Category: Marek Jan Chodakiewicz

The Holy Cross Brigade Got a Bad Rap


On February 18, 2018, in Munich, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki laid a wreath at a military cemetery to honor the fallen soldiers of the Holy Cross Brigade of the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – NSZ), a Polish wartime and postwar hard-core Christian nationalist outfit.  This symbolic recognition of the unheralded heroism of the NSZ does not reflect Morawiecki’s private ideological preferences.  His family is staunchly Piłsudskite, which means firmly in opposition to the National Democrats, who fielded the outfit.

One can legitimately question the timing of the premier’s visit to the cemetery. It came on the heels of the now infamous exchange with an Israeli journalist when the Polish politician misspoke about “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust, instead of either suavely neutralizing the question or sonorously explicating about the complexity of the phenomenon of collaboration during the Second World War. The media not only reacted hysterically to the press conference misstep, but also went ballistic at Morawiecki’s trip to the cemetery, which was widely perceived as an act of bad will, indeed a provocation.  One the one hand, the journalists exclaimed, the Polish prime minister blamed the victims for the Holocaust.  On the other, he glorified “Nazi collaborators” of the Holy Cross Brigade of the NSZ.

What was the Holy Cross Brigade?  It was a lguerrilla unit of over 900 men and women cobbled together from smaller forest detachments of the National Armed Forces in the Kielce region of western Poland in August 1944.  The Holy Cross Brigade fought the Nazis and communists simultaneously.  It was engaged in several serious battles against the Germans and dozens of hit-and-run operations.  It also clashed with the communists, including the NKVD commandos, who were robbing, raping, and assassinating patriotic Poles and civilian bystanders.  The Polish partisans served as protection units for helpless civilians.

When the Red Army launched its surprise offensive in January 1945, the front collapsed, and the Brigade raced westward.  Its command was hoping to be able to link up with the Free Polish Army in the west.  The alternative was to remain in Poland and be destroyed by Stalin.

After initially battling it out with the Germans, the Brigade trekked west through bluff and bluster, taking advantage of the general disintegration of the enemy.  But after a while, the forces of the Third Reich reorganized and barred the way to the Poles.  Faced with either death or capitulation, the Brigade command chose a stratagem.  Stressing their anti-communism, the Poles entered into a non-aggression agreement with the Wehrmacht at the end of January.  Therefore, they were permitted to continue to march southwest to Bohemia, where their unit was confined at an encampment in March. The collapsing Third Reich was hoping to use the Holy Cross Brigade for propaganda purposes and to deploy it at the front.

The Polish command flatly refused to fight for the Nazis.  However, it agreed to assign a small number of volunteer troops to be sent, including by air, behind the Soviet lines.  The volunteers were given confidential orders to shoot any German assigned to them upon landing.  In any event, no Germans were attached, and a small number that made it back to Poland promptly reported back to the NSZ leadership and re-entered the struggle against the communists.

Meanwhile, by the end of April, the Holy Cross Brigade took off from its place of confinement in search of the Allied forces.  Soon, its reconnaissance elements linked up with the U.S. Third Army.  The bulk of the brigade commenced ambushing retreating German army and S.S. units.  Soon, the Poles obtained intelligence about a Nazi concentration camp at Holleischen (Holysov), which was a sub-installation of the Flossenburg mother facility.  On May 5, the Holy Cross Brigade swiftly attacked Holleischen, freeing several thousand women, including about 200 Jewesses who were about to be burned alive.

