The second private letter from a German worker and soldier active in the underground socialist movement in Germany, sent to a friend in the United States and published in The Militant in 1942. This one recounts the three weeks that the author spent in Warsaw at the end of 1941, explaining the situation in occupied Poland and the socialist movement there.
Last week THE MILITANT1 printed an interesting letter from an anti-fascist worker2 in the German underground movement to a friend in the United States. This same German antifascist sent another letter dealing with Polish conditions at the end of 1941, which has just come into our hands. We are glad to be able to print it here for the information it contains, although we do not assume responsibility for all the political ideas expressed in it.
The news of the growth of the underground Polish Trotskyist movement, as well as the leftward developments of the Polish and Jewish socialists in occupied Poland, has been corroborated by other information recently received in this country.
THE MILITANT, AUGUST 1, 1942
Dear Friend and Comrade:
I spent three weeks in Poland in official duties. Unofficially visited the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, and met a number of Jewish and Polish Socialists and Trotskyists. Never in all my years have I seen such misery, hunger and despair – especially in the Jewish ghetto where live the ‘capitalist Jews who want to conquer and enslave the world,’ as the Nazis would have Germans and all other nations of the world believe.
I have seen misery aplenty in Germany. Compared to the impoverished and famished population in Poland, however, the Germans live like princes. A crust of dry bread has become the dream of millions. Literature, art, philosophy, science – they have no significance for these millions. Bread has become their ideal, and for that crust of bread, Poles are betraying their own compatriots. Jews would also have acted in this manner, but they dread leaving the ghetto, and more so do they dread the Gestapo. And for the same crust of bread, twelve and thirteen year old girls sell themselves to German soldiers.
FOR HUMAN BEINGS THERE ARE NO SOCIETIES
As cats and dogs seek leftovers in ash cans, so do Poles and Jews look for this. For cats and dogs there are societies which protect them; for human beings there is – nothing. They are dying of starvation by the hundreds.
In the Jewish ghetto live hundreds of thousands, forsaken by men and by God to whom they pray with tear-filled eyes. Their prayers do not reach beyond the ghetto walls. Children have no childhood, and age has left its tragic mark on them.
I employed every means to gain the confidence of the Jews in the Polish ghetto. I could not convince them, however, that beneath my uniform there was a human being. They regard us as wild animals – and we have deserved such consideration. I succeeded in winning the confidence only of the little children of the ghetto, and I did this by giving them bits of chocolate with which they soon smeared their hands and faces.
Through these children frightened mothers, tattered like no beggar ever was, would at times approach me. I talked with them. They all regretted having brought children into the world. This is the feeling of all mothers whose children are being murdered for the so-called ‘New Order’ of Fascism . . .
In the ghetto, I saw men and women who hadn't seen a single crust of bread for days. German workers, who live in extreme poverty, discard better shoes, underwear, and clothes than the Jews of the ghetto wear. When I saw these people, I asked myself: how is it possible that such a nation, which has absorbed the old and new cultures and which has itself contributed a great deal to world culture, should live in this manner?
My answer is this: the Hitlers of all time have turned a nation into paupers.
And, regrettably, there are today still millions of people in all countries who believe the Nazi fabrications that when the Jews will be wiped off the face of the earth, the world will be a happy one.
I asked three German soldiers who had accompanied me in the ghetto, as to whether they thought these poor Jews want to seize and dominate the world. One of them smiled and said: “My wife is a Jewess. And the teachers cannot eradicate from our children the love they bear towards the mother who implanted in them a love for all oppressed.”
Among the Polish Jews, there is a feeling of hopelessness, the like of which is not seen among any other nation smarting under the yoke of the Gestapo. Even the Poles, whose standard of living is not much better than that of the Jews, are more hopeful than are the people who so fervently believe in the Messiah.
HE MAKES CONTACT
I met a few younger Jews whose beliefs differ from those of elders of their faith. But they no longer believe in a Messiah; their faith is in Socialism. Thru them, I came into contact with Polish Socialists and Trotskyists. What joy prevailed among us! I realized, in the course of these meetings, that socialism lives and will dominate the world.
I came into contact with them through a young Zionist with whom I became acquainted in one of the Jewish institutions. During the first few days of our acquaintance I spoke to him only about official matters. Gradually, however, I drew him into conversation of human interest and he explained to me that he was a Zionist.
