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Nazi savagery in Warsaw
5th February 1942: A British soldier witnesses off duty SS engage in a Saturday murder spree, killing a 'working party' of Jews brought out the ghetto
British Soldier Ron Jeffery had been captured in France in 1940 and sent to a POW camp in Poland1. He managed to escape and ended up in Warsaw where he began assisting the Polish underground or Home Army. Being fluent in German, French and English, and soon picking up some Polish, he became very useful to them. He would eventually become the only British member of Armia Krajowa.
His job initially involved working in a safe house where he transcribed the international broadcasts from the BBC, which would be translated into Polish and used in an underground newspaper.
It was during this work that he witnessed the Nazi treatment of Jews who had been brought out of the Jewish ghetto as part of a forced labour gang. One episode, undated in his memoirs, left a vivid impression:
Each morning at about seven, a fatigue party of a dozen Jews would appear at the buildings now used as barracks, having marched under escort from the ghetto.
Features plainly disclosing their Semitic origins, they were the saddest of sights and pale to the point of whiteness, which accentuated the sunken dark ringed eyes.
Unkempt and unshaven, the poor fellows presented a scene of abject human misery. Their clothes were an assortment of filthy rags under which any visible limb was part of a human skeleton.
With broom and bucket they busily shuffled about the buildings and the yard, to be marched back each evening to the ghetto hell.
On my first Saturday morning at Zosia's the Jews arrived as usual. Busy noting the news from London, at the same time observing the adjacent military scene, towards lunchtime a change in the normal routine was apparent. The Jewish group had been assembled at midday instead of the evening parade which was usual on weekdays, before marching back to the ghetto. Saturday, presumably was an SS half-day to be shared by the fatigue party.
‘"Verfluchte Jude", screamed one, jabbing the lighted end of the cheroot into the man's chest. The Jew recoiled in pain and beat a quick retreat away from his tormentor.’
The Jews stood in a forlorn line at the back entrance to the school turned barracks and as I watched through the curtains of the open window, a couple of SS men appeared and stood in front of them. The two soldiers were off duty. They wore no hats and, although in the normal attire of breeches and high boots, their tunics were unbuttoned and flung open, both men smoking cheroots. An unsteady gait and a swaying stance as the Jews were inspected, betrayed a considerable indulgence in alcohol. They were well inebriated and each Jew was peered at in turn.
"Verfluchte Jude", screamed one, jabbing the lighted end of the cheroot into the man's chest. The Jew recoiled in pain and beat a quick retreat away from his tormentor. The movement provoked a spate of foul mouthed frenzy in the German who chased his victim, letting fly viciously with a jackboot, the second SS man catching the fever surged into similar action.
The yard was soon a scene of running, screaming, panic stricken Jews as they raced about the enclosure trying to avoid the blows being rained on them with the only door of possible escape securely closed. The commotion brought German heads from windows higher up the building and vociferous encouragement rained down as the two initiators were reinforced by three other drunken brutes who rushed into the hunt wielding short lengths of heavy rubber pipe.
‘The carnage went on until all the Jews were prostrate and bleeding.’
The carnage went on until all the Jews were prostrate and bleeding. A body that moved or even twitched was booted to the accompaniment of further blasphemy, pleas for mercy silenced with a heel plate. Frothing at the mouth and panting from exertion, the SS men surveyed the scene with the air of men who had done their duty.
A horsedrawn cart appeared, the bodies were flung on, and pools of blood were sprinkled with sand.
Concluded, the shocking affair gave the impression that it had happened before and would happen again.
It took some time for Jeffery to recover from what he saw and the incident motivated him to seek revenge on the Nazis.
Later Ron Jeffery would become a underground courier travelling across Eastern Europe for Armia Krajowa, as well as participating in armed action within Poland. He returned to Britain via Sweden in 1944, providing potentially useful information to British Intelligence about the situation in Poland.
However it appears his contributions were soon undermined by Kim Philby, one of the communist spies who had infiltrated MI6. Philby smeared Jeffery as a suspected German collaborator - Polish attempts to refute this were dismissed. Moscow intended to carve up Poland for itself and did not want the true story of Soviet activities in Poland to gain credence with the British.
Ron Jeffery, "Red Runs the Vistula", Nevron Associates, (1989)