A French prisoner recalled: “Suddenly about 10:30am, as in a movie, when I was looking out the window with a few others, we noticed in a part of the forest … a group of people in khaki uniform.  They moved in an enveloping way, and there were many of them, and other groups were coming from the other side as well.  There was no noise.  We did hear neither command nor shooting.  We were paralyzed and it was astonishing to see simultaneously our guards in the courtyard who could not see anything.  The military in khaki uniforms moved swiftly and then they attacked the gate to the Camp of the Jewesses as well as our gate.  They opened it, one did not know why, but very quickly and the yard was full then with people in khakis, fast and silent.  The guards on duty lift their hands and drop their weapons[.] … We ran downstairs; the doors to the blocks were opened, the cupboards opened too.  There was a dead German at the gate.  It all seemed like we were dreaming or we were mad[.] … Suddenly, artillery opened up close by, rifle and machine gun fire resounded around us.  That was the Polish partisans conducting guerrilla war.  From time to time stray bullets hit the shingles.”

The commanding officer of the Holy Cross Brigade, Colonel Antoni Skarbek, aka Bohun, recalled in the Jewish Voice (New Jersey): “At this moment my aide de camp Second Lieutenant Zygmunt [Borowiecki] ran up to me to report that there are two barracks on the left side.  They are surrounded by a double row of an electrified barbed wire fence.  The gate was closed with a chain and locks.  The doors to the barracks were also closed.  Emaciated faces appeared from little windows, and there were loud screams for help.  I ordered immediately to bring the [German] commander of the camp and turn off the electricity to the barbed wire fence.  Answering my question about the reason to lock up and isolate these two barracks, he responded that on Hitler’s orders prisoners of Jewish origin were locked up there.  The buildings, along with the women, were to be doused with gasoline and burnt at the moment when [the Americans] would be approaching[.] … After opening the gate, I entered the enclosure and I saw gasoline barrels positioned next to each barrack[.] … The doors to the barracks were then forced by the [Polish] soldiers.  I wanted to enter inside, but a macabre sight which I noticed stopped me at the threshold.  From the darkness of the building there was emerging a horrible stench of human waste mixed with the smell of rotting cadavers.  From the depths there crawled out with great tears of joy, the surviving [Jewish] women.”

The Holy Cross Brigade continued its assaults on the XIII German Army.  The Nazis desperately fought back.  The Poles took over 500 prisoners, including an army staff jointly with an American company, and cleared the way for the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division to enter Pilzen.  The Americans recognized them as allies and, to honor the Polish soldiers, allowed them to wear the “Indian Head” insignia of the division.

Within a few weeks, however, the situation deteriorated as the Soviets and Czech communists appeared in the Pilzen area and began to butt heads with the Holy Cross Brigade.  Stalin demanded that the Poles be handed over to the Soviets.  General George Patton refused and adopted the brigade, transporting it to the American zone of occupation and enrolling the Polish guerrillas in U.S.-led Guard Companies.  For the next decade, they were getting ready to liberate Soviet-occupied Poland with the Americans.

For all those reasons, Prime Minister Mazowiecki resolved to honor the Holy Cross Brigade.  This was not to spite Israel.

Marek Chodakiewicz is professor of history at the Institute of World Politics D.C.

On February 18, 2018, in Munich, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki laid a wreath at a military cemetery to honor the fallen soldiers of the Holy Cross Brigade of the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – NSZ), a Polish wartime and postwar hard-core Christian nationalist outfit.  This symbolic recognition of the unheralded heroism of the NSZ does not reflect Morawiecki’s private ideological preferences.  His family is staunchly Piłsudskite, which means firmly in opposition to the National Democrats, who fielded the outfit.

One can legitimately question the timing of the premier’s visit to the cemetery. It came on the heels of the now infamous exchange with an Israeli journalist when the Polish politician misspoke about “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust, instead of either suavely neutralizing the question or sonorously explicating about the complexity of the phenomenon of collaboration during the Second World War. The media not only reacted hysterically to the press conference misstep, but also went ballistic at Morawiecki’s trip to the cemetery, which was widely perceived as an act of bad will, indeed a provocation.  One the one hand, the journalists exclaimed, the Polish prime minister blamed the victims for the Holocaust.  On the other, he glorified “Nazi collaborators” of the Holy Cross Brigade of the NSZ.

