Shawn Harding
Founder of The Holocaust Blueprint

The Core of Nazi Collaboration Part 1

Arbeit Macht Frei - Auschwitz I

Part 1

I received a request for more information about Hotel Polski, Stella Goldschlag, and the overall collaboration of people with the Nazi regime. This article will cover a plethora of different events that involved collaborators, but it should be noted that many more events occurred throughout the Nazi conquest of Europe. This article will not address Western Europe, and it will be missing a few of the Eastern countries which will be addressed in the next article.

This request requires a deep dive into the mindset of collaborators and their efforts to aid the Nazi regime. Collaborators existed from France to the Soviet Union, and many notable collaborators were often brutal extremists with no regard for life. Many collaborators were involved with the Nazi regime for personal gain, but for some, it was also a sense of glory or honor to serve in a unit that eliminated enemies of the state such as the Jewish people. The Nazi regime had control of Europe, and their choke-hold would make the lives of its inhabitants miserable. We know of many events that occurred throughout the Holocaust were financially motivated, but what about the unlikely collaborators many would not have expected to be a part of the system? Cases exist where the Kapos at the camps were as brutal or more brutal than their Nazi captors, and in this way, they believed they had their future and family’s future in some cases protected. However, it should be noted, that Jewish collaborators were a means to an end for the Nazi regime. The intent of the Nazi regime was to eradicate the Jewish people, and your “services to the Fatherland” would have been meaningless in the end game.

Before we begin analyzation of collaboration between different parties, we need to first define what collaboration really is. Is collaboration those who committed a crime through physical means, or can we clump those who remained silent inside of the definition? Many may look at silence as arbitrary – silence isn’t participating. This concept is harmful to all who face genocide, whether be it the Jewish people in the Holocaust, the Roma in Porajmos, the Bosniak’s in the Bosnian genocide, and many more. If we remain silent, we remain complicit by not opposing active persecution. We are aware of the amount of information that was present, and the fact that the Holocaust was known throughout the world’s governments.

Six million Jewish people met their early deaths at the hands of a regime that had no regard for life – so what difference did silence make? Protest brings pressure to any situation we can face in our day-to-day life. Think of your most recent argument with someone – one of you was actively protesting a scenario, and this grabbed your attention enough for you to defend your position. We can view our governments in this way as well. Enough protest will cause a stir within the government, and that stir will force the hand of the government to act or not to act. We saw the latter within America as Americans feared entering another war like World War I, and in a government where officials are elected, they rely on their voters to bring them back. Acting outside of the wants of their constituents is a sure-loss, and thus, pushing for a war that Americans did not want could have been the death of your political career. In this way, the protests of Americans and the sentiment that could be felt throughout the country impacted the American government’s inaction in a time where it was desperately needed. It is through pressure that figures act. We can go into any list of failings of the world’s governments, but it was easiest to address the impact of fear on the actions of those who lead.

Now that we have established the impact of protest even in the simplest form, we can acknowledge what lack of protest can cause in a government’s choices. Silence about the on-goings of the Nazi perpetrators allowed for their actions to remain lacking of reprimand. Silence can be assumed as approval, but it is so much more than that. Silence allows for a situation to continue whether you approve of the situation or not. The Nazi regime was able to act because the silence of those who were aware was far more prominent than those who actively protested. It should be noted that in this time speaking out against the Nazi regime had serious implications. Children from the Nazi regime believed Hitler to be their father, and they would happily turn in their family members should they be anti-Nazis or act in a way that was anti-Nazi. It was dangerous to be vocal, and we saw this with the White Rose movement who actively protested the Nazi regime. Sophie Scholl, a name that rings throughout history, met her fatal end just by being vocal against a regime whose cruelty remains unparalleled. If more people had protested – if more people had been active in their dissonance – the impact remains to be unseen. Hitler relied on the German people to approve of him, and his abilities as a demagogue relied on this illusionary image of him being the savior of Germany.

