberg as a "purist" for insisting on verifiable sources and for writing the history of the Holocaust only from sources left by the perpetrators. Such criticism is unfair. It is far preferable to insist on rigorous scholarship than to lower standards to the point where we accept without criticism poorly researched works that just happen to portray unpopular ethnic groups or ideas in the "correct" way. Purists are preferable to ideologues.

[7]. To which this reviewer would only add, aside from a general "amen," that apart from the anti-assimilationist perspective, many of the post-war views were shaped by activists (not only Jewish) who were leftist or sympathetic to the left and by the dominant left-wing world view prevalent in most academic and journalistic circles during the past several decades. Since Poles in the main have tended to be both anti-Soviet and anti-communist, they have usually been viewed in very negative terms by leftist and left-friendly authors.

[8]. Sara Kraus-Kolkowicz, Dziewczynka z ulicy Milej: Albo swiadectwo czasu Holokaustu (Lublin: Agencja Wydawnictwo-Handlowa AD, 1995); Statement by Dr. hab. Mieczyslaw Wieliczko, Institute of History, Marie Curie Sklodowska University, Lublin, in the author's possession courtesy of Dr. Zygmunt Zielinski, Lublin. Needless to say, memoirs that have been fabricated or given extra embroidery do exist.

[9]. As Paulsson points out in the book, those who hid Jews did so for a variety of reasons, including money. Odds are that the ZIH collection contains some doubtful Polish rescuer statements, but a wholesale rejection of these memoirs seems unfair. Doubtless, it is easier to deal with only the most altruistic of rescuers, but the strength of Secret City is that it attempts to deal with the norm and context rather than simply stringing together extreme cases of dogs that did not bark in the night.

[10]. Crime, as I've argued elsewhere, was as close to an equal opportunity enterprise as one could find in times past. (See, for example, "Crime, Delinquency, Deviance, and Reform in Polish Chicago, 1890s-1940s," Fiedorczyk Lecture in Polish American Studies, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, April 2001, soon to be published by the CCSU Polish Studies program.) One result of this was that Polish criminal argot was heavily peppered with Yiddish and Hebrew loan words. See, for example, "It's a Crime," Forward, Jan. 3, 2003, found at www.forward.com/issues/2003/03.01.03/arts3.htm.

[11]. See for example, Jan Grabowski, "Szmalcownicy warszawscy, 1939-1942," Zeszyty Historyczne (Paris), 143 (2003): pp. 85-117.

[12]. See Jonas Turkov, C'=tait ainsi: 1939-1943 la vie dans le ghetto de Varsovie (Paris: Austral, 1995), p. 140.

[13]. See Ruth Altbeker Cyprys, A Jump for Life: A Survivor's Journal from Nazi-Occupied Poland (New York: Continuum, 1997), pp. 26, 39, 165-66. There are many Jewish memoirs that mention Jewish agents of the Nazis used to hunt down those in hiding. See also, Gary A. Keins, A Journey Through the Valley of Perdition ([United States]: G. A. Keins, 1985), pp. 131-32, 145, 151, 154, 179; Irena Szereszewska, Memoirs from Occupied Warsaw, 1940-45 (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1997), pp. 214, 332, 337; Antoni Marianowicz, Zycie surowo wzbronione (Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1995), p. 115; Michal Grynberg, Ksiega sprawiedliwych (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 1993), p. 379; Henryk Grynberg, Drohobycz, Drohobycz (Warsaw: W.A.B., 1997), p. 42.

[14]. See Sebastian Bojemski, Poszli w Skier Powodzi: Narodowe Sily Zbrojne w Powstaniu Warszawskim (Warsaw: Glaukopis, 2002). Paulsson also mistakes the commander of Chrobry II (p. 176). (On key personnel in this unit, see ibid., pp. 205-209). Other minor errors regarding the Polish Right include the author's claim that Roman Dmowski never held public office (p. 38) and his misidentification of Jan Mosdorf as merely the editor of the ONR's periodical Prosto z mostu, when in fact he a was member of ONR's principal leadership (p. 253 n. 31). On Dmowski as a government minister, see Anthony Polonsky, Politics in Independent Poland, 1921-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), p. 117.

