Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

An Open Letter to Professor Waclaw Szybalski

March 2, 2015


Professor Waclaw Szybalski D.Sc. Professor Emeritus of Oncology

Anna Ferens’ documentary on the life of University of Wisconsin Professor Emeritus Waclaw Szybalski premiered in Madison, Wisconsin.

Professor Szybalski’s research contributed to an understanding of the genetic basis of drug resistant bacterial infections and the development of multiple drug therapies. His DNA research is used in the development of cancer treatments.

Both the film and discussion included Professor Szybalski’s life in Poland. He shared his love of his home of Lvov, Poland which before WWII was a diverse city with a Slavic and Jewish Polish majority along with Ukrainians and others. He spoke of the Nazis’ extermination the Jews of Lvov then the Soviets’ ethnically cleansing Lvov of Slavic Poles by expulsions and murder. Lvov is now the almost 100% Ukrainian city of Lviv, Ukraine.

Professor Szybalski participated in the resistance. The Soviets were allied with the Nazis from 1939 to 1941 and occupied about 1/2 of Poland. Trains crossed occupied Poland with Soviet supplies essential for their Nazi allies to wage war. On their return trip, the trains were often filled with anti-Soviet Poles being deported to Siberia. Among the earliest acts of resistance were attacks on those trains.

He also participated in resistance against the Holocaust which moved me to write this open letter.

Dear Professor Szybalski:

During the questions and answers after the December 8, 2014 premier of “The Essence of Life”, you shared how you helped gather information on the location and layout of one of the extermination camps. That information was smuggled out to the Allies with a plea to bomb the camps and their rail lines.

The Allies did not bomb the camps for reasons unrelated to the information you and others supplied.

The Nazi’s and Soviet’s conquests of Poland placed most of the victims of the Holocaust beyond the reach of rescue by military action for most of the war. After 1939, about the victims’ only hope was for the Allies to militarily defeat the Nazis as quickly as possible.

At great personal risk you succeeded in gathering intelligence on the Holocaust and sharing that with the world.

Professor Szybalski, you did not fail.

Yours, Leonard H. Cizewski

Links, sources, and more information:


soon“The Essence of Life” Trailer

McCardle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health:

50 years of gene therapy: the contribution of Professor Wacław Szybalski to science and humanity, Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences


Martin Gilbert, Auschwitz and the Allies: A Devastating Account of How the Allies Responded to the News of Hitler’s Mass Murder

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Virginia Holocaust Museum

Assessing Atrocity


My nephew-in-law Marshall Begel was my editor for my open letter. He reviewed this for accuracy and clarity along with spelling and grammar.

In depth historical background and context are occasional features of my family history blog.

Revised: September 7, 2015



Putin, the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Soviet Complicity in the Holocaust

January 15, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the January 27, 2015 ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops of Nazi German extermination and concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Soviet troops assisting survivors of the Nazi German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.

Fair use of photo from: Meczenstwo Walka, Zaglada Zydów Polsce 1939-1945. Poland. No. 538.

Russia has yet to acknowledge Soviet complicity in the Holocaust. Without that acknowledgement, President Putin’s absence is appropriate.

The history of Auschwitz-Birkenau is also the history of Soviet complicity in the Holocaust:

Prior to Soviet-Nazi military alliance, the Soviet Union provided the Nazis with the material assistance to wage aggressive wars of conquests and genocide:

  • The treaties that ended WWI prohibited German rearmament. The Soviets assisted the Nazis to evade their treaty obligations by allowing the Nazis to secretly develop and test their new weapons on Soviet territory.
  • The manganese in the steel the Nazis used to construct their military vehicles, weapons, and ammunition was supplied by the Soviets.
  • Nazi vehicles were fueled with Soviet oil.
  • Nazi troops were fed with Soviet grain.
  • Nazi horses, which made up 90% of Nazi military transportation, were fed with Soviet fodder.

In August, 1939, the Nazis and Soviets upgraded their relationship to include a military alliance:

  • The Soviets guaranteed that when the Nazis attacked Poland, the Nazis would not face a two front war as in WWI. The Nazis would only face the alliance of Poland, France, and Britain.
  • While Slavic and Jewish Polish troops were defending Poland against Nazi aggression from the west, the Soviets attacked Poland from the east.
  • The defeat of Poland by the Soviets and Nazis resulted in the Nazi capture of most of the Polish Jews along with Auschwitz-Birkenau and other sites where they constructed extermination and concentration camps.
  • From August, 1939 until June, 1941, the Soviet controlled Communist International (Comintern) ordered pro-Soviet Communist Parties, including the Communist Party USA, to support the Soviet-Nazi alliance, to oppose the war against the Nazis, and to oppose U.S. entry into the war. That is among many reasons the U.S. delayed entry into WWII.

