Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research




Skip to main content

Gustaw Alef Bolkowiak - Warsaw

Film | Accession Number: 1996.166 | RG Number: RG-60.5037 | Film ID: 3373, 3374, 3375

Gustaw Alef-Bolkowiak (Bolkoviac) addresses the tension between Polish and Jewish resistance movements and the question of Polish antisemitism. He talks about arms in the Warsaw ghetto, the Bund, the Zegota Council to aid the Jews of Poland, Poles who hid Jews, and Communist partisans.

FILM ID 3373 -- Camera Rolls #1-4 -- 01:00:00 to 01:18:05
Note: There is no transcript for Rolls #1-4 (it is either nonexistent or missing). Lanzmann says he wants to talk about Bolkowiak's involvement as a leader of the Communist Resistance movement in the Warsaw ghetto and describes that he is particularly passionate about the details of the Judenrat that appear in the tv series "The Holocaust". He wants to know if Bolkowiak's opinions of the Judenrat and their role have changed since the war. [CLIP 1 BEGINS] Bolkowiak says that he knows the functioning of the Judenrat in Warsaw particularly well, and then goes on to describe the relationship between the Nazis and the Judenrat in the ghetto (Nazis, knowing full well that they would eventually liquidate the ghetto, still wanted to "play" with the Jewish people and have them pursue somewhat regular lives during their time there). He claims that the Judenrat was not a ruling party, but was rather an organization that existed solely to realize the objectives of the Nazi Party. It was a collaborationist and corrupt organization. Bolkowiak talks about why he saw the Judenrat as a primarily negative institution, but then goes on to mention several members of the "conseils" (of different sectors) who did all that they could for the people of the ghetto. He talks about one member of the Jewish police force who was also a member of Bolkowiak's organization "bloque anti-fasciste", though this was an unusual occurence. Lanzmann asks about the recruitment of the police officers in the ghetto and Bolkowiak explains that it is difficult to say that they all came from one social class. He says that most members of the police force were jurists, to which Lanzmann retorts "la justice et la police". Lanzmann asks about Bolkowiak's work with children in the ghetto. Bolkowiak explains that he worked with (rounded up, fed, gave a place to sleep) children who were orphaned or close to death, but that in the end, he and his colleagues only saved these children for a few months because they were all eventually deported. Bolkowiak says that while he was in the ghetto, he did all that he could to revolt against the control of the Judenrat. Bolkowiak begins to explain that once the deportations started, people did all that they could to save their own lives, which meant acquiring work papers/documents. Bolkowiak was saved three times from being sent to Treblinka because a secretary, who knew he was a member of the resistance, did what he could to save certain people (members of the resistance, doctors, etc.) from deportation. He talks about how the Jewish police were the ones responsible for carrying out the round ups, not the Germans.

FILM ID 3374 -- Camera Roll #6 -- 02:00:00 to 02:11:45 (sound only)
Lanzmann starts by asking Bolkowiak to discuss the birth of the resistance movement. Bolkowiak explains some of the various splinter groups and parties that existed in the ghetto and in Poland. He explains how they all actually existed before the war except for the communist organization, which was formed after the war by several smaller groups united by a common cause (fighting the Germans). He talks about some of the people involved in the different groups. Initially, the groups only prepared for passive resistance. He explains the later military organization/coordination between groups. When they began preparing for activity, they had no arms. [CLIP 2 BEGINS] He explains that in the beginning there weren't preparations to defend the ghetto because it was generally accepted that the Jews would take part in the city's defense with everyone else.

FILM ID 3375 -- Camera Rolls #7-8 -- 03:00:00 to 03:25:10
Note: Transcripts for rolls #7 and 8 appear before those for roll #6.
Roll #7: Lanzmann and Bolkowiak discuss the reservations the Polish resistance army had with giving arms to the Jews in the ghetto; they viewed the Jews as incapable of helping/defending themselves. He tells of the first 'symbolic' pistol that was sent into the ghetto by the Kokliski Workers Party (?) in August 1942; he knows this as he was the one that received it. He discusses some of the people/groups involved in the arrangement and in later smuggling of arms into the ghetto. Some were also acquired on the black market. Bolkowiak briefly talks about the need for weapons in preparing for the April 1943 uprising (preparations of which began in January). In his view, part of the problem was the isolation between the various resistance groups. [CLIP 3 BEGINS] Lanzmann asks him about the view held by many that the Poles didn't help the Jews in the ghetto. He responds by discussing Poland and how it had been divided by the Germans, of the Jewish ghetto inside a ghetto. The situation was not comparable to that of France or Holland or Denmark.

03:10:59 Roll #8: Bolkowiak continues to talk about the situation in Poland and how it differed from that of other countries. He discusses how laws discriminated against Jews and Poles; how Poland was the only country that completely lacked its own government; and how Jews in Poland were not assimilated into the general populace like in other countries. He doesn't think the majority of the Polish population was anti-Semitic. He does say that there were a number of groups and people who were very anti-Semitic before the war, but then cites specific examples of these same people actually worked to save Jews. If anyone is culpable, he feels it is the western democracies. Picture cuts out 03:22:06 to end of roll. Bolkoviac continues by telling how difficult it was to save a Jew (due to their different language/appearance), about the great risk to those involved and their families. He cites how many Jews were saved by Poles and explains how typically 5-6 Poles would be involved for each Jew saved. To him these means a large part of the population were actually sympathetic to what was happening, but that large scale rescue simply was not possible. He himself, after being injured, was hidden by 14 different people. He disagrees with the argument that the majority of concentration camps were placed in Poland because of the anti-Semitic attitudes that existed there; he feels it was logically due to the fact that Poland is where the Jews were.

Event:  March/April 1979 (Pologne II)
Production:  1985
Created by Claude Lanzmann during the filming of "Shoah," used by permission of USHMM and Yad Vashem
Record last modified: 2021-06-03 12:47:14
This page: