Simon Wiesenthal   Letter 07   15-Dec-1994   Spying on the Polish partisans
Correction of 18-Feb-2003:  Two references below to the AK (Armia Krajowa) being pro-Soviet are in error.  It was the AL (Armia Ludowa) that was pro-Soviet.  These two erroneous references have been marked in red font.  Removal of these two erroneous references would affect the substance of the letter inappreciably.
December 15, 1994

Simon Wiesenthal
Jewish Documentation Center
Vienna, Austria

Dear Mr. Wiesenthal:

Your biographies point out that you have been accused of surviving the war by working for the Nazis (as, for example, in Simon Wiesenthal, Justice Not Vengeance, 1989, p. 7).  I have never seen what the evidence is that your accusers are relying on, but I must say that your biographies, rather than dispelling such suspicions, serve rather to encourage them.

Take, for example, your story of how you escaped from the Nazis, were sheltered by Polish partisans, and then were recaptured by the Nazis the only sense that I can make out of this story is that you were sent by the Nazis to infiltrate the Polish partisans and spy on them.  Here is The Wiesenthal File version of the story (for the moment, we will overlook that this version is quite different from the Justice Not Vengeance version):

The two men ... took sanctuary in the A.K. [a pro-Soviet Polish partisan group] apartment, where Simon's partisan friends had hollowed out a 'grave' big enough for a pair of people to recline in the sand beneath the ground floorboards.  The two Jewish fugitives spent most of their time above the earth, but, whenever there was a search, they would climb into their grave and the Poles would cover them with three boards and a heavy table.  Eventually, Scheiman (who survived the war) couldn't take this 'life' and returned to his wife's closet.  Simon stayed on savouring the extra elbow room.

In early June 1944, during a drinking bout in a neighbouring house, a chief inspector of the German railways was beaten and robbed by his Polish companions.  A house-to-house police search was ordered.  Simon reburied himself several times and was in his makeshift coffin on Tuesday, 13 June 1944, when more than eight months of cramped and perilous 'freedom' came to an end.  As the Gestapo entered the courtyard of the house, the Polish partisans fled, leaving Wiesenthal trapped beneath the earth "in a position where I couldn't even make use of my weapon."

A minute later, he heard heavy boots tramping above.  Two Polish detectives who knew exactly where to look slid back the table, took away the boards, and pounced upon him.  They seized his pistol and a diary Simon had been keeping while hiding. Simon won't say whether he thinks one of the A.K. partisans betrayed him.  He was bundled into a car and slapped around before being delivered to the Germans.

Possession of a pistol was grounds for immediate execution.  Fortunately, the two Polish detectives didn't turn the weapon in to the Gestapo, but took it for themselves to sell on the black market.  They did, however, deliver Wiesenthal and his diary to the Germans which proved to be a stroke of luck, too.  In the book, he'd recorded not just the doings of SS men in Janowskà from Dyga and Blum (in charge of the Askaris) up the ladder to Rokita, Gebauer, and Wilhaus but also, in recent weeks, maps and diagrams (coded so that only he could explain them) of partisan emplacements to help the advancing Red Army make contact with their allies.  "I owe it specially to these circumstances that I was not killed right away, as so many other Jews," he says, "for these records seemed to be very valuable partisan documents."  ...

Two nights later, a truck with two Gestapo agents came for Wiesenthal.  When he saw that one of them was Master Sergeant Oskar Waltke, chief of the Jewish affairs section in Lemberg, Wiesenthal's heart sank, for this was a man whose misdeeds (mentioned by Wiesenthal in his captured diary) had made him the most feared man in Galicia.  ...

When Waltke saw Simon, he smiled and beckoned him into the truck, saying "Get in, my child," in such a gloating manner that Wiesenthal took out a small razor blade he'd concealed in his cuff.  With two swift strokes, he cut both wrists.  "With my right hand, I managed well.  With my left hand, which I had cut open, not so well," he says, displaying the scars.

On the truck, he lost consciousness and was driven directly to the Gestapo prison hospital....  (Alan Levy, The Wiesenthal File, 1993, pp. 52-54)

(1) I assume that a "chief inspector of the German railways" would have been German.  If so, I would have expected him to have had Germans as his drinking companions, and not Poles.  Poles would have felt uncomfortable with a German, as Germany had recently brutally invaded and conquered Poland.  A German, especially a highly-placed German, in turn, might have felt that he deserved better drinking partners than some sub-human Slavs.

(2) If "during a drinking bout in a neighbouring house, a chief inspector of the German railways was beaten and robbed by his Polish companions" then the German authorities would have been aware of who the perpetrators were and what their motive was.  In that case, why would neighboring houses have been searched?  Was it suspected that the Polish companions had foolishly run into nearby houses to hide, or that people in neighboring houses had somehow inexplicably participated in the beating and robbery?

