It was cold winter night of 1942. Probably January, maybe February. I never been told the exact time. What I know for certain, that it happened in Sosnowiec, Dandowka at the 6 Zdrojowa str. in German occupied Poland. My mother Ida just turned 14 when gestapo took her from her family home as a hostage for my aunt, her older sister Bogusia, who was with the resistant and remained in hiding last few weeks. My mom was pulled from her bed and dragged outside straight on to the crackling frost, barefoot and in a nightgown. Her mom, my grandma Klara, heard from the officer that Bogusia need to surrender herself before dawn, otherwise my mom will be hanged. So, as ordered, my aunt presented herself at the police station just before sunrise, and within few days she “took” the train to the concentration camp. As for my mother: she was locked in sort of orphanage and forced to slave labour until the last day of war.
Whatever it sounds like, this story is nothing unusual, just common happening across the German occupied Poland. Hundreds of thousands of families, millions of people have experienced similar, or much worst fate. In this respect, statistics are terrifying: for every thousand, two hundred twenty people lost their lives. Six hundred and forty-four thousand have died due to the direct warfare, three million five hundred seventy-seven thousand were lost because of imprisonment, deportation to death camps, roundups, executions, pacification, liquidation of ghettos and slave labour. Another one million two hundred and eighty-six thousand past away due to epidemic and hunger, etc. Finally, five hundred and twenty-one thousand died of exhaustion, wounds, mutilations, or health devastating work. Ultimately the losses in the population between 1939 and 1945 amounted to six million two hundred and eighty thousand, including three million two hundred thousand Jews (polish citizens).
Poles never formed collaborative structures of power (government, army, or Polish Waffen-SS units), which was an exception among European countries occupied by the Third Reich. The more unjust are the surprisingly frequent accusations that Poles, or the Polish State took an active part and on a par with Germans could be fairly accounted for Holocaust.
The Gestapo confidants, blackmailers, speculators and torturers during the German occupation of Poland could not feel safe. They were hunted and executed by enforcers from the Home Army who completed over three and a half thousand death sentences.
Almost from the beginning of the occupation, exactly from March 1940, civil and military special courts were operating in occupied Poland. The judgments were carried out by the Directorate of Civil Resistance (KWC), and by special groups appointed by the Home Army such as “Referat 993 / W”, and other cooperating with KWC organizations.
Crimes against the Jews could not be treated differently and in most cases weren’t. Punishment for collaboration was death, the Polish Government in Exile and the local structures of the Underground State with the utmost rigor were enforcing such rules.
On the other hand, facts about the collaboration and active participation in genocide on a massive scale of many European countries are little known and sometimes even neglected.
Belgians, Danes, Dutch, Estonians, Hungarians, Latvians, French, Italians, Ukrainians, Russians, Croatians, Romanians and many other nationalities, not only served in the Wafen SS, but formed their own units: the Belgian 27th Volunteer SS Panzergrenadier Division (1 Flemish) "Langemarck" [twenty-three thousand people], 28th Volunteer SS Panzergrenadier Division (1 Walloon) "Wallonien" [fifteen thousand] also Belgian. Ten thousand Danes reinforced the 5th SS Viking Panzer Division and the 11th Volunteer SS Panzergrenadier Division "Nordland". Dutch volunteers in the strength of fifty thousand served in the 23rd Panzergrenadier Division and 34 volunteer Grenadier Division SS "Landstorm Nederland", and in the 5th SS Viking Panzer Division. In France, the Vichy government, headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval actively collaborated with the German administration, contributing among other things to the extermination of European Jews. French police led by René Bousquet captured and deported to the extermination camps seventy-six thousand Jews who mainly end their lives in Auschwitz, Majdanek, Treblinka and Sobibor. Some eight thousand French volunteers feed 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS "Charlemagne". In Lithuania German administration directed and supported the organized killing of Lithuanian Jews by encouraging local auxiliaries of the German occupation regime to carry out logistics for the preparation and execution of the murders. Which resulted in a massacre in Ponary committed by German SD and SS units, but with the strong participation of Lithuanian Sonderkommando Squad (Ypatingasis būrys) from the Vilnius. Some seventy thousand Jews were murdered in Ponary, along with between two and twenty thousand Poles and eight thousand Russian POWs. Ukrainians formed the 14th SS-Volunteer Division "Galicia", in which served some twenty-five thousand men. Estonian have brought to life 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS – another twenty thousand men. Hungarians surrendered to Germans Jewish refugees from Poland and Czechoslovakia.