POLAND UNDER NAZI TERROR
"Every week (Hitler's) firing parties are busy in a dozen lands. Mondays
he shoots Dutchmen, Tuesdays, Norwegians, Wednesdays, French or
Belgians stand against the wall. Thursdays it is the Czechs who must
suffer and now there are the Serbs and the Greeks to fill his repulsive bill
of executions. But always, all the days, there are the Poles." Churchill
The Nazi arsenal contained a vast array of powerful weaponry none so lethal to the Polish nation as the Nazi
policy of collective responsibility. It was a tool used to terrorize the Poles into submission. For every German
(military or civilian) killed at the hands of a Pole, the Nazis executed up to a hundred Poles. But despite the
frequency and brutality of Nazi reprisals, they could not quash Polish resistance. It only intensified the Polish
underground to fight the enemy whatever the cost.
The Germans forbade the distribution of food from the country to the cities, and established food ration cards to
all city dwellers. The result was that there was insufficient food to keep anyone alive. The Germans objective was
to slowly starve the Poles to death.
The black market thrived - prices of staple items like bread and potatoes increased more than 30 times, while
bacon and meats became almost unobtainable at prices 60 times higher than before the outbreak of war.
The standard of living of the Poles was reduced to primitive levels of subsistence. Black bread was mixed with
sawdust. Everybody was hungry all the time, and resorted to all kinds of tricks to survive, from smuggling, to
black market activity, to falsifying food ration cards.
Germans would stop Polish trains searching everyone and everything thoroughly and confiscating all the food
they could find. But strangely, in many cases, no sooner had the Germans left, than dozens of men, women, and
children would magically descend from the train loaded with packages of meat, bread and other foods - and
silently disappeared into the woods.
The Gestapo went to any lengths to terrorize people. They posted the names of prominent Polish citizens on
a public list. These were people selected to be "on duty ". In the event that a German was killed by a Pole. Poles
selected from this list were executed, according to the policy of collective responsibility. Many of the victims were
families, relatives, and friends of members of the Polish underground. Executions were either by firing squad, or
by hanging from street lamp posts trees, and in front of churches.
Books by Polish authors were burned, and the playing of music written by Polish composers was strictly
forbidden. Even the word Poland was banned. The Germans destroyed Polish monuments to patriots such as
Kosciuszko. Polish newspapers were shut down. If a Pole was caught listening to or singing the Polish national
anthem, he was shot on sight. Despite this brutal repression, orchestras and chamber quartets continued to
perform in secret, as did groups of actors performing classic Polish plays. (Pope John Paul II, then known as
Karol Wojtila, was among the actors of the underground ) Even schools and university classes were held in
The Germans conducted daily street roundups in every major Polish city – Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin, Lwow.
German trucks would block both ends of a street, as the Nazis would arrest everyone in sight. Poles quickly
learned to alert one another whenever one of these German convoys were spotted. Tram conductors were
always on the look-out, and would stop the tram before becoming trapped inside the blockade, allowing
passengers to escape. More and more Polish men, women and children were rounded up and deported to
concentration camps and labor camps.
Every aspect of Polish life was under scrutiny. Germans even forbade marriages unless they approved of it.
Any babies born of "illegal marriages” were forcibly taken away from the parents, and deported to orphanages
Many Polish children who looked Aryan in appearance were snatched from the arms of their mothers, given
German names and falsified birth certificates and placed with German families. The whereabouts of these
children were never known.
When the Germans occupied Poland, they changed all the street names to German names. No sooner had they
done this than the order came from the Polish Underground to cover the German names with names of Polish
heroes and Statesmen.
The Nazis printed 32 million copies of propaganda brochures encouraging the Poles to join them in the fight
against the Soviets. They played on the legacy of Marshal Pilsudski who defeated the Bolshevik swarm in 1920.
To gain the trust of the Poles, German soldiers went so far as to stage a solemn memorial ceremony to
commemorate the death of Polish soldiers killed in the September Campaign.
Hitler's goal was to enslave and impoverish the Polish people. When the Germans invaded Poland, they
confiscated the homes, assets and estates of prominent Poles. They kept wages low while prices skyrocketed.
In 1941, the average wage of a Polish worker in Warsaw was about 300 zlotys per month, but it cost 1,568
zlotys to maintain a family of four. Food rations were strictly limited. Jews were not allowed to have more than
184 calories of food per day. Poles fared only slightly better, but still could not survive on 669 calories of food per
day. Poles received 4,300 grams of bread per month while Germans got 9,000 grams. Germans received a
dozen eggs. Poles each received only one egg. No other Nazi-occupied country had been forced to live under
such appalling conditions.