Why Some Jewish People Collaborated With The Nazis

Published August 10, 2016
Updated February 10, 2017

The Despicable, Ugly Creature

Jewish Collaborator Abraham Gancwajch

Wikimedia CommonsAbraham Gancwajch

The story of the Judenrat’s role in the Final Solution is tragic, if only because so many of its members and subordinates seem to have genuinely acted out of a desire to ease the pain of Warsaw’s imprisoned Jews.

Czerniak√≥w himself, however, gives us a glimpse of a very different type of collaborator in a brief diary entry from February 1942: “I had a visit in my office from Gancwajch, with pleas of a personal nature. What a despicable, ugly creature.”

There’s no doubt that the “despicable, ugly creature” mentioned was Abraham Gancwajch, a Polish Jew who had worked as a journalist for Vienna’s Jewish press before Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria and his subsequent deportation back to Poland.

In Austria, Gancwajch had been a vocal Zionist and leading name in Jewish cultural affairs. Back in Poland as a refugee, he seems to have lost hope.

All of a sudden, without any perceptible transitional period, Gancwajch began publishing pamphlets and newspaper editorials hailing the German conquerors and encouraging Poland’s Jews to cooperate with their new overlords. His position seems to have been that the Germans were unbeatable, so any resistance to their rule was hopeless.

The Jewish Gestapo

Polen, Ghetto Warschau, Ghettopolizei

Wikimedia CommonsThe Warsaw Ghetto police.

To be fair to Gancwajch, in 1940, his outlook was a defensible one. But as the occupation wore on, he went way beyond passively accepting German domination and actively helped the SS hunt down and kill thousands of Jewish fugitives.

To do this, he formed a team of around 300 collaborators known as Group 13, which infiltrated underground Jewish organizations and delivered weekly intelligence reports to the desk of high-ranking SS officer Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.

By the end of 1940, Group 13 had grown into a paramilitary police force that was actually allowed to carry guns and became known as the “Jewish Gestapo.”

This group operated a shady intelligence service and (probably) used German money to penetrate the black market in the Ghetto. With Gancwajch’s help, the German occupation authority was able to sop up contraband and valuables at a fraction of the going rate.

Furthermore, thanks to Group 13, it is likely that the SS knew the names of every major player in the black market and the Jewish resistance groups operating in and around Warsaw.

It is not known how many people, including sympathetic Poles who traded with and sheltered Jews, were killed because of this exposure, but the Germans were obviously pleased with the results they were getting.

Given their cooperation, Gancwajch and his fellow collaborators were effectively immune to deportations and allowed to skim off the top of seized property and to collect cash bribes from desperate Jews who would pay anything to escape Poland.

Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.
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