By end of 1941 when the U.S. entered the war, Holocaust victims were beyond the reach of military rescue. The death camps and their rail lines were beyond the range of Allied bombers.

In January, 1945 when the Soviets finally reached Auschwitz-Birkenau, they found about 7,000 survivors.

So few were liberated because almost all the victims of the Holocaust were already dead and most of the other survivors had been evacuated to Nazi Germany.

Just as the post-war democratic state of Germany inherited the responsibility for the crimes of its predecessor state of Nazi Germany, Russia inherited the responsibility for the WWII crimes of the Soviet Union.

The obligation for acceptance of responsibility will not go away with the passage of time.

Acknowledging such histories is part of the process of a state maturing to a full member of the family of civilized nations.

The Russian people deserve such actions from their leaders such as President Putin.

In public consciousness and popular culture among the most common questions are why the Allies did not do more to stop the Holocaust such as attempting to rescue victims and bomb the death camps and their rail lines.

Similar questions about the Soviet Union’s conduct are rarely asked.

That may because of a very successful Cold War era propaganda campaign to promote questions about the Allies and divert attention from the complicity in the Holocaust of the Soviets and their allied Communist Parties.

Now that the Cold War is over the time has come to seek information about the Soviet Union’s Holocaust complicity to make WWII history more complete and accurate.

Links with sources and for more information:

The Buildup of the German War Economy: The Importance of the Nazi-Soviet Economic Agreements of 1939 and 1940 By Samantha Carl.

70th anniversary of liberation of the Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau – January 27, 2015 The official 70th anniversary site.

Putin Won’t Attend Commemoration of Auschwitz Liberation New York Times.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Virginia Holocaust Museum

Assessing Atrocity

In depth historical background and context: An occasional feature of my family history blog.


Rommel’s image in popular culture

October 17, 2014

70 years ago on October 14, 1944 the Nazis forced Field Marshall Erwin Rommel to commit suicide.

In popular culture in the U.S. Rommel has a positive image.

Among the reasons are:

  • His competence as a military commander.
  • Unlike other German commanders especially on the Eastern Front, his adherence to the international standards of the treatment of POWs in North Africa from 1941 to 1943.
  • His association with the plotters of the July, 1944 attempted assassination of Hitler and coup and his statements of dissent about Nazi conduct of the war.

When his career is placed in its full context, his image is much less positive.

1933 to 1944

From the Nazis rise to power in 1933 until 1944 Rommel did nothing to oppose Nazism or to stop the Holocaust.

During those 11 years Rommel enjoyed the benefits of Nazi rule.

He failed to act in 1938 or 1939 when the Nazis were more vulnerable and would have been much easier to overthrow than in July, 1944.

For five years from 1939 until 1944, Rommel implemented the Nazi ideology of aggressive wars. Among the conquered populations were the majority of the victims of the Holocaust.

In 1939 among the earliest victims of the Holocaust were Polish Jewish officers and enlisted personnel executed when captured by Germans.

During the Polish campaign Rommel was commander of Hitler’s bodyguards (the Führer escort headquarters) as Hitler toured the Polish front.

From that position Rommel had to have been aware of the murder of Polish Jewish POWs.

During the 1940 Battle of France, troops under Rommel’s command motivated by the Nazi’s racial ideology executed captured French Senegalese troops.

French Senegalese soldiers 1940: Senegalese soldiers preparing to defend France against the Nazis.

Public domain image from Tales of War, page 239.

French Senegalese soldiers
1944: French children with their Senegalese liberator.

Public domain image from Amére patrie, devoir de mémoire et de vérité

Cemetery gate carvingCarving on the gate of the French military cemetery in Chasselay with Senegalese soldiers massacred by Nazi troops including some under Rommel’s command.

The cemetery is designed in the traditional Senegalese burial grounds.

Fair use of image from by Petra Pulles at Tata Chasselay France – A WW2 Cemetery on French soil for massacred Senegalese troops

From 1941 to 1943 in North Africa Rommel reportedly refused to implement Nazi orders to execute Jewish and other categories of POWs. Many Jewish soldiers were serving in the British and Polish forces in North Africa.

That is further confirmation of the depth of Rommel’s knowledge of Nazi criminality.

While Rommel may have prohibited the execution of Jewish POWs at the front, no evidence exists that he did anything to stop the Nazis behind the front from rounding up of Sephardic Jews in Nazi occupied parts of North Africa for deportation to slave labor and death camps.

In 1943 when Rommel was given command of Normandy, he used slave labor to construct fortifications.

Stopping the Holocaust or protecting ethnic Germans?

By July, 1944, Rommel recognized that Germany was militarily defeated. Germany no longer had the military capacity to defend its borders.

To continue the war meant that the Soviets would overrun Germany.

Was Rommel’s 1944 dissent motivated by his concern for the potential sufferings of ethnic Germans at the hands of Soviet troops or to stop genocide?

July, 1944 status of the Holocaust

By July, 1944, most of Nazi Holocaust murders had already occurred.

The July 1944 assassination and coup attempts were much too late to save most victims.

Rommel’s role in the attempted coup and assassination

Rommel may not have supported assassination or a coup.

He may have hinted that after others killed Hitler and overthrew the Nazis he would be available to serve in the post-Nazi government and armed forces.

He may have looked the other way while members of his staff planned the coup and assassination. He refrained from alerting the Nazis of the plots to what if anything he knew.

As his troops were being defeated in Normandy he said to his superiors including Hitler that the time had come to negotiate an end to the war.

On July, 17, 1944 Rommel suffered a serious brain injury when British aircraft attacked his car near the Normandy front.

That injury seemed to have decreased his inhibitions on speech.

His comments became less guarded, more frequent, explicit, and strident.

On July 22, 1944, a coup and assassination Hitler were attempted. Both failed.

On October 14, 1944. the Nazis force Rommel to choose between torture, a show trial followed by an execution, and violent retaliation against his family or suicide.

To shield his family from retaliation, Rommel chose to execute himself by committing suicide.

My amateur historian’s assessment of Rommel’s legacy

  • 11 years of personally benefiting from the Nazi’s policies.
  • 5 years of waging the Nazi’s wars of aggression during which the majority of the Holocaust victims were captured.
  • Being present in Poland when Polish Jewish POWs were executed.
  • Being in command of troops who executed French Senegalese POWs.
  • Use of slave labor to construct Normandy fortifications.
  • After D-Day in 1944, stating that the Allies and Soviets had militarily defeated Germany and that Germany should end the war.
  • Doing nothing to increase the chances of the success of the July, 1944 assassination and coup attempts.
  • Dissent motivated more to protect ethnic Germans from the Soviets than to stop genocide.

3110th Signal Service Battalion and Rommel

From February to July, 1944, the 3110th Signal Service Battalion, my late father Felix A. Cizewski’s unit, and Rommel faced each other across the English Channel (La Manche in French).

Rommel was preparing to continue the Nazi occupation of France and the 3110th was building communications infrastructure to facilitate the supplies to the forces preparing to liberate France.
Links with sources and for more information:

(French) le maréchal erwin rommel se suicide le 14 octobre 1944: Site where I learned of the 1940 massacre of French Senegalese POWs by troops under Rommel’s command.

(French)  Le Tata sénégalais

In depth historical background and context: An occasional feature of my family history blog.

Revised: October 18, 2012

Genetic Cousins

July 9, 2014

Genetic cousins Leonard Cizewski (left) and Daniel Ewenczyk.

Leonard and Daniel share a paternal ancestor from about 17 generations ago.

We estimate that to be from about 1590, about 425 years ago.

Photo by Cheryl A. Robinson

While in Paris we had lunch with Leonard’s genetic cousin Daniel Ewenczyk.

As part of our family history research both of us submitted DNA samples to databases. When Daniel confirmed a DNA connection, he contacted Leonard. 

We estimate that we may be about 10th degree cousins from a common paternal ancestor from about 350 years ago.

Despite our DNA distance, Daniel and I have have become friends and family.

Our DNA confirmed Cizewski family oral history that our ancestry both Slavic and Jewish.

When the Cizewski ancestors lived in Poland, the population was about 10% Jewish. The parts of Poland from which my family came were 25 to 50% Jewish.


Daniel’s graph of our DNA relationship. Click for a larger image.

The Cizewski Family is second to the right of center.The Ewenczyk family is to the left of the center.

For a detailed discussion of our DNA relationship go to: Cizewski Male DNA Analysis

Another post in an ongoing series about our trip to France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the Liberation of France and the memorial in Tamerville

My late father Felix A. Cizewski, served in Company C,  3110th Signal Service Battalion in Tamerville and Cherbourg during the liberation of Normandy in 1944.

