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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: Poland

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).


Along with Germany, Poland is the country talked about most in the testimonies of the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive. While over 16,400 interviewees were born in Poland, almost 26,000 talk about their experiences there in the prewar, wartime, and postwar periods. These interviews are in several languages, including English, Polish, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Yiddish. A total of 1,349 interviews were conducted in Poland by the Shoah Foundation. Major subjects of discussion include:

• Prewar Jewish communities.
• Relations between Jews and non-Jews before World War II; the contrast in relations before and after Pilsudski’s death.
• Pogroms before, during, and after the war.
• The deportation of Polish-born Jews from Germany to Zbaszyn in October 1938.
• The German invasion of Poland of September 1, 1939.
• The Soviet invasion of September 17, 1939: The “Sovietization” of Eastern Poland, including the deportation of civilians to remote areas of northern and eastern Russia.
• Ghettos. The archive includes interviews with survivors of the large ghettos of the Generalgouvernement (e.g. Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, Lwow, Krakow) as well as smaller ghettos in the south and the east of prewar Poland.
• Concentration camps. A great many Jewish survivors were sent from all parts of Europe to camps in Poland. The testimonies contain information on the Nazi extermination camps (Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Belzec, Chelmno) as well as many lesser known concentration and labor camps.
• Resistance. Specific resistance organizations are discussed (e.g. the Armia Krajowa), as are events such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943), the Warsaw Polish Uprising of 1944, the Sonderkommando Uprising in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the Sobibor Uprising.
• Means of survival, hiding, and false identity.
• Aid given to Jews by non-Jews.
• The Polish-Ukrainian conflict of 1943-44.
• The Polish army in exile. Polish units in the French and British armies, Anders Army, and the Kosciuszko Infantry Division of the Soviet Army.

Polish-language testimonies

Within the Polish collection, there is a valuable collection of 1,510 testimonies in the Polish language, which includes Jewish survivors, rescuers and aid providers, Sinti-Roma survivors, and political prisoners.

Polish-Jewish survivors
Some of the subjects covered by Jewish survivors in the Polish language in particular relate to the social and political history of Polish Jews in the period before World War II.:
• Jewish and Polish identity.
• Antisemitism of the late 1930s in terms of its origin, driving forces, and the response of both the Polish and Jewish society (for example, the economic boycott and violence at the universities, most notably of Warsaw and Lwow).
• Jewish involvement in the Polish Socialist and Communist movements.
• Zionist political and social activities, e.g. participation in youth organization of various orientations.
• Service in the Polish military and insights into relations between Jews and non-Jews in the army.
• The patriotic feelings on the part of Jews toward Poland upon the outbreak of war, regardless of the negative Jewish experience in the prewar years.

Many of these interviewees are survivors of the larger Polish ghettos such as Warsaw and discuss similar situations:
• As Jews, they were exposed to all the animosities of the time, yet sooner or later they were given help by the Poles. This help came in the form of provision of a place to hide, of false documents, or of a combination of both. Those Jews who survived the occupation survived it on the “Aryan side”, hiding and using false documents.
• There are instances when young Jewish men and women became members of the Polish underground, acting under false names with false documents. A large number of these interviews are with survivors of the Warsaw ghetto, many of whom took a very active participation in Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
• Blackmail or szmalcownictwo is an attribute of almost every story in German-occupied Poland.
• The same is true of the Granatowa Policja and Jewish police, and there are informative stories about both. If the former are depicted as half-szmalcowniki, the latter are predominantly seen as German helpers, who in crucial moments could spare a life or, conversely, betray and denounce.

Other Polish-Jewish survivors fled German-occupied Poland to the Soviet-controlled territories or stayed there. A great number of them were exiled to remote areas such as Arkhangel'sk oblast' and Komi ASSR. Some made it to Anders army or to Polish units of the Soviet army. Some returned to Poland in 1944 with the new Polish government, while others found themselves captives of the Soviet regime and only able to leave the USSR after the war.

Experiences other than the ones mentioned above vary by geography and type: hiding in Galician forests, in the swamps of Polesie, on small farms in Lithuania and Vilno województwo; concealing the fact that one of the parents was Jewish; posing as Poles; and being sent to Germany as civilian laborers; and so on. The number of interviews in Polish with survivors of Krakow, Lodz, or ghettos other than Warsaw is relatively small.

Political Prisoners
Most of the political prisoners interviewed in Polish were arrested as members of different underground resistance organizations. Of particular interest is the fact that many of them went through Nazi camps such as Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Dachau, and Ravensbruck from the very beginning (1939, 1940) to the very end (spring 1945). Some of these interviewees had two-number tattoos on their arms (in Auschwitz, for instance), meaning that they arrived with the first transports.

