Szczebrzeszyn is a small town in eastern Poland. Its Jewish community was destroyed in October 1942. Some Jews were deported to Bełżec extermination camp; many were shot in the streets of the town and in its Jewish cemetery which is shown in the photograph. The reactions of the non-Jewish population were recorded by a local doctor, Zygmunt Klukowski, in his diary.

21 October 1942
Throughout the day, until nightfall, incredible things have been happening. Armed gendarmes, SS and blue police chased through the town, tracking down and searching for Jews... Captured Jews were shot on the spot, without any mercy. The Polish population was forced to bury the dead. How many of them there are is difficult to say. They reckon from 400 to 500.

22 October 1942
Jewish homes have been partly sealed, in spite of which there has been widespread looting. In general, the Polish population has not behaved correctly. Some have taken a very active part in the hunting of Jews. They pointed out where Jews were hiding, lads even chased small Jewish children, who the police killed in front of everyone.

23 October 1942
The Gestapo worked with the local gendarmes, blue police and the active participation of various citizens of the town... civilians eagerly helped to search for Jews, driving them to the town hall or the police station, beating and kicking them, etc.
24 October 1942
Jews were brought to the cemetery incessantly, carts brought corpses throughout the day, and threadbare possessions were taken from Jewish homes to the market hall. A fair number of townspeople shamelessly plundered whatever they could.

Klukowski’s diary demonstrates how ordinary people in eastern Europe could not avoid contact with mass murder within their communities. Historians have suggested various reasons why so many ordinary non-German people behaved ‘incorrectly’ towards their neighbours, as Klukowski put it. These include antisemitism, fear of the Germans and the breakdown of moral restraints brought by the war. However, as these entries make clear, greed was also a powerful factor. 

Photo: Jewish cemetery, Szczebrzeszyn; Holocaust Educational Trust

Diary extracts: Zygmunt Klukowski, Dziennik z lat okupacji Zamojszczyzny (1939–1944), ed. Zygmunt Mańkowski (Lubelska Spółdzielnia Wydawnicza, 1958)