The argument could be made that information was harder to send throughout Germany, but it is important to recognize how much information got to the Jews in the ghettos. We see in many ghetto diaries rumors that had started outside of the ghetto – sometimes of actions – that impacted the lives of other Jews. Information spread rapidly, and whether this was through the Nazi perpetrators spreading it to instill fear, or from those who interacted with the outside world, we can see a large amount of information was reaching even the darkest corners of Earth – the Jewish ghettos. The assumption can be made that if the Jews had heard about it, there would be no way that the German people did not know of any sort of actions occurring across Europe. However, it was in the best interest for the Nazi regime to keep these actions as rumor for the German people so that doubt could be sowed and any type of protest would be limited.

Another argument can be made that the warfare on the citizens under occupation would lead to certain choices to be made against the Jewish people / dissenters. However, it should be understood that there were many that acted purely out of opportunity – not out of desperation. The Nazis made it clear they had the intention to dismantle the countries they entered:

Warsaw fell on 28 September 1939, and the day before, Heydrich could already report that “of the Polish leadership, there remained in the occupied area at most 3 percent.[2]

Poland especially suffered under occupation given limited supplies and other necessities. According to Roland, Germans received 2613 calories, Polish people received 699 calories, and Jews received 184 calories per day.[6] This created a dire situation for the Jewish and Polish people who were both considered enemies of the state. However, it should not be misconstrued that every Polish person who committed an atrocity was driven by desperation as we saw in Jedwabne. Collaborators had a myriad of reasons for collaborating, and those reasons should be acknowledged when we attempt to understand collaboration as a concept. This approach is not meant to explain away the actions, but to understand at what point a person(s) may have turned to collaboration.

Collaboration is not limited to those who acted aggressively during the war, but those who failed to act in justice despite having the knowledge of what was going.

German Collaboration
It goes without saying that the Holocaust would not have been possible without the German state, the citizens, intellectuals, and soldiers actively collaborating. It should be noted that although this article will focus primarily on the Jewish people, others suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazi regime. Polish citizens, French citizens, the Roma, the physically and mentally disabled, and homosexuals are just a few examples. The cruelty of the Nazi regime did not remain focused on just one group, but this war was held on multiple fronts in order to give way to the perceived perfect race – the Aryans. German doctors involved in programs such as Aktion T4, which was the mass murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

The world in Germany was bleak. Ravensbrück concentration camp is under 70 miles from Berlin. Bergen-Belsen concentration camp not far from Belsen. The idea that most of the Germans remained unaware of the on-goings in Germany seems unfathomable given the evidence. I think the more likely explanation is that they didn’t want to know, or they didn’t want to acknowledge it after the war. They had lost their “thousand-year Reich.”

When we speak about the Third Reich, a name that usually comes to mind beside from Adolf Hitler is Heinrich Himmler. Himmler had a quality that is particularly important, one we often overlook due to his role with the Holocaust – he was a chicken farmer before the Nazis gained power. This may not seem significant, until we look at it from the standpoint of a nation undergoing changes. Himmler wasn’t someone special – he was your everyday common farmer, and he was capable of orchestrating the catastrophic event known as the Holocaust with the help of people just like him. The Jews were made enemies of the state, and this identification made Nazi actions against the Jews easily turn into propaganda – they were doing “what was best for the state and their people.” Participants in the Holocaust didn’t have to pull the trigger of a gun or dump the gas into the slot above the chambers – participants were just as deadly be reporting Jews that had escaped or were in hiding. The Germans watched as the Nazis marched through the streets during Kristallnacht and destroyed Jewish property, and this silence in the face of tyranny gave the Nazi regime the power to take their Jewish neighbors with no protest.

Those who participated in the Holocaust were not just farmers – intellectuals also participated. Doctors actively contributed in the Holocaust and the torture of Jews and other enemies of the state. One of the most well-known doctors, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz, Josef Mengele was infamous. Soldiers also participated, names including some of the cruel individuals such as Rudolf Höss, Kommandant of Auschwitz concentration camp, and Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon. The spectrum of collaborators shows a distinct impact of Nazi propaganda but also the depravity that humanity can assume if given the opportunity.