[15]. See Jerzy Janusz Terej, Na rozstajach drog: Ze studium nad obliczem i modelem Armii Krajowej, 2nd revised and expanded edition (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich, 1980), p. 288; and Ryszard Nazarewicz, Armii Ludowej dylematy i dramaty (Warsaw: Oficyna Drukarska, 1998), pp. 218-24. Historian Tomasz Strembosz, by contrast, lays the killing to an extreme radical anti-Communist faction. See Tomasz Strzembosz, Rzeczpospolita podziemna: Spoleczenstwo polskie a panstwo podziemne 1939-1945 (Warsaw: Krupski i S-ka, 2000), p. 317. The same seems to be true of the murders of two other Jewish AK officers wrongly attributed to the NSZ in Piotr Wrobel, Historical Dictionary of Poland, 1945-1996_ (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998), p. 203. At the very least, there is significant disagreement as to the assassins and the circumstances of the killings.

[16]. See Wojciech J. Muszynski, W walce o Wielka Polske: Propaganda zapleca politycznego Narodowych Sil Zbrojnych (1939-1945) (Biala Podlaska and Warsaw: Rekonkwista/Rachocki i S-ka, 2000).

[17]. The Sword and Plow movement had solid anti-Nazi and anti-communist credentials until the majority of its original leadership was destroyed by the Gestapo in 1941. In 1943 some of its top leaders were suspected of collaboration, but this was never true of the rank and file. See Aneta Wojcieszkiewicz, "Ideologia i dzialalnosc organizacja ' Miecz i Plug' w okresie okupacji, 1939-1945," MA thesis, University of Warsaw, 1998. During the Warsaw Uprising, Sword and Plow also subordinated itself to the AK under the aegis of the NSZ. In fact, part of the Chrobry II unit that Paulsson later praises in the context of the Warsaw Uprising was made up of members of the Sword and Plow! Fighting with this group was Zionist Revisionist and ex-Ghetto policeman Calel Perechodnik. See Sebastian Bojemski, letter to the editor, Sarmatian Review, 22, no. 3 (September 2002): pp. 913-15. (Online at www.ruf.rice.edu/~sarmatia.)

[18]. See Tomasz Strzembosz, "Polacy-Zydzi: Czarna karta Gazeta Wyborczej," Gazeta Wyborcza (February 5-6, 1994); Janusz Marszalec, Ochrona porzadku i bezpieczenstwa publicznego w Powstaniu Warszawskim (Warsaw: Rytm, 1999).

[19]. See Bojemski, Sarmatian Review letter; idem, Poszli w Skier Powodzi, pp. 235-52; Chaim Lazar Muranowska 7: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Tel Aviv, 1966), p. 327.

[20]. There is no point in rehashing the arguments for and against Gross's book here, but it is worth noting that even mild criticism of Neighbors has often resulted in wild and extreme personal attacks on the critics, not to mention efforts at censoring them. Any disagreement with Gross's conclusions or methodology has been systematically attacked as anti-Semitism. Jedwabne has now generated a massive and growing literature. Many of the basic facts stated by Gross in the book have been seriously challenged, in particular by the results of the IPN investigation which concluded that he inflated the victim count by a factor of at least four.

[21]. Brian Porter, When Nationalism Began to Hate: Imagining Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). See also my review in Kosmas: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal 15, no. 1 (Fall 2001): pp. 97-99; and see Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, "Nacjonalizm wyobrazony" (Nationalism imagined), Miedzynarodowy Przeglad Polityczny 4 (2003) (forthcoming).

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Citation: John Radzilowski. Review of Paulsson, Gunnar S., Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. H-Holocaust, H-Net Reviews. October, 2003.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=8353

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