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Jews Mistreated in Polish Prison Camps

October 27, 1940
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

How the Germans treat Jewish prisoners of war was described to a J.T.A. correspondent by a Jewish officer in the Polish Army who made prisoner in the Battle of Poland, escaped to France and saw action there and is now in the reconstituted Polish Army training on British soil.

Jewish soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans were, as a rule, separated from their non-Jewish comrades in the prison camps and subjected to particularly harsh treatment. Camp commandants had definite instructions to this effect but the degree to which these discriminations were enforced depended largely on the commandant himself. In some cases, instructions were ignored as much as possible by German officers opposed to introduction of racial discrimination in the Army.

The J.T.A.’s informant, a second lieutenant in the Polish Army, was captured in September, 1939, near Jaroslav and transferred to a camp for officers near Cracow. All the captured officers were asked to state to which racial group they belonged, but no question was asked as to their religion. On the advice of Christian fellow-prisoners, most of the Jewish officers declared themselves to be of the Polish race. Six, however, said they were Jews. The camp commandant, an Austrian major, took no official cognizance of their declaration, however, and registered all of them as Poles.

The J.T.A. informant was appointed camp interpreter and given a daily fee of six marks for his services. Reluctant at first to take any appointment from the Germans, he said, he was induced to do so by the leader of the Polish prisoners, a lieutenant colonel, who pointed out that otherwise, a prisoner of German race (“Volksdeutscher”) would be appointed and this might prove harmful to the interests of the Polish prisoners.

Later, 11 Jews who had been transferred from a war prisoners’ camp at Bochnia arrived at the Cracow camp. This time the camp commander had to follow his instructions regarding the treatment of Jewish prisoners since the fact that they were Jews had been recorded in the official papers issued to the prisoners at Bochnia. Their segregation in a special dormitory was, however, prevented by an act of solidarity on the part of the Polish officers.

“I shall never forget the words of my superior, the Polish camp leader, addressing the Austrian camp commander,” the lieutenant said, quoting the Pole as saying: “Herr Major, our Jewish comrades fought side by side with us at the battle front and they shall be side by side with us in captivity. If you are to carry out your instructions, all of us will protest by passive resistance, refusing to reply with a single word to any questions of the authorities of this camp.”

Following this incident, he said, the question of segregating the Jewish officers was never raised again by the commandant.

Describing the general conditions in German war prisoners’ camps, the lieutenant said food was absolutely inadequate and people unable to get supplies from outside were literally starving.

In the officers’ camp, prisoners had only one meal daily for the first five days of captivity. Later, their ration was a quarter-loaf of bread every day with hot water thrice daily, called “coffee” in the morning, “soup” at noon and “tea” in the evening. Jewish women trying to bring food to their imprisoned relatives were driven back from the prison gates with blows from rifle butt-ends. In the case of the officers camp, Polish patriotic organizations were able to provide supplementary food.

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