(3) Were the Polish partisans who were sheltering you aware of your meticulous notetaking or not?  I cannot bring myself to believe that they were aware to them your notetaking should have appeared highly threatening.  Obviously, the diary might fall into German hands.  Obviously, you might be a spy who would use the diary to betray them in devastating detail.

In order to survive, a partisan group must recognize the inevitability that some of its members will be apprehended and under torture will divulge everything that they know, and so for the group to survive, it must take steps to limit the amount of information in the hands of any particular member.  For this reason, a common practice would be to have the members of each cell know the identities of only the members of his own cell but not of other cells.  But here you paint for us the contrasting picture of concentrating within one diary a great deal of comprehensive information concerning the entire partisan movement, and it is not believable that the partisans would have allowed you to do this.

But if it is inconceivable that the Polish partisans were aware of your meticulous notetaking, then what is the alternative? The alternative would seem to be that even while these Polish partisans were giving you shelter, you were keeping a journal on their activities furtively, secretly, clandestinely.  You wrote in your diary only when they left the house or when you were in the toilet.  And why furtively, secretly, clandestinely unless you were fully aware of how dangerous what you were doing was to them and of how strongly they would react if they found out?

(4) Of what possible legitimate use could such a diary have been?  Your explanation is that it was to "help the advancing Red Army to make contact with their allies."

But did the partisans authorize you to make contact with the advancing Red Army on their behalf?  And why would they have done so? These were the Soviet-leaning Polish partisans who already had contact with the Soviets, who were being armed and paid by the Soviets, who were taking direction from the Soviets.  And if these partisans were not in contact with the Soviets, then they would not have entrusted an unproven newcomer (not even a partisan himself, but only somebody being hidden by the partisans) to establish that contact for them, to serve as their representative.

But even supposing that the contact somehow had not as yet been made and that you took it upon yourself, without the knowledge of the partisans, to make it then you should have anticipated two obstacles that would have made your scheme unlikely to benefit the Soviet side.  First, you would have had to cross the battle front to get to the Soviets, with a good chance of getting killed.  Second, as you would have approached the Soviets as a stranger, they would have had to begin by viewing you as a spy carrying disinformation and by the time your credibility could be verified, the front would have moved on and your information would have been antiquated.

(5) The Polish partisans have as much to fear from being captured by the Germans as you do.  Upon the approach of the Germans, then, the Polish partisans do the sensible thing which is to run away and yet you do the foolish thing which is to hide under the floorboards.  This is foolish because under the floorboards is the first place that the Nazis know to search, and being aware that any loose floorboards are likely to be under a rug or a table does not take a rocket scientist the following quotation from a Nazi report from Pinsk, for example, only states what must have been obvious to any searcher for hidden fugitives:

Even if there is no cellar, a large number of people may be found in the little space between the floor and the ground. In such places it is advisable to lift the flooring from the outside and to send in police dogs (during the Pinsk action, the police dog Oste performed wonders) or to throw in a grenade, which inevitably forces the Jews out of their holes.  (in Leon Poliakov, Harvest of Hate, 1954, p. 127)

Given that under the floorboards is such an obviously unsafe place to hide, why didn't you run away with the Polish partisans?

(6) If the Polish partisans were aware of your diary, why wouldn't they have demanded it of you before running away?  Why would they have run before the approach of the Gestapo while leaving behind evidence capable of destroying them all?

(7) Diary or not, the store of information in your own head would be enough to incriminate them all so in running away, why wouldn't the Polish partisans have insisted on taking you with them and if you refused to come, why wouldn't they have killed you?  Or, if they felt that hiding underneath the floorboards was safer than running away, and if there was room for two, then why wouldn't one of them have opted to stay with you?

(8) Why did you not take steps to protect the lives of your Polish friends and benefactors by disposing of that diary?  As soon as you saw the Gestapo coming into the courtyard, you could have handed the diary to the Polish partisans as they fled.  Or, you could have destroyed the diary you could have thrown it into a fire, or if there was no fire, then you could have put a match to it.  Or, you might have thrown it down a toilet.  Or, as it was night (the Justice Not Vengeance version says that it was "evening"), it was dark outside, and so merely throwing the diary out a window might lead to its not being found.  You could have slipped it into some hiding place, some crack you had discovered, behind some cabinet or mirror.  Or, once under the floorboards, you could have found some crack between the floorboards and the joists in which it could be lodged and where it would only be accessible to someone who climbed down into the dirt and groped for it.  Or, once under the floorboards, you could have torn out the most sensitive pages and swallowed them.  Or, as it was sandy under the floorboards, you could have quickly buried it.

