Adders and Other Reptiles

Reptile Journalism: The Official Polish-Language Press under the Nazis, 1939–1945

by Lucjan Dobroszycki, translated by Barbara Harshav
Yale University Press, 199 pp., $22.50

Jews in the Polish Underground Press, 1939–1945’ in Poland

by Lucjan Dobroszycki
Jagellonian University, Research Center on Jewish History and Culture, 289-296 in The Jews in Poland, Volume 1 pp.

Biedni Polacy Patrza Na Getto

by Jan Blonski
Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 156 pp.

Reptile Journalism is a solidly documented account of the Polish publications that appeared under Nazi rule, based on material the author found in Polish archives when he was a member of the Institute of History at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. He is now a historian at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and Yeshiva University in New York. His book will be a precious source of information about wartime Poland for scholars, but it closely follows the original Polish version, and the author apparently felt he did not have to provide some basic facts for the American reader concerning the Nazi occupation.

In Germany during World War I there was a public discussion about what to do with the conquered eastern territories. German nationalist politicians advocated that only the regions which could be made to fit into German life should be incorporated into the Reich, since lands with ethnic elements that were too alien would be hard to digest. The same thesis was applied during World War II to the Nazis’ conquests in the East. The western provinces of Poland were made a part of the Reich, while the central provinces were formed into an administrative unit called the General Government (GG), under control of a German governor, Hans Frank, who was tried after the war in Nuremberg for war crimes, found guilty, and hanged.

Contrary to some views, there was no Polish satellite state during the war years. Dobroszycki puts this succinctly:

Poland was a country without a Quisling. But for the sake of historical precision, it must be said that in the course of their more than five-year rule in Poland, the Germans never seriously attempted to produce such a figure; for without some tangible concessions, including a margin of sovereignty (no matter how narrow), there was no place for Quislingism in Poland.

Would the Germans have been able to create in Poland a puppet state as they did in neighboring Slovakia? In Germany the GG was called “Gangster Ground,” which conveys a sense both of the quick financial gain that was to be found there and the physical dangers as well. Germans like Oscar Schindler were lured to Poland by a hope of getting rich, but the region was far from safe for them. Resistance networks were organized into a Polish “Secret State,” about which the American government learned from Jan Karski, a courier and eyewitness of Nazi atrocities in Poland. The Germans called the underground fighters “bandits,” a word since used against freedom fighters in many other countries. A nearly hysterical patriotic conformity was imposed on Polish society by the Polish resistance groups, which were loyal to the Polish government in exile in London. The members of a potential Quisling government would have had a poor chance of surviving. And yet the very logic of Poland’s hopeless position between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia should, at least theoretically, have inclined some Poles to think about a possible accommodation with Germany …

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Letters

Enigma June 22, 1995