Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 3-9-2015


Using postwar trial records – through which we can study the perpetrators themselves, the communities they lived in, the response of neighbors, peers, and family members to their crimes, in a word, the entire microcosm of a crime – I argue that crimes committed by Poles against fellow Poles and those committed by Poles against their Jewish neighbors differed in profound ways that stemmed from more than just the unequal degrees of persecution applied to the two groups by the Nazis.

Polish-on-Polish crimes tended to be crimes of atomization, consisting of the deeds of isolated individuals who broke under the crushing weight of the occupation, betraying friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues in a moment of anger or weakness. Polish-on-Jewish crimes, on the other hand, were usually discretionary, rarely originating in direct orders from the Germans, sadistic, and homicidal. Moreover, whereas Polish-on-Polish crime was generally concealed, Polish-on-Jewish crime, especially in the countryside, was an encompassing and highly visible effort in which numerous people openly coordinated their efforts. This German-inspired, indigenously-executed campaign amounted to the “crowdsourcing” of mass killing, in which ordinary people were invited by the occupier to contribute as much as they wanted to the larger project of ethnic cleansing. This proposal is an extract from my dissertation.