It seems that you had a wide range of options which would have increased the chances of your friends surviving, and yet you selected none of them you chose simply to keep that incriminating diary on your person and let it be captured intact.  How many lives of the Polish partisans who had been sheltering you did your carelessness cost?  Did it ever occur to you that this is what Rusinek was angry at you for when he slapped you?

(9) As you were armed with a pistol, I would have expected that you would have the pistol in your hand at the ready, and as soon as the first floorboard began to be raised, you would heave that board upward suddenly and start shooting.  You would have the advantage of surprise.  At worst, you might wound one of the searchers before being killed yourself; at best, you might kill them all and escape.  It is not an attractive course of action, but the alternative is much worse if you allow yourself to be captured, then as the possessor of the diary and of extensive knowledge concerning the partisans, you are certain that you will be tortured in order to extract the fullest amount of information; as a Jew, an escapee, the possessor of a gun, and an accomplice of the partisans, you are certain that you will be killed; and the same not only for yourself, but for many of your Polish friends as well.  This seems much the worse of the two alternatives.

Your answer is that (lucky for you and unlucky for the partisans) the space was so crowded that you were unable to draw your weapon.  But this is not credible Two grown men had spent considerable time down in that space, and at the moment, there was only you.  You say yourself that as your friend was not present on this occasion, you were "savouring the extra elbow room."  Had the space really been coffin-tight during your prolonged hiding, then the two of you would have found it unbearable and would have opted for the simple solution of removing more sand to provide more room.  And even within the confines of a space no bigger than a coffin, it is still possible to remove objects that might be tucked into one's jacket pocket or into one's belt.

In any case, even if the space underneath the floorboards were constrictively tight, you could have drawn your pistol and kept it in your hand even while climbing down into the space.

Or, if you were not going to use the pistol, why not quickly bury it in the sand, or at least throw it farther underneath the floorboards since the punishment for possessing it was death?

(10) You explain how it is that after your capture, you managed to avoid execution you offer that the possession of a weapon was a capital offense, but that your life was saved because the Polish police never reported your pistol to the Germans.

But in the first place, the Germans already had many reasons for killing you as mentioned above, you were a Jew, an escapee, an accomplice of the partisans.  One reason is sufficient, three is abundant, surely they didn't need a fourth.

And in the second place, it is unclear how it happened that the Germans were absent during the discovery of your weapon.  You saw the Gestapo entering the courtyard of the house that you were in, and yet somehow at the most interesting point in this raid, they were absent.  Where did they go? If they were merely in a different part of the house, then why wouldn't they have been called just as soon as the loose floorboards were discovered? Why wouldn't they have been attracted by the commotion of the table being slid back, the boards being lifted up, a man being discovered underneath, the man being lifted up out of his hiding place, the man being searched?

(11) You say that the searchers knew exactly where to find you. This fits into the picture of a betrayal the partisans informed on you, and that is why the house was raided and searched, and that is why the police knew exactly where to find you.

And yet a betrayal does not fit in with the other part of the picture that you painted earlier, which is that the police were called upon suddenly by this emergency of a railway inspector being beaten and robbed in a nearby house.  But if the authorities had been summoned in an emergency and are searching the nearby houses on account of this emergency, then where does the betrayal fit in?  And if it is a betrayal and the authorities are aware that the most interesting part of their raid will be the discovery of you underneath the floorboards, then why isn't the Gestapo present during this most interesting part of the raid?

(12) You suggest that the partisans betrayed you to the Germans, and yet a little thinking reveals that this is impossible.  Never mind that as you were helping the partisans, they had no motive to betray you the clincher is that you had detailed knowledge of the partisan personnel and their military installations, and so for them to turn you in to the Germans would have been suicidal, particularly if you bore a grudge against the partisans for having turned you in.

If, on the other hand, they did have something against you if, for example, they suspected you of being a spy then they would have even more reason to believe that turning you in would lead to their betrayal, and they would have been left with no other option but to kill you.

(13) Two Gestapo agents, one of them Waltke, have come especially for you, and Waltke seems to be inside the truck beckoning you in.  You say that you take out the razor blade which is somehow hidden in your cuff.  But wouldn't the two Gestapo agents have seen this motion of you fumbling with your cuff to extract the razor blade?  Wouldn't they have grabbed you even as you began to fumble?  At least, wouldn't they have been watching you closely as that razor blade came out and as soon as they saw the razor blade, wouldn't they have grabbed it and stopped you?  Or, after you had slashed one wrist, you would have had to transfer the razor blade to the other hand, which would have given the Gestapo agents another big opportunity to stop you.  How then, Mr. Wiesenthal, was it that you were able to slash both wrists right in front of the two arresting Gestapo agents?