Aid Givers
Farmers from remote isolated farms, peasants from big villages, university professors, doctors, workers, professionals, military, police, actors, artists and others are among the many people who risked their lives and the lives of their families by helping Jews in hiding, by providing them with false identities, by smuggling food and clothes into the ghettos.

Although many of the Polish-language testimonies with Sinti-Roma survivors have limited or no Holocaust-related content, there are a few that do contain unique stories about being in the “Gypsy Camp” in Auschwitz-Birkenau.



Selected Indexing Terms

"anti-Zionist" campaign (Poland, 1968)


Allied military operations in Poland

Anders Army

Anders, Wladyslaw

Armia Krajowa

Armia Ludowa

Auschwitz (Poland : Concentration Camp) (generic)

Auschwitz I (Poland : Concentration Camp)

Auschwitz II-Birkenau (Poland : Death Camp)

Auschwitz III-Monowitz (Poland : Concentration Camp)

Bataliony Chlopskie

Belzec II (Poland : Death Camp)

Bereza Kartuska (Poland : Polish Concentration Camp)

Bialystok (Poland : Ghetto)

Brigade of Carpathian Fusiliers

Brzesc nad Bugiem Pogrom (1937)


Chrzescijanska Democracja

Cracow Pogrom (August 11, 1945)

Cyrankiewicz, Józef

Czerwone Harcerstwo

Czestochowa Ghetto Uprising (January 1943)

deportation of Polish Jews (Germany, October 1938)     

Edelman, Marek

Endecja Stronnictwo Narodowy

ethno-national conflicts



German invasion of Poland (September 1, 1939)

German occupation conditions

Gertler, David

ghetto Judenrate

Hotel Polski transports

intelligentsia arrests

intelligentsia executions

Jewish camp police


Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst

Katyn' Massacre

Kielce Pogrom

Komunistyczna Partia Polski

Komunistyczna Partia Zachodniej Bialorusi

Komunistyczna Partia Zachodniej Ukrainy

Komunistyczny Zwiazek Mlodziezy Polski

Korczak, Janusz

Krakau-Plaszow (Poland : Concentration Camp)

Kraków (Poland : Ghetto)

Kulmhof (Poland : Death Camp)

Lódz (Poland : Ghetto)

Lwów (Poland : Ghetto)

Lwów pogrom (November 22, 1918)

Majdanek (Poland : Concentration Camp)

Minsk Mazowiecki Pogrom (1936)

Mlodziez Wielkiej Polski

Mlodziez Wszechpolska

Narodowa Partia Robotnicza

Narodowe Sily Zbrojne

Ob¢z Narodowo-Radykalny

Ob¢z Zjednoczenia Narodowego

Obóz Polski Walczacej

Pankiewicz, Tadeusz

Pilsudski, Josef


Polish annexation of the Teschen region (October 1938)

Polish armed forces

Polish civilian laborers

Polish history

Polish resistance fighters

Polish resistance groups

Polish soldiers

Polish units

Polska Partia Robotnicza

Polska Partia Socialistyczna (PPS)

Polska Partia Socjaldemokratyczna

Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza

Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego

Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe-Piast

Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe-Wyzwolenie

Rada Glówna Opiekuncza

Roman Catholic Church

Rufeisen, Shmuel

Russo-Polish War (1919-1920)

Sikorski, Wladyslaw Eugeniusz

Sluzba Zwyciestwu Polski

Sobibór (Poland : Death Camp)

Sobibór Uprising (October 14, 1943)

Sonderkommando Uprising (Auschwitz II-Birkenau) Oct 7, 1944

Soviet invasion of Poland (September 17, 1939)

Stronnictwo Chlopskie

Stronnictwo Demokratyczne

Stronnictwo Narodowe

Szare Szeregi

Treblinka II (Poland : Death Camp)

Treblinka II Uprising (August 2, 1943)

Vilna (Poland : Ghetto)

Warsaw (Poland : Ghetto)

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19 – May 16, 1943)

Warsaw Polish Uprising

Wasilewska, Wanda

Wilczynski, Stefania

Zimetbaum, Mala

Zwiazek Harcerstwa Polskiego

Zwiazek Mlodziezy Szkolnej

Zwiazek Niezaleznej Mlodziezy Socjalistycznej (ZNMS)

Zwiazek Patriot¢w Polskich

Zwiazek Polskiej Mlodziezy Demokratycznej

Zwiazek Strzelecki

Zwiazek Walki Mlodych

Zwiazek Walki Zbrojnej


Zydowsk Zwiazek Wojskowy

Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa



Selected Bibliography

Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Edele, Mark; Sheila Fitzpatrick, and Atina Grossmann, eds. Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2017. 

Gross, Jan. Neighbors: the Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne. Poland, Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2001.

Gross, Jan. The Holocaust in Occupied Poland: New Findings and New Interpretations. Bern; New York: Peter Lang, 2012.


Visual History Archive Curator

Profile Photo
Crispin Brooks