In the archival collection of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance one can find a book consisting of 229 cards containing a list of Jews of Polish origin who were deported from Germany to Poland on October 28, 1938, and found themselves in a hastily organized transit camp in Zbąszyń, a small town on the then Polish-German border, hit by the largest wave of refugees. One may rightfully considered this document as an invaluable historical source for researchers dealing with the Polenaktion or broadly understood Holocaust Studies (it can be assumed that the majority of Jewish refugees who did not managed to move from Poland later died in camps or ghettoes) together with descendants of the victims who may find here some information about their ancestors.Further reading
The mentioned list took the form of a table with 4560 rows (not everyone is filled in) with handwritten information sorted into 22 categories: 1) first name, last name (maiden name – for women); 2) parents\’ names (including mother\’s maiden name); 3) date, place and country of birth; 4) confession; 5) marital status; 6) exact current address (in Zbąszyń); 7) universal military service; 8) profession; 9) knowledge of Polish language both in speech and writing; 10) place and authority which issued the passport, date of issuing the passport, consulate\’s registration number, passport\’s no.; 11) passport\’s termination date; 12) place of residence abroad before the expulsion (exact address); 13) last place of residence/stay in Poland (county) / a) date of leaving Poland; b) date of deportation from Germany; 14) name, date, registration no. of authority which established the citizenship (according to passport data); 15) estimated movable (cattle, personal belongings etc. and immovable (land, buildings etc.) wealth abroad; 16) estimated movable and immovable wealth in Poland; 17) current source of livelihood (help from the Relief Committee for Jewish Refugees, own funds, financial aid from relatives); 18) relatives in Poland who could help to earn a living (relatives\’ first name, last name, exact address); 19) where he/she intends to go in case of being released from Zbąszyń; 20) does he/she has a wife, husband, children, siblings with whom he/she lived together; 21) first names, last names, exact addresses of people mentioned in point 20; 22) what he/she intends to do in the nearest future in order to stay alive/earn a living.
Information on the origins of the document is limited and quite scarce. It can be assumed that the book has begun to be created shortly after the establishment of the camp, few days after October 28, when some part of the 9.000 refugees who originally arrived in Zbąszyń received permission to go deeper into the country (the total number of refugees was around 17.000 people, apart from Zbąszyń they reached several other places including, among others, Bytom-Beuthen, Chojnice-Konitz, Ujście-Ush, Krzyż-Kreuz). At the end of the month the overall number of Jews who found temporary/provisional lodgings in or around Zbąszyń amounted to approximately 6.000, it decreased to about 5.000 and more or less corresponded with the estimation included in the book (on the upper margin on one of the cards there is a note “from 20 to 60 years old”, which suggests that people who do not fit into this category may not have been included). Presumably there were few people working on the registration which is manifested in different writing style and color of the ink. Attempts were made to maintain alphabetical order and to register the relatives or persons with similar last names next to each other which, in practice, turned out to be impossible to fulfill. Looking through the entire document one may discern sequences of names beginning with the same letter with single inclusions starting with previous or subsequent letters. Some categories contain the same data – everyone, except probably for few exceptions, described their religion as Mosaic (i.e. Judaism); they all were expelled from Germany at the end of October; they primary source of livelihood was the help they received from their relatives and/or from currently formed Relief Committee for the Jewish Expellees from Germany headquartered in Warsaw, supported financially by varied organizations (e.g. American Jewish Joint Distribution), religious communities, individuals and/or collective donors (both supplies appeared in the follow-up to the question). Interesting insights are provided by the last category – most of the deportees wanted to go to Palestine, the United States or another far-off place (e.g. South America); one may conclude that they did not see a place for themselves in Poland (people living in Germany for a long period of time, assimilated with the German culture, no longer speaking Polish language, without any personal ties with relatives remaining in Poland were in a particularly difficult position). Based on the question about the attitude towards universal military service, typical for most of the surveys before and after 1938, it is known that among the refugees there was a large group of veterans from World War I fighting within the ranks of different armies. The question concerning the estimated value of movable and unmovable wealth in Germany and Poland was likely related with Polish-German negotiations that begun on the 2nd of November and lasted till January 24, 1939, when an agreement was signed, in which one of the points enabled a short return to Germany to settle personal and economic matters (the latter one primarily associated with property liquidation – people who were expelled from their homes practically overnight had a hard time evaluating their wealth, hence many frames were left unfilled).
In 1971 the book came in possession of the Main Commission for the Investigation of Hitlerite (i.e. Nazi) Crimes in Poland (GKBZHwP) – an institution created in 1945 which main task was to investigate and gather materials concerning German crimes committed in years 1939-1945 in Poland or abroad on Polish citizens, people of Polish nationhood or foreigners who were in Poland at the time (until the creation of German Democratic Republic in 1949 it functioned as Main Commission for the Investigation of German Crimes, after 1991 as Main Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Polish People). It was a part of so-called collection “Z” (including various documents regarding facts and places of Nazi crimes). It could be used as evidence in prosecutor\’s and/or court proceedings as well as then-ongoing attempts in order to estimate war losses suffered by Poland at the hands (and for the benefit) of Nazi Germany during World War II (this issue was dealt in years 1970-1976 by a special commission). This question requires further verification (along with the question whether Zbąszyń/Polenaktion were raised in the course of negotiations in early 1950s between Israel and Western Germany as regards to wartime repatriations). Based on the act of December 18, 1998, the archival resources generated or collected by GKBZHwP were taken over by its successor – the Polish Institute of National Remembrance. Copies of the book can be found, among others, in the archives of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, and International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen (since May 21, 2019 this institution has changed its name to International Center on Nazi Persecution).
It should be emphasized that this is not the only such list – the Jews were subject to registration for many times, before and after 1938, voluntarily and (more often) compulsory ones. The Joint archive contains a list of Jews from Zbąszyń who have relatives in America (who were able to send them food parcels and other forms of assistance) including: 1) first name; 2) last name; 3) date and…; 4) place of birth; 5) profession; 6) last place of residence in Germany; 7) current address in Zbąszyń; 8) address of said relatives; 9) the degree of relationship. The former International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, of which some archival resources have been made available online, systematically collected files concerning the deportees from Zbąszyń (and other places as well). Based on this data the Bundesarchiv managed to create a Memory Book (Gedenkbuch) with a built-in search engine that allows finding names of parsons of Jewish origin expelled from Germany in 1938 and the following years. In addition, the Visual History Archive contains dozens of video conversations with the victims of Polenaktion, mostly recorded throughout the 1990s (access to the online site requires free registration, full access to all the resources is available in selected universities and research centers/museums around the world).
Szymon Pietrzykowski - The Historical Research Office, Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), Poznań Branch