The Schutzstaffel were known for their brutality, and their black outfits would instill fear in every perceived enemy who crossed their path. Hitler knew that the invasion of Poland would be bloody:

The idea of treating war as anything other than the harshest means of settling questions of very existence is ridiculous,’ he challenged the army commanders. ‘Every war costs blood, and the smell of blood arouses in man all the instincts which have lain within us since the beginning of the world: deeds of violence, the intoxication of murder, and many other things. Everything else is empty babble. A humane war exists only in bloodless brains.’ [3]

The concept presented by Hitler could be seen in the Schutzstaffel methodology. Brutality was defined when the Schutzstaffel ran through Poland. The Schutzstaffel, often called the SS, were given the instruction to run through Eastern Europe and eliminate the enemies of the state of the Nazi regime. An SS Officer said this:

As a group leader I was sent supplementary documentation. By far the most valuable was a slim little book, part of a limited, numbered edition, which I never let out of my sight… It consisted of a series of lists, including the names of every active member of the Communist party in the Caucasus, all the nonparty intelligentsia, and listings of scholars, teachers, writers and journalists, priests, public officials, upwardly mobile peasants, and the most prominent industrialists and bankers. [It contained] addresses and telephone numbers. And that wasn’t all. There were additional listing of relatives and friends, in case any subversive scum tried to hide, plus physical descriptions, and in some cases photographs.[4]

The methodical nature of the Schutzstaffel is unmatched. As described by the SS officer, they had an abundance of information on people deemed as enemies of the state. They had no excuse that could be made – they went to war not only with the countries they entered, but with the people inside of them, too. The Nazi plan to dismantle the enemy state intelligentsia was a significant part of their stratagem. The Nazis believed that by dismantling the intelligence networks the people would collapse with no leadership. The Wehrmacht is noted as being concerned about these actions and the impact it’ll have on resistance forces in regards to uprising and motivation.[5]

Jewish Collaboration

Łódź Ghetto
When we speak of Jewish collaborators one man comes mind almost immediately Chaim Mordechaj Rumkowski.Chaim was a man submerged in controversy and judgement. He is most famously known for his improper behavior within the Łódź Ghetto as he was the Chairman of the Judenrat. His most famous speech, dubbed the “Give Me Your Children” speech, continues to send chills down the spines of Jews and scholars around the world:

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly. … Yesterday afternoon, they gave me the order to send more than 20,000 Jews out of the ghetto, and if not– ‘We will do it!’ So, the question became: ‘Should we take it upon ourselves, do it ourselves, or leave it for others to do?’ And we reached the conclusion that. . . I must perform this difficult and bloody operation–I must cut off limbs in order to save the body itself! I must take children because, if not, others may be taken as well.” – Chaim Rumkowski on September 4th, 1942 [1]

This speech by Rumkowski made it appear as though he is the victim and acting righteously in a way that benefits the Jews in the ghetto, and it should be noted that he is not the only Chairman put into this position, where either they choose or the Nazis will choose for them. This sadistic game the Nazis played shows the value they held to the lives of the Jews, but it also shows how cruel they could be regarding their actions and who is involved.

Despite the predicament Rumkowski was in – it would be improper to completely absolve him of his own actions. The Judenrat played favorites, and Rumkowski was often at the head of such actions. Allegations of sexual misconduct/abuse also followed with Rumkowski in the form of rumors and testimony from Holocaust survivor and memoir writer Lucille Eichengreen, who wrote From Ashes to Life: My Memories of the Holocaust. Scholars across the world often have conflicting views of Rumkowski, but ultimately, Rumkowski would meet his death at Auschwitz just as many of the inhabitants of the Łódź Ghetto did.

Hotel Polski Affair

The Hotel Polski Affair would be a collaboration by unlikely parties – the Nazi regime and Jewish collaborationist organization Żagiew.

