Janine Phillips: September 4, 1939

Janine Phillips was just ten years old when Nazi Germany invaded her home country of Poland. She had begun her diary only a few days earlier and recorded the extreme disruption to her family and community caused by the beginning of World War II. She ultimately survived the war and when it was over she moved to London. She did not return to visit Poland again until 1965, when her aunt reunited her with her childhood diary. Janine translated it into English and it was published in 1982.

Janine was not Jewish, but even as a child of ten, she was perceptive enough to noticed that the German occupation would have severe consequences for Jews. She recorded the reactions of both Polish farmers and Jewish shopkeepers. She wrote, “The farmers are hanging onto their dairy produce and there were very few eggs left, and they have suddenly trebled in price. That also applies to wheat, flour and sugar.” The type of behavior that Janine described is typical of people when they believe that hard times are coming. Under those circumstances, people will try to conserve the basic necessities such as staple foods, in case they become unavailable later. Janine noted a different reaction from Jewish shopkeepers, writing that “The Jewish shopkeepers were very frightened of Hitler and many have left their businesses and fled into the country. Grandpa promised to send them some vegetables. They were grateful …” The Polish farmers adopted a cautious approach to the new situation, but many Jews fled, even abandoning their property to do so. How can we account for this difference in reaction?

Less than one year before the start of World War II, Nazi Germany expelled over 12,000 Jews to Poland under extremely brutal conditions. This was the event that created the conditions that led to the Kristallnacht pogroms in November 1938. Polish Jews were well aware of these events and the years of persecution that preceded them. It is not surprising, then, that the first reaction of some Jews to the German invasion was to flee. The Polish farmers about whom Janine wrote were undoubtedly dismayed by the German invasion, but they had no idea how horrific the occupation would turn out to be for Poles as well as for Jews. Had they known, they might have chosen to flee as well.

You may read excerpts from Janine Phillip’s diary in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday.

You may read an article from the international edition of Spiegel Online about the German occupation of Poland here.

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