Revised: August 27, 2015



Anti-Semitic Polish cardinal dies

January 25, 2013

Polish Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Glemp died on January 23, 2013.

The New York Times’ report on his death reviewed his history of anti-Semitism.

What he did and said caused great harm to relations between Slavic and Jewish Poles and between Poles and the world community. That damage lingers to this day.

Both the tiny Polish Jewish community that survived WWII and the Holocaust and the Jewish community worldwide needed thoughtfulness, compassion,  and  support from Polish leaders.

Instead he continued to make anti-Semitic statements and engage in antisemitic behavior. On issues that required the most sensitive of words, he repeatedly chose harsh anti-Semitic language.

He harmed efforts for post-WWII reconciliation between Slavic and Jewish Poles.

He disgraced the memory and service of the great number of Poles who paid with their lives fighting the Nazis and rescuing their Jewish friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens of Poland from the Nazis.

His anti-Semitism adds to the confusion that lingers to this day that because the Nazi death camps were geographically located in Poland, they were “Polish” rather than forcibly  imposed on conquered Poland by the Nazi occupiers.

In order to help ensure that his anti-Semitism is forever attached to his legacy I am sharing  The New York Times account of it:

Cardinal Glemp was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, notably for his 1989 remarks resisting an agreement to move a Carmelite convent from Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis. After Jews complained, the Vatican agreed in 1987 to put the convent in a nearby interfaith center. But as a deadline passed and Jews staged protests, the cardinal went on the offensive, saying:

“Do you, esteemed Jews, not see that your pronouncements against the nuns offend the feelings of all Poles, and our sovereignty, which has been achieved with such difficulty? Your power lies in the mass media that are easily at your disposal in many countries. Let them not serve to spread anti-Polish feeling.” He added, “Dear Jews, do not talk with us from the position of a people raised above all others, and do not dictate conditions that are impossible to fulfill.”

The ensuing firestorm reignited old controversies in a largely rural land where the prewar Jewish population of 3.5 million had dwindled to a few thousand. But the cardinal did not back down until the Vatican reaffirmed the pope’s determination to move the convent. The issue resurfaced in 1991, when Cardinal Glemp, touring the United States, encountered more protests and told Jewish leaders that he regretted the pain his statements had caused.

In 1997, Cardinal Glemp belatedly rebuked a rabidly anti-Semitic radio station, Radio Maryja, and the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, who mingled daily outpourings of hate with prayer. The cardinal acted only after Vatican hints and a prosecutor’s slander charges.

In 2001, Cardinal Glemp was again accused of anti-Semitism when he refused to accompany President Kwasniewski to the village of Jedwabne to apologize for the 1941 massacre of 1,600 Jews, most of them burned alive in a barn by Polish neighbors. The cardinal disavowed “ostentatious penance” in advance, and said, “I prefer not to have politicians impose on the Church the way it is to fulfill its act of contrition for the crimes committed by certain groups of people.”

From Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Poland Is Dead at 83 By ROBERT D. McFADDEN, The New York Times, January 23, 2013

Previous related posts:

Warsaw Ghetto prisoners liberated during second Warsaw Uprising

Documentary “Jews in the Warsaw Rising 1944″

67th Anniversary of the liberation of Dachau

For more information:

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Virginia Holocaust Museum

Documentary “Jews in the Warsaw Rising 1944” Screening in Skokie on Nov. 29, 2012

November 26, 2012
Zydzi w powstaniu warszawskim

Anna Ferens  2004 film:
“Jews in the Warsaw Rising 1944”
Zydzi w powstaniu warszawskim


Jews in the Warsaw Rising 1944 (Zydzi w powstaniu warszawskim)

Thursday, November 29, 2012 | 6:30 pm

The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
9603 Woods Drive
Skokie, IL 60077

This film recalls the break out of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 during which 40,000 soldiers of the Home Army, many of whom were Jewish, engaged in an open battle against Nazi Germany. After 63 days of heroic fighting, the Home Army eventually surrendered. The memory of the Warsaw Uprising has become sacred to the Polish community.

Q&A with the film’s director, Anna Ferens, follows the screening.

The visit of the filmmaker to Chicago, as well as a series of screenings of her documentaries, are sponsored by the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago.

Reservations recommended, 847.967.4889.

WWII Polish History:

One of the last great moments in the history of the diverse Slavic Jewish nation of Poland was when Slavic and Jewish Polish men and women fought side by side in an effort to liberate Warsaw from the Nazis just before the arrival of the Soviets.

The hope was that success would place Poland in a better position to secure its independence after WWII.

