Skierbieszow: Poles and the German Occupation

Tomorrow, German President Horst Köhler turns 65. In the Tuesday edition (Feb. 19) of the German daily the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Thomas Urban reported on the Polish town of Skierbieszow where Köhler was born. Köhler’s parents were “ethnic Germans” from Bessarabia in the current Republic of Moldova. They moved to German-occupied Poland in late 1942 as part of the massive “resettlement” program organized by Heinrich Himmler and his Reich Commissariat for the Strengthening of the German People. As Urban reports, the entire district of Zamosc, where Skierbieszow is located, was supposed to be transformed into a “model” German settlement.

Largely as a consequence of the wide publicity given to the writings of historian Jan T. Gross, it has become extremely common in English media nowadays to treat Poles as if they were willing accomplices in the Holocaust or even somehow bore greater responsibility for the persecution and murder of Polish Jews than the German occupiers. The fact that millions of non-Jewish Poles met the same fate under the German occupation as their Jewish neighbors is made to disappear in such treatments.

For example: Citing recently published German documents, Urban describes what was done to the Polish inhabitants of Skierbieszow to make way for the “ethnic German” settlers:

The orders given to the occupying troops were unambiguous: surround and seal off the town. Round up the residents to be deported. Anyone who resists is to be shot on the spot. For the most part, the shocked locals had only minutes to get dressed warmly and to pack up the bare necessaries. In Zamosc, they were divided into different groups. Whoever was young and strong was put on a cattle car to be shipped to the Reich to do forced labor. Old persons who were no longer able to work and children under 10 years of age were sent to “retirement villages.” What was hidden behind this description was in fact the plan to leave them to their own devices, without providing them food, in order to have them “die off at an accelerated pace” — as an SS directive put it. Invalids, the mentally ill and persons who were seriously ill — but also many people who were able to work — were put on the list marked “Auschwitz.”

It is perhaps not irrelevant that Jan T. Gross’s latest book “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz” is published in English by Random House, the publishing arm of the German media giant Bertelsmann. As only came to light thanks to the investigations of the journalist Hersch Fischler, the late Bertelsmann chief Heinrich Mohn was an honorary SS member who owed his fortune in large part to the massive business the company did publishing texts for the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War. More to the immediate point, when challenged to clarify the firm’s Nazi connections, the current Bertelsmann chief, Heinrich’s son Reinhard Mohn, proposed to assign the task to none other than the openly revisionist historian Dirk Bavendamm, who has labeled WWII “Roosevelt’s War.” (For more on Bertelsmann, Bavendamm and the Mohns, see my “Bertelsmann’s View of America?” or “Bertelsmann’s Revisionist” by Hersch Fischler and John Friedman.)