The event known as the Hotel Polski Affair saw thousands of Jews murdered at the guise of freedom. To collect more from valuables and money from the Jewish people, the Nazi regime and Żagiew would lure unsuspecting Jews to Hotel Polski with the promise of emigration to South America. It is believed that singer Dworja Grynberg, pseudonym Wiera Gran, assisted the Żagiew and the Hotel Polski Affair. She notably denied these accusations and was determined not guilty of German collaboration in Poland by the Sąd Obywatelski przy Centralnym Komitecie Żydów Polskich.

The Hotel Polski Affair was geared towards eliminating the remaining Jewish population who were in hiding after the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The collaboration of the Żagiew can be shocking when considering the cruel treatment of Jews during the period. Laws were in place that stripped Jews of basic human rights, but Jewish collaborators sought personal gain and life security.

Hotel Polski had existed far before the affair, and the hotel was well known, so many Jews would trust it was an active effort to assist them. The Nazis knew that Jews would trust other Jews, and therefore they often used them in camps – the Sonderkommando and Kapos as just an example. They understood that people trust those who look or are like them, and this would give a sense of security for the Jews who are walking to their deaths. The Hotel Polski Affair becomes particularly important when you view the overall function Żagiew, which was dubbed the Jewish Gestapo by Emanuel Ringelblum.

Stella Goldschlag

Stella Goldschlag’s situation is an example of the aforementioned statement in this article stating “Jewish collaborators were a means to an end.” Goldschlag’s family was not spared from the Holocaust despite German promises. These promises held no real weight to the Nazi regime who had no interest in keeping Jews alive, but they would utilize their Jewish collaborators to help their efforts the best they could.

Stella’s story is particularly interesting because of the way she became a collaborator. She was captured and tortured, but she also was able to pass off as an Aryan because of her features. She was not the “typical Jewish person” as per the German definition – she had blue eyes and blonde hair. She was not the only person to act as a collaborator in finding Jews who were in hiding, but she is well known due to a biography written about her by Peter Wyden. She appears in multiple different books regarding her actions for the Nazi regime, and it is often claimed she assisted the Nazi regime in capturing hundreds – if not thousands – of Jewish people that were in hiding. She was noted as a rather beautiful woman, and she often used this beauty to lure the other Jewish people out of hiding. This particular behavior was indicative of those who were collaborating with the Nazi regime which we saw in the Hotel Polski Affair as well.

Often, they would offer the Jewish people, who were in desperate need of resources, food and other materials that they needed for their day-to-day lives in hiding. The Germans understood that a Jewish person would believe a fellow Jewish person’s promises over that of a German’s. Stella used her knowledge of the Jewish people from her school she attended (which was Jewish) to find people in hiding, and all of these efforts were made to make a living and keep her family safe. However, it should be noted that, despite her family’s deportation to the camps, she continued to aid the Nazi regime.

Polish Collaboration

It should be noted before any discussion of collaboration in the Polish state takes place that Poland remained the only government in Europe that did not collaborate and was exiled to England. The Polish government in exile notably published The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland on December 10th, 1942.

We know that the Warsaw Ghetto had people (usually children) that would report escaped Jews from the ghetto to the local Nazi police. These reports often earned them a reward, and while the Polish food rations were not as dire as the Jewish food rations, it was still a meager amount that would leave any person hungry. This behavior seems unthinkable in today’s climate, but it is important to understand the environment that the Polish people were in. There were warnings that Polish people would face death if they were caught aiding a Jew or participating in any type of perceived anti-Nazi behavior. The way that the Nazi regime treated the Polish citizens shows that they were also expendable in the eyes of the regime, but this should come as no surprise given the rhetoric that was spread by Hitler and the other higher Nazi echelon.

