Today is the 80th anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland. This invasion is said to have begun WW II (although the Japanese had already invaded China.)
It is difficult to communicate what WW II did to Poles and Poland. "Crucifixion" is not too strong a word.
The Nazi goal was to eliminate Poles and Poland and retain a tiny remnant population as slaves.
We were subhuman to them.
In my book "Bieganski," I try to present, in a few brief paragraphs, what WW II meant to Poland.
Note: many of the numbers I cite change. Historians continue to work on accurate estimates.
Poles and Poland were victims of the Nazis. Historian Michael C. Steinlauf, the son of Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors, wrote that Poles, "after the Jews and the Gypsies [were] the most relentlessly tormented national group in Hitler's Europe" (x). Auschwitz was built in order to destroy anyone in Poland who could lead Polish people, for example, teachers and activists. For almost the first two years of its existence, most of its inmates were arrested and detained as Poles.
The best estimates of non-Jewish Poles killed by Nazis run between one and a half to two million. Approximately three million Polish Jews were murdered; their vital presence in Polish life was all but erased. One estimate of non-Jewish Poles enslaved by the Nazis puts that number at two million (Meier). Polish slave laborers in Germany had to wear a patch emblazoned with the letter "P."
By one estimate, 200,000 Polish children were taken from their parents and relocated to Germany, to be raised as Germans, because their allegedly German traits revealed German ancestry (Lukaszewski). Nazis killed almost twenty percent of Polish priests. Nazis erased Polish villages. Men were killed, leaders sent to concentration camps, houses burned. An incomplete post-war count put the number of such villages at two hundred and ninety-nine (Davies Playground II 455).
In accord with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the Soviets invaded from the east as the Nazis invaded from the west. By some measures, the initial phase of the Soviet invasion was worse. "Very conservative estimates show that [between 1939 and 1941] the Soviets killed or drove to their deaths three or four times as many people as the Nazis from a population half the size of that under German jurisdiction" (Gross Revolution 229).
The Armia Krajowa or Home Army is described as the third largest underground army in Europe. The AK played a vital role in communicating to Britain and the United States the reality of the Holocaust. AK intelligence provided the Allies with the location of Nazi V-1 bomb development and V-2 rocket development.
Captured V-2 rockets were delivered to London. Poles made the first and necessary contributions to the decoding of Enigma, and the breaking of Nazi encoded messages. The Allies' ability to read Nazi messages has been cited as central to victory (Wrobel). In addition to the over six thousand Polish rescuers honored at Yad Vashem, the largest of any national group, more Poles than will ever be counted rescued Jews from Nazis, under the most challenging conditions in Europe.
In spite of the above-cited facts, in many, high-impact, folk and popular culture, Holocaust narratives, Poles and Poland are not victims of Nazi crimes, but, rather, are either their perpetrators or approving witnesses. This motif remains popular in spite of constant protest and attempts at correction by prominent historians and activists, Polish, Jewish, and other (see, e.g., National Polish American Jewish American Council).
James Carroll's Constantine's Sword won the 2001 National Jewish Book Award; Beliefnet named it the best spiritual book of the year. In his back cover comments, scholar Garry Wills called the book "searingly honest;" scholar Eugene Kennedy identified it as "an astonishing work of historical research." Poland is essential to Carroll and his book; Carroll announced that he would "remain" "at the foot of the cross at Auschwitz" "throughout the telling of this story," the story of Catholic anti-Semitism.
The cross is appropriate because "Polish Catholicism is particularly inclined to define itself around the idea of its victimhood." Jews, in Carroll's text, are not "inclined to define themselves around the idea of victimhood," in Carroll's book, Jews really do suffer. In order to support his use of a cross erected at Auschwitz as central symbol for his entire book about the genuine horrors of Catholic anti-Semitism, Carroll played with the facts of Polish history, Polish self-definition – presenting a skewed reading of the Polish Messiah image (60) – and Polish suffering.
Through verbal legerdemain, Carroll lead his readers to believe that only one hundred and fifty Poles died at Auschwitz, compared to a million and a half Jews who died there (230). In fact, between 140,000 and 150,000 Poles were imprisoned in Auschwitz, of whom 70,000 to 75,000 were killed. 960,000 Jews were killed at Auschwitz.
Later in the book I include various personal stories. Here is the introduction of just one Polish American:
John Guzlowski's Polish Catholic grandmother, aunt, and cousin were murdered by Nazis and Ukrainians. They raped John's Aunt Sophie and broke her teeth; they stomped his cousin to death. With his bayonet, a Nazi sexually mutilated John's Aunt Genia. John's parents were Nazi slave laborers; his father was in Buchenwald. John was born in a displaced persons camp after World War II; his family immigrated to America.