What was the Holy Cross Brigade?  It was a lguerrilla unit of over 900 men and women cobbled together from smaller forest detachments of the National Armed Forces in the Kielce region of western Poland in August 1944.  The Holy Cross Brigade fought the Nazis and communists simultaneously.  It was engaged in several serious battles against the Germans and dozens of hit-and-run operations.  It also clashed with the communists, including the NKVD commandos, who were robbing, raping, and assassinating patriotic Poles and civilian bystanders.  The Polish partisans served as protection units for helpless civilians.

When the Red Army launched its surprise offensive in January 1945, the front collapsed, and the Brigade raced westward.  Its command was hoping to be able to link up with the Free Polish Army in the west.  The alternative was to remain in Poland and be destroyed by Stalin.

After initially battling it out with the Germans, the Brigade trekked west through bluff and bluster, taking advantage of the general disintegration of the enemy.  But after a while, the forces of the Third Reich reorganized and barred the way to the Poles.  Faced with either death or capitulation, the Brigade command chose a stratagem.  Stressing their anti-communism, the Poles entered into a non-aggression agreement with the Wehrmacht at the end of January.  Therefore, they were permitted to continue to march southwest to Bohemia, where their unit was confined at an encampment in March. The collapsing Third Reich was hoping to use the Holy Cross Brigade for propaganda purposes and to deploy it at the front.

The Polish command flatly refused to fight for the Nazis.  However, it agreed to assign a small number of volunteer troops to be sent, including by air, behind the Soviet lines.  The volunteers were given confidential orders to shoot any German assigned to them upon landing.  In any event, no Germans were attached, and a small number that made it back to Poland promptly reported back to the NSZ leadership and re-entered the struggle against the communists.

Meanwhile, by the end of April, the Holy Cross Brigade took off from its place of confinement in search of the Allied forces.  Soon, its reconnaissance elements linked up with the U.S. Third Army.  The bulk of the brigade commenced ambushing retreating German army and S.S. units.  Soon, the Poles obtained intelligence about a Nazi concentration camp at Holleischen (Holysov), which was a sub-installation of the Flossenburg mother facility.  On May 5, the Holy Cross Brigade swiftly attacked Holleischen, freeing several thousand women, including about 200 Jewesses who were about to be burned alive.

A French prisoner recalled: “Suddenly about 10:30am, as in a movie, when I was looking out the window with a few others, we noticed in a part of the forest … a group of people in khaki uniform.  They moved in an enveloping way, and there were many of them, and other groups were coming from the other side as well.  There was no noise.  We did hear neither command nor shooting.  We were paralyzed and it was astonishing to see simultaneously our guards in the courtyard who could not see anything.  The military in khaki uniforms moved swiftly and then they attacked the gate to the Camp of the Jewesses as well as our gate.  They opened it, one did not know why, but very quickly and the yard was full then with people in khakis, fast and silent.  The guards on duty lift their hands and drop their weapons[.] … We ran downstairs; the doors to the blocks were opened, the cupboards opened too.  There was a dead German at the gate.  It all seemed like we were dreaming or we were mad[.] … Suddenly, artillery opened up close by, rifle and machine gun fire resounded around us.  That was the Polish partisans conducting guerrilla war.  From time to time stray bullets hit the shingles.”

The commanding officer of the Holy Cross Brigade, Colonel Antoni Skarbek, aka Bohun, recalled in the Jewish Voice (New Jersey): “At this moment my aide de camp Second Lieutenant Zygmunt [Borowiecki] ran up to me to report that there are two barracks on the left side.  They are surrounded by a double row of an electrified barbed wire fence.  The gate was closed with a chain and locks.  The doors to the barracks were also closed.  Emaciated faces appeared from little windows, and there were loud screams for help.  I ordered immediately to bring the [German] commander of the camp and turn off the electricity to the barbed wire fence.  Answering my question about the reason to lock up and isolate these two barracks, he responded that on Hitler’s orders prisoners of Jewish origin were locked up there.  The buildings, along with the women, were to be doused with gasoline and burnt at the moment when [the Americans] would be approaching[.] … After opening the gate, I entered the enclosure and I saw gasoline barrels positioned next to each barrack[.] … The doors to the barracks were then forced by the [Polish] soldiers.  I wanted to enter inside, but a macabre sight which I noticed stopped me at the threshold.  From the darkness of the building there was emerging a horrible stench of human waste mixed with the smell of rotting cadavers.  From the depths there crawled out with great tears of joy, the surviving [Jewish] women.”