It is important that when we speak about Polish collaboration that we address some of the key events that are well known such as Jedwabne. Holocaust survivor testimony from the area of Poland makes it clear that the Polish people were not completely absolvent and innocent in regards to Jewish persecution. It should be noted that anti-Semitism was rampant in Europe, and this sentiment was held by some of the citizens in Poland, too. Jan Gross wrote this about the pogrom in Jedwabne:

At the time the overall undisputed bosses over life and death in Jedwabne were the Germans. No sustained organized activity could take place there without their [German] consent. They were the only ones who could decide the fate of the Jews. It was within their power also to stop the murderous pogrom at any time. And they did not choose to intervene. If they suggested that some Jewish families be spared, they must have done so without serious conviction, for all the Jews on whom the murderers lay their hands were killed in the end. And, ironically, on that day the outpost of the German gendarmerie was the safest place in town for the Jews, and a few survived only because they happened to be there. But it is also clear that had Jedwabne not been occupied by the Germans, the Jews of Jedwabne would not have been murdered by their neighbors. This is not a gratuitous observation–the tragedy of Jedwabne Jewry is but an episode in the murderous war that Hitler waged against all Jews. As to the Germans’ direct participation in the mass murder of Jews in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, however, one must admit that it was limited, pretty much, to their taking pictures [7]

The Polish citizens who participated in this pogrom were particularly brutal, and they locked Jews inside of a barn and set it on fire. The explanation given above is an attempt to explain just how much power the Germans had over the lives of the Jews, and to show that the Polish people did not simply act in a way that the Germans disputed. It is particularly interesting that Gross mentioned that if the Germans were not occupying Jedwabne that the Jews would not have been murdered, but this controversial statement explains the broader influence of the German regime. He describes it perfectly in saying that the Germans were the bosses of life and death – they decided who would die and when and where. They could spare a life if they chose to.

Poland holds the record for the most recognized citizens holding the honor, “Righteous Among the Nations,” which is an award given by Yad Vashem. They explain those awarded as:

Most rescuers started off as bystanders. In many cases, this happened when they were confronted with the deportation or the killing of the Jews. Some had stood by in the early stages of persecution, when the rights of Jews were restricted and their property confiscated, but there was a point when they decided to act, a boundary they were not willing to cross. Unlike others, they did not fall into a pattern of acquiescing to the escalating measures against the Jews. [8]

While Poland does hold this record, it is important to also recognize how Polish citizens benefited from the Jewish plight during the Holocaust. They would often take the Jewish homes and belongings that weren’t pillaged by the Germans, and when Jews returned to their homes after the Holocaust, some of them came back to find their home was no longer theirs. Some faced threats, but some also faced death. The most known pogrom to occur after the Holocaust was the Kielce pogrom, a bloody event that saw the murder of 42 Holocaust survivors and the injury of 40 more. [9]

It is important to not only acknowledge the complicity but also the actions against the Jewish people by some of the Polish citizens. We cannot claim no collaborators, as that would be a blatant lie that attempts to whitewash the overall situation for the Jewish people in Poland. Collaborators existed who remained silent, and also some risked it all to save the Jewish people. The latter was dangerous, as it often impacted your entire family, often meaning the execution of all family members including children and babies. We saw this as an example with Józef and Wiktoria Ulma. They aided Jews, and they were murdered along with their six children.

Lithuanian Collaboration

The Lithuanians were notably brutal in their execution of the Jewish people, and their brutality should be recognized, as they were actively collaborating with the Nazi regime even before being instructed to do so.

