Whilst many non-Jews exploited the Holocaust for personal gain or reacted with indifference, a courageous minority took action. One of them was Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, a writer and a member of the Polish resistance movement. Kossak-Szczucka was a strong Polish nationalist and was widely regarded as an antisemite. When the deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka extermination camp began, she published a pamphlet entitled ‘Protest!’ in which she condemned the passivity of the world in the face of mass murder. These are some extracts from ‘Protest!’.

The world looks upon this murder, more horrible than anything history has ever seen, and stays silent… This silence can no longer be tolerated. Whatever the reason for it, it is vile. In the face of murder it is wrong to remain passive. Whoever is silent witnessing murder becomes a partner to the murder. Whoever does not condemn, consents.

Therefore, we – Catholics, Poles – raise our voices.  Our feeling toward the Jews has not changed. We continue to deem them political, economic and ideological enemies of Poland... Awareness of this fact, however, does not release us from the duty of damnation of murder.

Whoever does not understand this, and whoever dares to connect the future of the proud free Poland, with the vile enjoyment of your fellow man’s calamity – is, therefore, not a Catholic and not a Pole.

Kossak-Szczucka inspired the creation in late 1942 of Żegota, an agency of the Polish underground state which provided money and hiding places for Jews in Poland. Her example – an antisemite who inspired the biggest rescue operation of the Holocaust – shows that pre-war attitudes and behaviour did not necessarily determine how someone reacted to the murders and therefore cautions against the danger of stereotyping groups of people or nations.

Photo: Zofia Kossak-Szczucka; copyright unknown

Pamphlet extracts: Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Protest! (Front Odrodzenia Polski, 1942)