(14) I have already noted in my letter to you of December 10, 1994, the seeming insincerity of your attempt to commit suicide by taking saccharin.  And now this earlier attempt to commit suicide by slashing your wrists strikes me in the same way.  First, there would be little chance of success slashing your wrists while talking to two Gestapo agents; second, as you were of value to the Gestapo and as you were standing beside a truck, you could have counted on being rushed to a hospital and saved, which is what you say did happen.  Had you been sincere in wanting to commit suicide, then you would have slashed your wrists when you were alone.

(15) Why would you need to be strengthened before being tortured?  I would have expected that being in a weakened state might make you more susceptible to divulging information under torture.

(16) Why was Waltke the Nazi torturer so slow to getting around to interrogating you?  The Gestapo seize your diary and are studying it, and they particularly Waltke the torturer are eager to interrogate you about it, and yet two days go by with nothing happening.  Next, Waltke comes to pick you up, you are sure that he has read "every word" of your diary, and as you climb into the truck, you take out a razor blade that had been concealed in your cuff, slit both wrists, but (lucky for you and unlucky for the partisans) you are taken to a hospital and saved.  You are fed a "special diet of hearty soups, liver, and vegetables" which by speeding your recovery, will permit you to be interrogated all the sooner.  In a time of shortages, your special diet attests to the value that Waltke places on the information stored in your head.  You attempt suicide by taking tablets, but (lucky for you and unlucky for the partisans) these turn out to be saccharin and only give you a mild stomach upset.  You try to hang yourself with your belt, but (lucky for you and unlucky for the partisans) you are too weak. Days apparently go by as you recuperate how many we don't know.

Meanwhile, the Germans are retreating before the Soviets.  If Waltke is to get anything out of you, he is going to have to act quickly, and yet when he visits you he says "You are looking well, my child.  In two days we will have our first talk."  Peculiarly unhurried seems this Waltke the torturer the information you would be able to give the Germans is highly pertinent but is growing staler every day, and yet Waltke takes his time extracting it from you.  If Waltke's lackadaisical attitude is representative of Germans generally, then it is little wonder that they lost the war.

After Waltke's two days have expired, somehow you are no longer in the hospital, no longer under Waltke's personal care, but standing in a courtyard with other prisoners how this could have come to pass is itself a mystery.  But you do think that your day of reckoning with Waltke has arrived, because here he is along with an SS officer sorting the prisoners Jews on the left for killing later, Gentiles on the right for killing now.  Waltke points you out to the SS officer and says "That's the one I told you about."  What can any reader expect here except that you will be the first to form a third group slated not for killing but for interrogation, and yet incredibly, the SS officer sends you to the right, the Gentile side, for immediate killing.  This unexpected twist is so puzzling, that I am compelled to repeat it here you are in possession of vital information, Waltke has been waiting a long time for the chance to interrogate you, you have been fed special rations to strengthen you for the imminent interrogation, you are a Jew and not a Gentile, Waltke points you out to the SS officer as the person he has been waiting to interrogate and yet the SS officer beside Waltke sends you to the Gentile side for immediate execution!  How can one account for such a strange thing?

However (lucky for you and unlucky for the partisans), you are not executed deus ex machina, an airplane crashes nearby, papers fly up into the air, and in the confusion, you switch groups.  Walke possibly absorbed in some compulsive reorganization of his papers from that moment until the end of the war somehow forgets about you and we never hear him mentioned again.

On the one hand, then, Waltke is portrayed as singularly tenacious, convinced of the significance of the information in your head, hungrily monitoring your recuperation, and yet he then acquiesces to your immediate execution, and in the end simply allows you to walk away from under his very nose.  Even though you continue under German captivity, Waltke never thinks of sending for you.

And so we never learn what happened to the partisans did your diary betray them after all, or is it that because Waltke somehow never got around to questioning you on your diary because he somehow overlooked you the partisans remained unbetrayed?

(17) Why would the Gestapo have assumed throughout that you were going to have to be tortured to divulge the information that they wanted?  I would have expected them to put their questions to you at the earliest opportunity with some expectation that if they encountered any resistance, then the mere mention of torture might be sufficient to pry the information out of you.  It might not work every time, but it saves effort when it does work and so it is worth trying.  Getting the information without torture might not be as much fun for Waltke the torturer, but surely the cooler heads in the Gestapo would have seen the advantage of obtaining the strategic information early rather than indulging a sadist in their midst and getting it too late for it to be of use.

In conclusion, Mr. Wiesenthal, I must say that you've done it again you have told a story that falls somewhere between quite unbelievable and absolutely fantastic.  I should imagine that if you did have some way that these many incongruities could be resolved, that you would be strongly motivated to resolve them and so begin clearing away the cloud of doubt concerning your credibility that hovers over your head.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak