Plight of the Polish Jew, 1939

Gone now are those little towns where the shoemaker was a poet,
The watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour.

Gone now are those little towns where the wind joined
Biblical songs with Polish tunes and Slavic rue,
Where old Jews in orchards in the shade of cherry trees
Lamented for the holy walls of Jerusalem.

Gone now are those little towns, though the poetic mists,
The moons, winds, ponds, and stars above them
Have recorded in the blood of centuries the tragic tales,
The histories of the two saddest nations on earth.

Antoni Slonimski
(Accessed today from

Gone, too, is one of the bravest Polish Jews from Warsaw during World War II. While preparing this blog to memorialize the plight of Polish Jews during October 1939, I ran across the story of Marek Edelman’s death at age 90.

Edelman had lived in Poland during the German invasion. He lived to witness the horror perpetrated by the Nazis. By this time 70 years ago, his country was dominated, divided and controlled by two world powers, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The plight of the Jew in Poland was worsening by the day. As Sir Martin Gilbert puts it, “a new policy was put briefly and brutally into operation: expulsion.” Map34 from Gilbert’s Atlas of the Holocaust (below), provides some sample numbers of Jewish expulsions. “By the end of 1939, tens of thousands of Jews had been driven to the border rivers and forced to swim them. Hundreds had been drowned as they tried to cross. Others had been shot and killed as they swam” (Gilbert, p. 36).

Map 34 from Gilbert's Atlas of the Holocaust

Map 34 from Gilbert's Atlas of the Holocaust

I recall reading an incident where Polish Jews forced to cross a frozen river were being shot at by Nazis on the western bank and Russian troops on the opposite bank. Eventually, the terrorized Jews all froze to death in the icy river after the menacing troops had penetrated the ice with their machine guns. I don’t remember the source at this moment. I just remember being appalled at how they were murdered.

Never Again pauses to reflect on the persecution of the Polish Jews and to remember the victims, like Marek Edelman, may he rest in peace.



JUDEN: a collection of photographs of Polish Jews taken by Nazi soldiers during 1939-1943

Virtual Jewish History Tour of Poland

Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Virtual Shtetl

Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland


2 Responses to “Plight of the Polish Jew, 1939”

  1. The horrible mental picture I have of those poor people, men, women and children, forced to swim across a frozen river while being shot at from both banks. It is inconceivable to me that men are capable of such horror.
    Weren’t they human beings too with mothers, fathers, and children at home?! How did they live with themselves, knowing what they had done?

    People today need to know, and they need to remember….blogs like this make a difference.

  2. bible peace…

    […]Plight of the Polish Jew, 1939 « Never Again![…]…

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