When he asked whether I was acquainted with Zionism I replied in the affirmative, but said I was not familiar with it to a great extent. And so he asked me how official Berlin circles feel about Zionism. To which I replied: “The attitude which official Berlin circles maintain towards Jews is known to you. One feels it here, in Poland, and in all other countries where the Nazis rule. Because of purely political motives, official circles in Berlin are antagonistic to Zionism, since they want to convince the Arabs that Palestine should belong to the Moslems – and to them alone. My personal opinion concerning the Jewish question is that when we Germans will be liberated from the Nazi rulers, the Jews, too, will be free.”
“I understand,” I continued, “that my reply comes unexpectedly to you. Do not think, however, that all Germans who wear Nazi uniforms are brownshirts. But here in this office we will not be able to finish our conversation. Is it possible to arrange a visit to your home on a certain evening?”
One evening I visited the Zionist. I found scattered about in his home various Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and Russian books and papers – exactly as I had instructed him to do. I gave him these instructions so that in the event Gestapo agents accidentally raided his home, it would appear that I had come to make the investigation.
Briefly, I explained to him that I should like to become acquainted with a few socialists, if there still are such. He looked at me in amazement. I told him frankly who and what I am. He then opened the door, and called out the name of a woman who soon made her appearance in the room. She was his sister. When he told her I was a member of the League of Revolutionary Socialists of Germany, she stretched out her hand and greeted me with the word “comrade.” I haven't heard the word “comrade” for years, for ever since the Nazis began to call each other “Genossen” (comrades), we call ourselves “friends.” We were both surprised. She began to inquire about our movement. I told her briefly about our work, about which not only she, but also the Zionist, were enthusiastic. I spent a few hours drinking tea with the young woman comrade, in the presence of her brother and her parents. Those were pleasant hours; I shall never forget them.
A few days later, she introduced me to two Polish Socialists3 , both of whom spoke German fluently. From them I learned that socialism lives in the hearts of thousands in Poland, that the Polish Socialists have no association whatsoever with the Polish government-in-exile, in London; that they have no connection with the Polish Socialists in Britain who are backing that government.
FOR A SOVIET GOVERNMENT!
“It is too early to talk of a government,” the two Polish comrades added. “When the proper moment comes, we will have a government which will be elected by the Polish and Jewish proletariat. And this will be a Soviet government – without the errors made in Russia.”
Upon my question as to why the Trotskyists were working separately, they replied that it would not take long before they would be working together. “The Trotskyists still believe that the former nationalist tendencies rule our Party,” the two comrades said. “But these tendencies died – along with the Polish Republic. We have broken completely with the old school of Daszyński4 .”
I told them that in the League of Revolutionary Socialists, all differences of opinion have disappeared. I also told them that we are not influenced by any group of the German political emigrants.
The Trotskyists wield a strong influence on the workers of Poland. They too believe that the time is nigh when they will become united with the Polish socialists who support completely a Soviet republic in Poland.
When I returned to Berlin, I conveyed greetings of the Polish comrades to our comrades. There greetings were received enthusiastically. This expression of enthusiasm and solidarity manifested itself in a collection which was taken up among various units of our organization, and which netted the sum of five hundred marks. Of this, two hundred went to the Socialist Party of Poland; two hundred to the Jewish Bund; and one hundred to the Trotskyists. This is a small amount, but it is the finest possible demonstration of socialist solidarity in these dark days of fascism and nationalism.
The first letter is available here.
- 1The Militant was at the time the organ of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a US Trotskyist group founded in 1938. The roots of the SWP and The Militant can be traced back to the Communist League of America, founded by James P. Cannon, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern in 1928 following their expulsion from the Communist Party of the USA for Trotskyism.
- 2The author of this letter was a German soldier and worker, a member of the League of Revolutionary Socialists of Germany, who spent three weeks in Warsaw at the end of 1941.
- 3Might refer to members of the group Polscy Socjaliści, a left wing split from the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) which existed in years 1941-1943. In 1943 the group split, with the right rejoining the PPS, and the left forming a new party – the Robotnicza Partia Polskich Socjalistów (RPPS).
- 4Ignacy Daszyński (1866-1936), member of the pre-war Polish Socialist Party (PPS), and briefly the Prime Minister of the Second Polish Republic's first government (1918).