‘Bugs are Burning’ tells dark story of East European collaboration in Holocaust
Despite the fatuous claims of Holocaust deniers, the responsibility of the Nazis for killing 6 million Jews in the Holocaust has been well documented. A vast body of literature mournfully attests to this evil action.
Somewhat less known is the eager and enthusiastic help the Nazis received from their East European accomplices. This book was written to recount the often-zealous participation of eight East European countries and their non-Jewish residents in the barbarous attempt to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
One author of “The Bugs are Burning,” this cry from the heart, is Sheldon Hersh, a New York physician who was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. His parents managed to survive the Lodz Ghetto and several concentration camps before making their way to the United States. While Hersh’s mother found it difficult to talk about her wartime experiences, his father described how his Polish neighbors were willing partners with the Nazis. He was particularly bitter since he had served in the Polish army, fighting to safeguard the Poles who then turned on him and his fellow Jews. It was one of these Poles who gave the book its title by commenting that “the bugs are burning” as he watched the fiery destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Co-author Robert Wolf, a good friend of Sheldon Hersh, practices psychotherapy in New York and helped to guide the project of writing this book to its successful conclusion.
After a brief review of the high degree to which anti-Semitism was endemic in Eastern Europe, the authors turn to a country-by-country review that covers Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and Poland. In each instance, the collaboration of local people with the Nazis is documented. In some instances, the German armies stood aside as residents of these countries carried out pogroms. In others, cooperation was provided to the Nazis so that they could achieve their nefarious intent. Convincing evidence and photographs are provided.
Some of the statistical information is overwhelming. For example, when World War II began Sept. 1, 1939, Poland had 3,474,000 Jews. By the end of 1945, there were fewer than 60,000 survivors. The numbers for the other countries are also mind-boggling.
As the Nazis hunted for Jews in Eastern Europe, they were assisted by unscrupulous villagers and farmers who led the Germans to hiding places, motivated in part by their hatred for Jews and in part by their desire to seize Jewish possessions. These betrayers were rewarded by the Nazis with money, with Jewish residences and with Jewish household goods.
Even after the war ended, East Europeans did not stop killing Jews. In Poland especially, there were more killings of the scattered remnants of the Jewish survivors. One Polish city, Kielce, is described as a killing ground for Jews in July 1946 — almost a year after the Allies’ victory in Europe. This pogrom led Poland’s few remaining Jews to leave.
The book concludes with two tables. One makes a devastating comparison between the estimated Jewish population of Eastern European countries in 1941 and 1945. The second lists dates from Jan. 21, 1941, to Jan. 14, 1945, on each of which the Nazis and their East European collaborators killed Jews.
Hersh and Wolf have rendered a service in bringing to light an aspect of the Holocaust that has received insufficient attention. Moreover, they alert us to be on guard against anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it appears.
(Morton I. Teicher is the founding dean, Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University and dean emeritus, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)