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Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw,…
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Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945 (2002)

by Gunnar S. Paulsson

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A word of warning: this book is very heavy on numbers, and it is not a good book to read if you don't already have a good grounding on the Holocaust in Poland and the Warsaw situation in particular. Dr. Paulsson, a professional historian and the son of a Holocaust survivor from Warsaw, uses statistical analysis of the available sources to arrive at some surprising conclusions. He leads the reader every step of the way through his reasoning, so you can see why he thinks as he did, and I came to agree with his ideas.

Most of the memoirs and other available literature about the Holocaust in Warsaw say it was incredibly difficult to survive in hiding on the Aryan side and pretty much pointless to try, unless you had money, connections and a "good" (that is, non-Jewish) appearance. However, Dr. Paulsson demonstrates that survival on the Aryan side was not nearly as impossible as the Jews believed. He calculates that about 28,000 Jews went into hiding in Aryan Warsaw. Of these, about 11,500 survived the war. 8,000 of the Jews that died were either killed in the Hotel Polski scheme in the summer of 1944 (where the Nazis tricked 3,500 Jews into turning themselves in) or in the Warsaw Uprising in August/September 1944 (where 25% of the city's population as a whole was killed, mostly in military action). If you discount those 8,000, nearly 70% of the Jews hiding on the Aryan side would have survived the war. And even the actual survival rate of 41% is much better than I've seen listed in other books ("almost all" or "five out of six" hidden Jews killed etc) and much, MUCH better than the survival rate within the ghetto itself, where about 99% of the occupants died. But the memoir writers and other scholars never sat down and actually analyzed the numbers; their estimates are more a matter of perception, and as Dr. Paulsson indicates that perception was seriously skewed out of fear.

As he points out, for the survival rate to be as high as it was, the Aryan population cannot have been nearly as vicious as most survivors and scholars make it out to be. Certainly the small number of monsters who denounced Jews and sent them to their deaths racked up a huge mortality rate; however, it appears that most of the Polish Varsovians, while antisemitic in principle, were not willing to actually murder individual people, or turn them in to the Germans which they knew was much the same thing. Dr. Paulsson gives a demonstration of this by relating a story from one of the memoirs he studied, where a Jewish woman on a crowded tram was recognized by a former classmate who called, "Jew! Catch the Jew!" She jumped off the tram and ran away and no one tried to stop her. Assuming that the crowd contained 50 people (a pretty conservative estimate), and working off the Jewish perception that the vast majority of Poles would have had them arrested if they had known their true identity, the fact that 49 of the people present did not try to hinder the woman's flight is nothing short of miraculous. Yet it happened again and again and again throughout the city; similar incidents are mentioned in many survivors' memoirs. This simply would not have been possible if the Polish population had been as rabidly prejudiced as the survivors believed.

Although the book can be repetitive at times (Dr. Paulsson repeats his "dog didn't bark in the nighttime" analogy to the point of tediousness) and the number-crunching doesn't exactly make gripping reading (particularly in the last chapter, which Paulsson actually advises readers to skip if they don't care for statistics), I think this is a very fine work of history that all scholars of the Holocaust in Poland should read. It goes a long way towards correcting many myths and misconceptions about what was going on in Warsaw during that time. ( )
  meggyweg | May 31, 2010 |
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Full title (2002): Secret city : the hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945 / Gunnar S. Paulsson; Won Fraenkel Prize as disseration with title: Hiding in Warsaw: The Jews on the 'Aryan Side' in the Polish Capital, 1940-1945.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300095465, Hardcover)

Although the Nazis forced most of Warsaw's Jews into the city's famous ghetto during World War II, some 28,000 Jews either hid and never entered the Warsaw Ghetto, or escaped from it in what Gunnar S. Paulsson calls "the greatest prison break in history". This book tell the dramatic story of the hidden Jews of Warsaw. Drawing on memoirs, diaries, testimonies, and the records of Jewish and Polish organizations that helped the fugitives, Paulsson shows that after the 1942 deportations nearly a quarter of the ghetto's remaining Jews managed to escape. Once in hiding, connected by elaborate networks of which Poles, Germans, and the Jews themselves were largely unaware, they formed what can aptly be called a secret city. Paulsson challenges many established assumptions. He shows that despite appalling difficulties and dangers, many of these Jews survived; that the much-reviled German, Polish and Jewish policemen, as well as Jewish converts and their families, were key in helping Jews escape; that though many more Poles helped than harmed the Jews, most stayed neutral; and that escape and hiding happened spontaneously, without much help from either the Polish or the Jewish underground. He also suggests that the Jewish leadership was wrong to dismiss the possibility of escape, staking everything on a hopeless uprising.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:23 -0400)

Though the Nazis forced most of Warsaw's Jews into the city's infamous ghetto during World War II, some 28,000 Jews either hid and never entered the Warsaw Ghetto or escaped from it. This book-the first detailed treatment of Jewish escape and hiding during the Holocaust-tells the dramatic story of the hidden Jews of Warsaw. Gunnar S. Paulsson shows that after the 1942 deportations nearly a quarter of the ghetto's remaining Jews managed to escape. Once in hiding, connected by elaborate networks of which Poles, Germans, and the Jews themselves were largely unaware, they formed what can aptly be called a secret city. Paulsson challenges many established assumptions. He shows that despite appalling difficulties and dangers, many of these Jews survived; that the much-reviled German, Polish, and Jewish policemen, as well as Jewish converts and their families, were key in helping Jews escape; that though many more Poles helped than harmed the Jews, most stayed neutral; and that escape and hiding happened spontaneously, without much help from either the Polish or the Jewish underground. He suggests that the Jewish leadership was wrong to dismiss the possibility of escape, staking everything on a hopeless uprising. Paulsson's engrossing book offers a new perspective on Jewish honor and Holocaust history.… (more)

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