The Holy Cross Brigade continued its assaults on the XIII German Army.  The Nazis desperately fought back.  The Poles took over 500 prisoners, including an army staff jointly with an American company, and cleared the way for the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division to enter Pilzen.  The Americans recognized them as allies and, to honor the Polish soldiers, allowed them to wear the “Indian Head” insignia of the division.

Within a few weeks, however, the situation deteriorated as the Soviets and Czech communists appeared in the Pilzen area and began to butt heads with the Holy Cross Brigade.  Stalin demanded that the Poles be handed over to the Soviets.  General George Patton refused and adopted the brigade, transporting it to the American zone of occupation and enrolling the Polish guerrillas in U.S.-led Guard Companies.  For the next decade, they were getting ready to liberate Soviet-occupied Poland with the Americans.

For all those reasons, Prime Minister Mazowiecki resolved to honor the Holy Cross Brigade.  This was not to spite Israel.

Marek Chodakiewicz is professor of history at the Institute of World Politics D.C.



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The Holocaust, the Poles, and World War II Memory


A hurricane of recrimination has erupted between Poland and Israel. It all started because the Poles are sick and tired of hearing the scurrilous slander of “Polish concentration camps.” That’s Holocaust revisionism plain and simple. The camps were German and Nazi. However, a bumbling Polish attempt to fix the problem via regulation blew up in Warsaw’s face.

What began as a historians’ quarrel gone public has spun out of control into a diplomatic row between Israel and Poland. Jerusalem enjoys the support of world public opinion, Ukraine, and, most importantly, the United States of America. Warsaw initially suffered isolation but now it has unexpectedly found new champions: Germany and Russia. This has a dangerous potential for the crisis to metastasize into the world of military geopolitics, thus endangering the Western system of alliances, NATO in particular.

Washington concurs with Israel’s fears that Poland wants to thwart academic freedom and cover up real and imagined Polish wartime crimes. Kiev, meanwhile, has joined the anti-Warsaw bandwagon to object to Poland’s condemnation of Ukrainian integral nationalism and its leader Stephan Bandera and his followers, whom the Poles hold responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide during World War II. On the other hand, Russia’s largest political party predictably supports Poland because of its opposition to Ukraine’s extreme nationalists. And Germany has stepped in unexpectedly to admit that, indeed, the term “Polish concentration camps” is quite unfair and inaccurate.

The disparate stances have been amplified in editorial pages and social media all over the world. On the face of it, the international furor is about an attempt by the ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość — PiS) to amend a piece of legislation, namely the Act of December 18, 1998, regulating Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. According to the newly introduced amendment, Article 55a, “anyone ascribing publicly and falsely responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich” will be prosecuted, fined, or imprisoned. This does not apply to anyone who “has committed this act as part of their artistic or scientific activity” (legal analysis here).

To disentangle the legalese: first, the new Article 55a seems to contradict (without overriding) the old Article 55 of the same Act. The latter penalizes denying Nazi crimes (including Holocaust revisionism) and Communist crimes (including not only mass murder but also persecution of dissidents and others), as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Second, the new amendment means that no historian, author, or performer will face any penalties whatsoever for publishing or publicizing anything. If so, why introduce the new law? Was it a public relations stunt? If so, it badly misfired for the PiS. Second, one would have to accuse collectively either the “Polish State or the Polish Nation” of collaboration with the Nazis, to qualify as a wrongdoer.