The testimony of a German sergeant explains the situation in Lithuania:

‘ I think it must have been one day after we had arrived in Kovno that I was informed by a driver in my unit that Jews were being beaten to death in a nearby square. Upon hearing this I went to the said square [with] other members of our unit.’ The sergeant ‘saw civilians some in shirtsleeves. . . beating other civilians to death with iron bars.’ He heard someone say that ‘these were Jews who had swindled the Lithuanians before the Germans had arrived.’… The sergeant continued: ‘When I reached the square there were about fifteen to twenty bodies lying there. These were then cleared away by the Lithuanians and the pools of blood were washed away with water from a hose. . . . I saw the Lithuanians take hold of the bodies by their hands and legs and drag them away. Afterwards another group of offenders was herded and pushed onto the square and without further ado simply beaten to death by the civilians armed with iron bars. I watched as a group of offenders were beaten to death and then had to look away because I could not watch any longer. These actions seemed extremely cruel and brutal. . . The Lithuanian civilians could be heard shouting out their approval and goading the men on.’ [10]

This testimony shows the mindset of the Lithuanian people in their brutality of the Jews. This particular event described was just one of many across Lithuania which has blood-soaked land from local pogroms and Einsatzgruppen units. The Lithuanians active willingness to participate in these actions against the Jewish people shows how the war on the Jewish people was not just a German-born idea. The Lithuanians were more than happy to oblige their new found power to control life and death for the Jewish people. Brutally beating Jews to death with iron bars was no accident, and the German testimony would suggest that the Lithuanians had chosen to commit this atrocity on their own accord. Further testimony of the Lithuanian brutality helps solidify the aforementioned testimony which also occurred in Kaunas [Kovno]:

A similar scene confronted a colonel who was adjutant to the staff of Army Group North on his arrival in Kaunas on the morning of 27 June 1941. He passed a filling station surrounded by a dense crowd and noticed women in the crowd who had ‘lifted up their children or stood them on chairs or boxes so that they could see better.’ He thought they must be witnessing a ‘victory celebration or some type of sporting event because of the cheering, clapping and laughter that kept breaking out.’ But when he asked what was happening, he was told that ‘the Death-dealer of Kovno’ was at work and that this was where collaborators and traitors were finally meted out their rightful punishment!’ His testimony continues… ‘On the concrete forecourt of the petrol station a blond man of medium height, aged about twenty-five, stood leaning on a wooden club, resting. The club was as thick as his arm and came up to his chest. At his feet lay about fifteen to twenty dead or dying people. Water flowed continuously from a hose washing blood away into the drainage gully. Just a few steps behind this man were some twenty men, guarded by armed civilians, stood waiting for their cruel execution in silent submission. In response to a cursory wave the next man stepped forward silently and was then beaten to death with the wood club in the most bestial manner, each blow accompanied by enthusiastic shouts from the audience.’[11]

These actions were particularly brutal, and their brutality shows the mindset of the collaborators, many of which were released from their local prisons after the German occupation. Their release was certainly not by accident as the Germans understood what these criminals would do to the Jewish people. The Germans were always calculated in their decisions, and these decisions were often made at the expense of the Jewish people. The actions that the Lithuanians made against the Jewish people was abhorrent, and it sends chills down the spines of anyone reading testimony of survivors or witnesses to the atrocities.

Collaboration took place in many different forms, but every form was essential to the Nazi war machine. Whether it was through silence or direct action the Jewish people and other enemies of the state would suffer egregiously. Today, we face other forms of genocide and hate. It is upon us then to not be collaborators, but to be dissenters and speak vocally about our opposition to oppression. It is through silence those with a voice remain in complicity, and the voiceless meet their death.

Sources
[1] Simone Schweber & Debbie Findling. Teaching the Holocaust.
[2][3][4][5][10][11] Richard Rhodes. Masters of Death: The SS-Einstazgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust.
[6] Charles G. Roland. Courage Under Siege: Disease, Starvation and Death in the Warsaw Ghetto.
[7] Jan T. Gross. Neighbors.
[8] Yad Vashem. About the Righteous. https://www.yadvashem.org/righteous/about-the-righteous.html
[9] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Kielce Pogrom: A Blood Libel Massacre of Holocaust Survivors. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-kielce-pogrom-a-blood-libel-massacre-of-holocaust-survivors

About the Author
Shawn Harding is the founder of The Holocaust Blueprint. Shawn works to create educational materials for free for users across the world to visualize the Holocaust and obtain information in relation to it.
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