Introduction to Rescue in Poland


On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland marking the outbreak of World War II.

Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe.  There were 3.3 million Jews in Poland at the outbreak of the war, comprising ten percent of the Polish population. 

By September 1939, Jewish communities were being forced to relocate, and the beginning of ghettoization was underway.

The American Jewish Joint was active in supporting the Jews in Poland.  Other Jewish organizations that contributed to the rescue and relief of Jews were ZETOS, CENTOS, TOZ, TOPOROL, Oneg Shabbat, Jüdische Soziale Selbsthilfe (JSS; the Jewish Self-Help Association) and the NRO (Naczelna Rada Opiekuncza).  Small stipends came from the American Federation of Polish Jews and the Committee for Relief of the War Stricken Jewish Population (RELICO).

Bertrand S. Jacobson, in Romania, and Joseph Blum, in Hungary, representatives of the JDC, were successful in raising funds and getting supplies from the American Red Cross and CPR (Commission for Polish Relief) to support Jews in Poland.

Jewish Self-Help was said to represent 412 communities, 56 of which were located in East Galicia, Poland.  Israel Falk, Mordechai Goldfarb, Jozef Szalman and Abe Zychlinski, among others, represented the JSS.

These Jewish organizations and others helped to relieve the terrible suffering of Jews.  They helped where they could, despite overwhelming odds against them.

The JDC and other relief organizations were able to supply Poland through the middle of 1941.  After December 1941, the United States entered the war, and the avenues of rescue were closed off.  This coincided with the decision by the Nazi hierarchy to murder all the Jews in Poland.

All six of the major killing centers were located in Eastern Poland.

More than 90% of the Polish Jews, more than three million, were murdered during the war. 

Jewish rescue and relief organizations, including the Joint, HIAS, and others, operated until as late as 1942.  A Polish organization called Zegota was unique, in that it combined Jewish and non-Jewish leaders and rescuers. 


Survival of Jews in Poland


Jews of Poland – 9-12% (300,000-400,000 survived, 2,900,000-3,000,000 lost)[1]. Pre-deportation Jewish population was 3,300,000.  These figures include September 1, 1939, Polish borders and later areas taken by the Soviet Union.  6,706 Poles have been honored for rescuing Jews.





[1] Bauer & Rozett, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Estimated Losses in the Holocaust,” p. 1799; Benz, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Death Toll,” p.145; Hilberg, 1985, p. 1220

[2] Bender & Krakowski, 2004, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Poland (Volumes 1 & 2)



Updated November 4, 2017