The reality was that after the Nazis defeated the Poles,  the Soviets captured Warsaw. Then the Soviets rounded up as many of the Polish Home Army survivors as they could and executed both Jewish and Slavic Poles if they suspected them of being potential opponents of Soviet occupation and rule by the Polish Communist Party.

Prior to the Holocaust Poland was one of the most ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically diverse nations in Europe. The Nazis and the Soviets (with Allied complicity) forever destroyed that.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and their allied Communist Parties, including the American Communist Party,  suppressed the full history of WWII Poland including how Slavic and Jewish Poles served and died side by side from the first shots in 1939 through both the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 until the end of WWII and after.

While the diverse Polish nation can never be restored, its memory should not be lost. I can’t think of a better way than showing this Polish made film at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Schedule of Chicago area screenings of Anna Ferens’ documentariesOrganized by Polish Consulate General in Chicago.

Private Robert J. Rankl’s Individual Deceased Personnel File

November 17, 2012

I am a member of the 45th Infantry Division (Thunderbirds) Group. We research the history of the 45th and share what we find on the group’s site.

We also assist families in researching their ancestors’ service in the 45th.

In January, 1944 while serving in Italy as a member of the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, Private Robert J. Rankl was captured by the Germans.

He escaped and sought refuge near Monte Buono, Umbria, Italy.

On April 13, 1944, Private Rankl along with seven other soldiers were recaptured and executed by the Nazis in the San Benedetto churchyard near Monte Buono.

Because four of the victims were members of the 45th, our 45th group is researching all eight of the victims. I was assigned to make the Freedom of Information Act request for Private Rankl’s Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF).

I just received Private Rankl’s IDPF and have made it available on Scribd.

The file reports on the investigation of his murder, the location and identification of his remains, and in 1948 the return of his remains for burial in Saint Peter’s Cemetery in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

View this document on Scribd

The murder of prisoners of war (POWs) in WWII:

On the Eastern Front, the Nazi murder of POWs was routine and a matter of policy. While some of the regular German army units did not execute prisoners, they were aware that the prisoners they took were often later executed by the SS units. At times regular Germany army units provided the SS units with armed escorts while the SS units executed POWs. Rarely if ever did regular German army units do anything to stop or even protest the murder of POWs.

Starting with the first moments of WWII in Poland, the Nazis executed Polish Jewish officer and enlisted POWs. Slavic Polish officer POWs were mostly executed as part of the Nazi policy to decapitate Polish leadership in order to more easily enslave the surviving Slavic Poles including enlisted Slavic Polish POWs.

As the Soviet Union was militarily allied with the Nazis at that time, the Soviets joined in the attack on Poland. The Soviets executed thousands of Slavic Polish POW officers and hundreds of Polish Jewish POW officers because they were suspected of being potential opponents to Soviet occupation of Poland and rule of Poland by the Soviet controlled Polish Communist Party.

The Nazis continued to execute the Soviet Jewish POWs while starving or working to death at least 50% of the Slavic Soviet POWs.

On the Western Front including Italy, execution by Allied POWs was done more frequently by SS units. In retaliation, Allied units became increasingly reluctant to take prisoners of SS troops. Regular German army units were more likely to attempt to follow the international rules of war on the treatment of POWs.

The German unit that executed Private Rankl and the other GIs is not identified in the documents.

Felix A. Cizewski, my late father, served in the 45th which is why I am a member of the group.

At the time of this atrocity he was serving in southern England as a member of Company C, 3110th Signal Service Battalion helping to prepare for the Normandy landings.

He was transferred to the 45th about nine months later in January, 1945.

Warsaw Ghetto prisoners liberated during second Warsaw Uprising

September 17, 2012

In The Second World War, Antony Beevor reports one of the actions of the Polish Home Army during the second uprising in Warsaw in 1944:

On August 5 (1944) the (Polish) Home Army attacked the concentration camp on the site of the flattened (Warsaw Jewish) ghetto, killed the SS guards, and released the remaining 348 Jewish prisoners (page 610).

In October, the Nazis forced the surrender of the Home Army survivors.  Some were immediately executed. Others were shipped to Auschwitz for extermination. A few were imprisoned  in the same Warsaw Ghetto concentration camp that they had liberated two months earlier (page 616).

Many of those who were still alive when the Soviets drove the Nazis from Poland were executed by their “liberators”.

The Soviets and pro-Soviet Communist Parties spent 1/2 century suppressing these details. Recently published histories such as Anthony Beevor’s are now telling the complete and accurate story.

For more information:

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Virginia Holocaust Museum

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