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Ethical Dilemmas in a Time of Genocide

Frank Blaichman was a Jewish partisan from Poland. In October 1942, when the Judenrat (Jewish councils forced to carry out Nazi orders) informed the Jews of Kamionka that they were going to be “resettled” in a ghetto in Lubartow, Frank escaped and hid in a bushy area outside of town. Frank eventually fled to the forest, where he formed a band of Jewish partisans that fought the Germans and ultimately protected over 200 Jews. In the excerpt that follows, he describes the challenges his unit faced in their attempt to survive which included capturing and sometimes executing Nazi collaborators while seeking to protect fellow Jews.

[In] the beginning, all the people, most of the people, were enemies of ours....What happened this year, you know, the three years, the German propaganda against the Jews was so great that they put poison into the people’s mind; and then they came out [with] the Polish underground paper, the same way, with the propaganda against us. So we were really tied in, in a way that we had nowhere to go, no friends, and so on. 

So what happened? What we did, the way we behaved, we turned things around. Let me give [an] example [of] what happened. There were many [Nazi] collaborators who we didn’t catch, but we knew where they are, where they were living. When we came into a house looking for a son or whoever, for a member of their family, and we [said] politely, “Good evening,” and we ask[ed] for them, [they said] he’s not home. [We said,] “Thank you very much, we [are] going to come again.”

We did not touch anyone; we did not [take] any revenge, any reprisals against them. And with time, we were the only one...And why? We were living with the people for twenty-four hours. And later on we [ran] out of place[s], we had to go back in two, three months again, and they were really pleased, because we were behaving like gentlemen. We paid them for the food, and sometimes they didn’t want to take money, and some people were poor, they did not have enough food. So there were a lot of estates in our area there and they had, you know, big farms, and they had everything, and they [were] supposed to give everything away to the Germans. So we used to go there, take from them food, and give them [something in exchange]...

After two years,...people recognize[d] that we’re not bandits, not robbers, because we didn’t take anything from them, and we behaved like gentlemen. So that was the change...Later on, let me tell you, after the liberation, we were in Lubartow. People used to come—farmers who knew us, and knew who [we] were, where we [were]. You know, they had markets every week. They used to come to the markets, used to bring us food. But we didn’t need it, but it was appreciated, what they did. And we [became] very friendly with many.

And those who really wanted to kill us didn’t have a chance...The group was divided in five different groups—twenty people here, twenty people there. They knew [what would happen] if they [were] going to do something, because we showed them an example, they [were] going to be punished for that. And they said one thing I can tell you: they realized that it didn’t pay to get killed and kill a Jew.1

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