Anniversaries & holidays

The anniversary of the VE Day

Zdjęcie archiwalne: feldmarszałek Wilhelm Keitel siedzi przy stole. Podpisuje akt kapitulacji III Rzeszy, po przegranej przez Niemcy II wojnie światowej.
fot. U.S. Army Lt. Moore / domena publiczna

On 8 May 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered. The European Theatre of World War Two had come to an end. All the nations engaged in it endured unspeakable suffering and sustained immense loses. For Polish Jews, the Second World War meant near complete extermination.

2.8 million Polish Jews, i.e. over 85% of the entire Polish Jewish community, fell victim to the Holocaust. And yet, these numbers don’t reveal the whole truth about the chances for survival under the Nazi occupation. 

The majority of Jewish survivors avoided extermination because they had spent the war years in the areas that were not occupied by Nazi Germany, mainly in the far east of the Soviet Union. In historiography, the numbers 30,000 – 60,000 are often quoted with regard to the Jews who survived the Nazi occupation—the majority surviving in forced labour camps and only because the Germans needed workforce.

Chances of survival in hiding on the "Aryan side" were even smaller. According to a survey research conducted on the selected districts within the General Government, only 1-6% Jews survived in this area.

Therefore, while 8 May 1945 surely carries a symbolic meaning, what really mattered to the Jews awaiting rescue was the day of liberation from the Nazi occupation.

In the current public discourse, the idea of the Red Army entering and indeed driving away the Germans while being clad in the communist attire is undoubtedly controversial. Surely, it was different for Jews whom the Nazis had sentenced to death without a trial.

Now they were finally able to leave their hideouts. They regained the right to live.

In the autumn of 1944, the eastern front stopped on the River Vistula. Such a turn of events exerted a colossal impact on the Jews who were staying in hiding. Those who remained on the German side of the front had to endure another winter in hideouts. There is a phrase that often pops up in Jewish accounts on surviving the Holocaust—it was the time when Jews were “not allowed to live.” Surely, the liberation abolished that norm imposed by Nazi Germany.

of the immediate postwar years, several hundred Jews in Poland fell victim to murder, some motivated by a desire to profit, some triggered by antisemitism and a strong belief in the stereotype of Jewish communism (“żydokomuna”).

To some extent, these crimes were a consequence of the warfare: Jews who had emerged from their hiding places or those returning from abroad could now reclaim their property and belongings. They were also likely to seek relatives, the vast majority of whom perished, often after having been denounced to the Nazi occupier. This sense of insecurity drove the Jewish survivors to settle in cities rather than small towns.

One year after the war had ended, the bloody pogrom in Kielce resulted in mass emigration of Jews from Poland.