The Holocaust was a terrible atrocity that caused many innocent people in several countries to suffer. Poland had a major role in this atrocity. Numerous Jews of Poland were affected, such as Manya Friedman. Many were sent either to camps outside of Poland, or to the several camps inside Poland, such as Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz—the most cruel camp. Jews were separated from their families, and never seen each other again. Although there were a few resistance movements in extermination camps in Poland and other countries, most victims had to wait until their camp was liberated by other organizations, such as the Swedish Red Cross. Polish Jews and their country were impacted by the Holocaust immensely.
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Before the Holocaust occured, antisemitism was already present in Polish society. Jews, which made up 10 percent of Poland, were starting to get excluded from the public by government authorities. Some Polish politicians even pressed for the mass emigration of Poland’s Jewish population. In June 1941, when all of Poland was under Germany, the act of antisemitism was officially seen and would be commonly seen for the next few years. Poland obeyed the antisemtic belief of Germany, creating the “Blue Police” made up of 20,000 Poles, who enforced Germany anti-Jewish policies and guarded ghettos from 1942 to 1943.
In Poland, citizens themselves enforced the antisemtic belief. Polish citizens took advantage of Jews, blackmailing them for being Jewish if they weren’t paid. This can be seen in the incident of Ewald Reiman. In November of 1940, Reiman threatened to expose a Jewish family if he wasn’t paid money. Pogroms also occurred, such as the pogrom in Jedwabne of 1941. Polish citizens united to burn their Jewish neighbors alive. Another cruel event of antisemitism led by Polish citizens occurred in Gniewczyna Łańcucka, where Polish citizens tortured and raped about three dozen Jews in May of 1942.
Despite the cruel actions of citizens in Poland against Jews, there were some resistance movements. Some of the Polish policemen who assisted the Germans in targeting Jews were also actually part of an underground resistance against the occupation. In addition, numerous Christian Polish citizens tried to shield the Jews in the pogrom of Gniewczyna Łańcucka. Another Polish citizen, Gertruda Bablinska, helped and protected Jews by having a Christian identity and posing as their mother. One notable man, Jan Karski, acted as an emissary between the Polish underground resistance and the government in exile. He delivered eyewitness accounts to allied leaders, attempting to seek rescue for the Jews. An organized group, the Zegota group, which was a clandestine council that aided Jews, saved thousands of victims by supplying false documents and helping them hide or escape.
Groups of Jews themselves also resisted in extermination camps. In August of 1943, small groups of Jews revolted in the extermination camp in Treblinka. A few months after a revolt in the camp of Sobibor rose. 300 prisoners escaped in these revolts. Inspired by these rebellions, in late 1944, Jews escaped in the camp in Auschwitz as well. Not all resistance movements were successful, and even with the resistance movements, 3 million Polish Jews were still murdered unfortunately.
Polish Jews fell as victims of the Holocaust, but some managed to be liberated luckily. One of the survivors in particular, Manya Friedman, had a very interesting experience in the Holocaust. Manya was born in Chmielnik, Poland. She attended both public school and Hebrew school as a Jew. Her family then moved to Sosnowiec, where she first experienced antisemitism. Her family was gradually pulled into Germany’s control. After the invasion of Poland, Manya’s father was marched towards a factory to work as a prisoner. He was then forced to build latrines for the German military, but fortunately was released.
Eventually, in 1941, Manya herself was forced to work for a German company producing military uniforms. A year later, Manya and her family were called to be deported to the Auschwitz camp, but luckily at first they were excused because of their work permits. This was when she realized that the Holocaust and the extreme antisemitic actions would be in effect and would affect her and her family in the future. In 1943, Manya was taken to the Gleiwitz labor camp and was tattooed 79357 as her “identity”. In late 1943, the rest of her family was deported to the Auschwitz extermination camp and were never to be seen again.
The peak of Manya’s journey was the trip to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She remembers how she was transported in an open freight car to the camp and suffered terrible freezing conditions during the trip. It lasted ten days, and she had no food, but only melted snow to drink. Manya was suffering, but that didn't stop her from helping others. She helped a sick friend from being crushed in the overcrowded freight car. Instead of being taken to the Ravensbruck camp, she was actually transferred to the Rechlin camp, a sub-camp of Ravensbruck. At Rechlin camp, she also suffered horrible conditions, where food was extremely rationalized, rags were infested with lice, and she only received one dress, a pair of shoes, and two pairs of stockings a year.
After being isolated and tortured in camps the past two years, in April of 1945, signs of hope were shown to Manya. White buses belonging to the Swedish Red Cross arrived. The head of the Swedish Red Cross, Folk Bernadotte, managed to negotiate with Himmler, the head of the Gestapo. Himmler agreed to release some inmates from both the Ravensbruck camp and the subcamp Rechlin. At first when they were saved, many Jews were hesitant to take the showers offered by the Red Cross, and had a lack of trust.
Manya was then put in a school used as a temporary shelter in Malmo. After a few days, students ran to the survivors, shouting that the war was finally over. Her and the other survivors were in disbelief, but rejoiced with them. Malmo started to become overcrowded, causing Manya to be transferred to another school used as a temporary shelter and hospital. In the next four months, Manya recovered from spots on her lungs, caused by her working in a factory producing carbon. According to Manya, the Swedish people were very generous, giving Manya clothes, food, and basic necessities. After the Holocaust, in 1950, she emigrated from Sweden to the U.S. She then became an active member at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Manya as well as other victims all could agree that the transition from the cruel camps to a normal life was pretty easy, but the nightmares and memories the Holocaust would haunt them for a lifetime. The Holocaust was a brutal event that affected several countries across Europe. Hitler took advantage of several people and countries unjustly. Manya and many of the victims were innocent people that didn’t deserve to be tortured in these camps. The Holocaust may be over, but the stories of the survivors will be told forever.