No Valid Dichotomies: The German-Imposed Death Penalty Was Decisive in the Rescue of Fugitive Jews, AND for Radio Possession, AND for Black Market Involvement

  • By Devil’s Luck: A Tale of Heroic Resistance in Wartime Warsaw by Stanislaw LikiernikPublished January 1st 2001 by Mainstream Publishing Company


Stanislaw Likiernik, a Jewish member of the the A.K. (ARMIA KRAJOWA), recounts his experiences in prewar Poland, German-occupied Poland, the 1944 Soviet-betrayed Warsaw Uprising, and postwar Paris.


In recent years, some (e. g. Jan T. Gross) have advanced the disingenuous argument that Poles were willing to incur the German-imposed death penalty for harboring radios and guns, but much less so for harboring Jews. This was taken to imply that the German-imposed death penalty was not really that important, and that Poles therefore “should” have saved more Jews.

What are the facts? To begin with, everyone knows that getting away with hiding a verboten object is much more likely than getting away with hiding a verboten human being. But no matter. As it turns out, Poles weren’t particularly risk-taking when it came to radios either: „Radios in private hands were a rarity, their possession punishable by death.” (p. 72). As for black marketeering, Poles really had a choiceless choice (either likely die from starvation or possibly die from black market involvement for the necessary food). Furthermore, if caught, they knew furthermore that the death penalty upon being caught wasn’t consistently enforced: „To survive, the inhabitants of Warsaw had to use the black market…In my place, a real gendarme would, at his most benevolent, confiscate the goods, and at worst let go with his sub-machine gun. Searches of trains often ended in the shooting of women and men traveling with contraband food supplies.” (p. 83)


Likiernik describes his experiences in KEDYW (KIEROWNICTWO DYWERSJI, or Directorate of Sabotage) (pp. 67-70), which included the blowing up of a German train that was taking ammunition to the Russian Front. He played a direct role in the assassinations of German officials, including Commander Schmalz (pp. 96-97) and the Gestapo agents Jung and Hoffman (p. 103). KEDYW was somewhat better armed than other AK units (p. 107), but some 70% of KEDYW members later perished during the Warsaw Uprising (p. 147).


Jan Peczkis

Published with the author’s permission.


– More reviews by Jan Peczkis on PCO  ….. .

  • Title image: The execution of 56 Polish citizens in Bochnia, near Kraków, during  German occupation of Poland, 18 December 1939. Source: / selected by wg.pco

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