The Forgotten Holocaust
The “Forgotten Holocaust”
of some 3,5 million
The number of military and civilian casualties during the Second World War is well documented. However, the number of Catholic Poles who died during WWII is either neglected or denied by historians. Moreover, the causes of their death are never properly reported.
The number of casualties of in Poland is generally under-estimated and doesn’t properly reflect the following:
- 360,000 military and civilians who died during the 1939 war operations;
- 1,5 million Catholic Poles who died under the German occupation in some 196 places of mass
- The death of more than 600,000 people from a total of 1,7 million Poles deported in Soviet camps;
- The death of more than 200,000 people from a total of 1,5 million Poles deported in German labour
- 150,000 casualties from the repression during the first Soviet occupation (1939-1945);
- over 200,000 Poles displaced from Polish areas annexed by the Soviet Union and exiled in the
- The genocide against “ethnic” Catholic Poles in Eastern territories (today Ukraine and Belarus): over
100,000 people from 2,5 million living there (1,1 million were expelled).
- The death of 225,000 civilians during the Warsaw Uprising (1 August - 2 October 1944).
Most studies do not highlight the terrible suffering of the Polish Nation. Historians and media develop on the extermination of the Jewish population of Poland and usually mention a cumulative total regarding “Polish victims”, aggregating Jews and non-Jews. This is misleading because the casualties of Catholic Poles are not presented in a relevant and appropriate way. Whenever an approximate number of victims is mentioned, details about the causes of their deaths are not provided. Catholic Poles were the first to be incarcerated in the Auschwitz and a total of 140,000 Catholic Poles was deported to this extermination camp. This benign neglect regarding the tragedy of Catholic Poles is not acceptable anymore. To some extent, this is a serious prejudice.
More than 6 million Polish citizens died during WWII, 20% of the pre-war population. They were not the collateral dommages of the war, they were the targeted victims of German Nazis, Ukrainian extremists and Russian aggressors. But for now seven decades, the “Forgotten Holocaust” of some 3,5 million Catholic Poles has been overshadowed by the Shoah Holocaust of 2,6 million Jewish Poles. Some historians such as Norman Davies, Richard C. Lukas or Halik Kochanski have raised this issue. But there is still a long way to go before the existing focus shifts to a better balance. Any controversy about the number of victims who died during the Second World War would be indecent. However, considering that Poland suffered the highest number of civilian casualities, the “Forgotten Holocaust” of Catholic Poles deserves more respect, better attention and full awareness.
One day, the last survivors of World War II will not be there to share their terrible experience. The mass extermination of Catholic Poles cannot be denied or trivialized anymore. As a tribute to their silent memory, remembering them is a duty.
“(…) the meaning of the word Holocaust undergoes gradual modifications, so that the word begins to belong to the history of the Jews exclusively, as if among the victims there were not also millions of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, and prisoners of other nationalities.”
Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004), Nobel Prize of Literature 1980.
Marie-Jeanne C. Ksiazyk, Paris
Suggested link: Institute of National Remembrance - Report "Poland 1939-1945. Human Losses and Victims of Repression Under the Two Occupations" ("Polska 1939–1945. Straty osobowe i ofiary represji pod dwiema okupacjami").
Czesława Kwoka was 14 when she died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. She was arrested with her mother Katarzyna in Wólka Złojecka, a small village near Zamość (Lublin Voivodeship). Katarzyna was prisoner number 26946. Czesława was prisoner number 26947. They were incarcerated in Auschwitz with some 150,000 other Catholic Poles.
In 1940, the Germans launched Extraordinary Pacification Actions "AB Aktions". The purpose was the systematic destruction of the Polish intelligentsia. Arbitrary detentions and executions resulted in the loss of 26% lawyers, 28% priests, 39% doctors, 30% professors, teachers and scientists, . From 1939 to 1945, some 3,000 members of the Polish clergy were killed. 66% of these nuns and priests died in German concentration camps.
About 500,000 Catholic Poles were sent to German camps. Experts consider that the estimated number of non-Jew Polish victims who died in German death camps is below reality.
Majdanek tens of thousands
Other camps tens of thousands
Source: US Holocaust Memorial Muzeum
In 1943, the Ukrainian nationalists and militia of the OUN/UPA allied to German occupants organized a genocide against the “ethnic” Catholic Poles living in the regions of Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. More than 100,000 people were massacred. Most of the victims were women and children.
In deference to the Catholic Poles who were exterminated in Ukraine, this post doesn’t diplay any photo of the victims. Atrocities reported in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia were worse than what would be observed in Rwanda 49 years later.