Nobody half-versed in the tragedy of the Second World War could ever allege anything like this. Collectively, the Poles were victims of Hitler and Stalin and not their collaborator. In September 1939, Poland was destroyed jointly by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Throughout the Second World War Poland’s government was in exile in the West, a part of the Allied coalition. Thus, since the Polish State did not exist in occupied Poland, except as the leader of the anti-German underground, there was no state collaboration. The very name “Poland” was indeed obliterated and its lands were treated as a Nazi and Soviet colonies. Further, no collective national collaboration was possible since the Germans considered Polish Christians as sub-humans and, accordingly, murdered between 2 and 3 million of them (in addition to annihilating over 3 million Polish Jews whom the Nazis regarded as non-human).  

What’s the problem, then? First, Warsaw introduced the law, with a singular cultural deafness, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27). Second, the amendment as it stands, alone and in legal context, is confusing. Third, the opponents of the law, and their international supporters, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have misconstrued the law as condoning Holocaust revisionism and curbing academic freedom.

On each count, Netanyahu and others are mistaken, as shown above. Yet, the Israelis fear that under the guise of fighting Holocaust revisionism, Poland would bar studying collaboration of some Polish nationals with the German occupiers. There are, indeed, postmodernist scholars who qualify as Holocaust revisionists since they argue that “the Poles” collectively are “co-responsible for the Holocaust.” That is just part and parcel of modern academia. However, no one has persecuted them either in or out of Poland. Also, the doors are wide open to study individual, group, and even institutional collaboration. For instance, it is possible to study the Polish Navy Blue Police in Poland as much as it is the Jewish Ghetto Police in Israel and vice versa.

Further, one is somewhat baffled by the diplomatic storm because the Polish government had made the Israeli government privy to the intended amendment and consulted with it for about a year prior to the blowup. Obviously, both sides need to consult more.

The libertarian perspective would be to have no law curbing freedom of speech, allowing both the postmodernists and the revisionists to spew their venom, as repulsive as it is, as well as anyone else in between. Such a solution stands no chance in Poland at the moment, alas. Law and Justice likes government intervention.

Where do we go from here?  Everyone should calm down. This includes politicians and pundits. Leave the field to scholars. The Poles have taken the first step by setting up a committee for mutual dialogue, which the Israelis have accepted. Also, the voices of reason have at last, if gingerly, begun to emerge from the hysterical cacophony of tweets, as recorded by Seth J. Frantzman. Venerable Moshe Arens leads the way: “Blaming Poland for the Holocaust is Unjustified.”  Let’s keep it this way. The Polish narrative need not threaten anyone of good will. And no row should threaten the Transatlantic Alliance.

A hurricane of recrimination has erupted between Poland and Israel. It all started because the Poles are sick and tired of hearing the scurrilous slander of “Polish concentration camps.” That’s Holocaust revisionism plain and simple. The camps were German and Nazi. However, a bumbling Polish attempt to fix the problem via regulation blew up in Warsaw’s face.

What began as a historians’ quarrel gone public has spun out of control into a diplomatic row between Israel and Poland. Jerusalem enjoys the support of world public opinion, Ukraine, and, most importantly, the United States of America. Warsaw initially suffered isolation but now it has unexpectedly found new champions: Germany and Russia. This has a dangerous potential for the crisis to metastasize into the world of military geopolitics, thus endangering the Western system of alliances, NATO in particular.

Washington concurs with Israel’s fears that Poland wants to thwart academic freedom and cover up real and imagined Polish wartime crimes. Kiev, meanwhile, has joined the anti-Warsaw bandwagon to object to Poland’s condemnation of Ukrainian integral nationalism and its leader Stephan Bandera and his followers, whom the Poles hold responsible for ethnic cleansing and genocide during World War II. On the other hand, Russia’s largest political party predictably supports Poland because of its opposition to Ukraine’s extreme nationalists. And Germany has stepped in unexpectedly to admit that, indeed, the term “Polish concentration camps” is quite unfair and inaccurate.

The disparate stances have been amplified in editorial pages and social media all over the world. On the face of it, the international furor is about an attempt by the ruling Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość — PiS) to amend a piece of legislation, namely the Act of December 18, 1998, regulating Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. According to the newly introduced amendment, Article 55a, “anyone ascribing publicly and falsely responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich” will be prosecuted, fined, or imprisoned. This does not apply to anyone who “has committed this act as part of their artistic or scientific activity” (legal analysis here).

To disentangle the legalese: first, the new Article 55a seems to contradict (without overriding) the old Article 55 of the same Act. The latter penalizes denying Nazi crimes (including Holocaust revisionism) and Communist crimes (including not only mass murder but also persecution of dissidents and others), as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Second, the new amendment means that no historian, author, or performer will face any penalties whatsoever for publishing or publicizing anything. If so, why introduce the new law? Was it a public relations stunt? If so, it badly misfired for the PiS. Second, one would have to accuse collectively either the “Polish State or the Polish Nation” of collaboration with the Nazis, to qualify as a wrongdoer.

Nobody half-versed in the tragedy of the Second World War could ever allege anything like this. Collectively, the Poles were victims of Hitler and Stalin and not their collaborator. In September 1939, Poland was destroyed jointly by the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. Throughout the Second World War Poland’s government was in exile in the West, a part of the Allied coalition. Thus, since the Polish State did not exist in occupied Poland, except as the leader of the anti-German underground, there was no state collaboration. The very name “Poland” was indeed obliterated and its lands were treated as a Nazi and Soviet colonies. Further, no collective national collaboration was possible since the Germans considered Polish Christians as sub-humans and, accordingly, murdered between 2 and 3 million of them (in addition to annihilating over 3 million Polish Jews whom the Nazis regarded as non-human).  

What’s the problem, then? First, Warsaw introduced the law, with a singular cultural deafness, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27). Second, the amendment as it stands, alone and in legal context, is confusing. Third, the opponents of the law, and their international supporters, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have misconstrued the law as condoning Holocaust revisionism and curbing academic freedom.

On each count, Netanyahu and others are mistaken, as shown above. Yet, the Israelis fear that under the guise of fighting Holocaust revisionism, Poland would bar studying collaboration of some Polish nationals with the German occupiers. There are, indeed, postmodernist scholars who qualify as Holocaust revisionists since they argue that “the Poles” collectively are “co-responsible for the Holocaust.” That is just part and parcel of modern academia. However, no one has persecuted them either in or out of Poland. Also, the doors are wide open to study individual, group, and even institutional collaboration. For instance, it is possible to study the Polish Navy Blue Police in Poland as much as it is the Jewish Ghetto Police in Israel and vice versa.

Further, one is somewhat baffled by the diplomatic storm because the Polish government had made the Israeli government privy to the intended amendment and consulted with it for about a year prior to the blowup. Obviously, both sides need to consult more.

The libertarian perspective would be to have no law curbing freedom of speech, allowing both the postmodernists and the revisionists to spew their venom, as repulsive as it is, as well as anyone else in between. Such a solution stands no chance in Poland at the moment, alas. Law and Justice likes government intervention.

Where do we go from here?  Everyone should calm down. This includes politicians and pundits. Leave the field to scholars. The Poles have taken the first step by setting up a committee for mutual dialogue, which the Israelis have accepted. Also, the voices of reason have at last, if gingerly, begun to emerge from the hysterical cacophony of tweets, as recorded by Seth J. Frantzman. Venerable Moshe Arens leads the way: “Blaming Poland for the Holocaust is Unjustified.”  Let’s keep it this way. The Polish narrative need not threaten anyone of good will. And no row should threaten the Transatlantic Alliance.



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