Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

History

Supervisor

Dr. Jonathan Vance

Abstract

Yad Vashem Magazine argued that more work needed to be done with regard to “how media reports on the Holocaust influenced people’s positions vis-à-vis the Jews during the war.” My research examines the attitude toward Jews prior to and during the Holocaust, and how information on such attitudes was disseminated, thus helping to reveal who knew what? When? Furthermore, in examining the evolution of the Holocaust, the question of who was interpreted as a target for genocide is explored.

When considering an event as ‘unprecedented’ as the Holocaust, historians should be asking when information was created, made available, and just importantly how it was interpreted. The perspective of North American Poles, as expressed and interpreted by the Polish-language press, was quite different from ‘mainstream’ society. From Polish-Jewish relations,[1] which were explored quite honestly, to the cause of the Second World War, and subsequently the development of genocidal policy, the Polish press and other contemporary writings had a different perspective on the ‘cause and effects’ of what was happening. The following chapters in this dissertation engage with the origins debate and demonstrate that the Polish foreign-language press[2] covered seminal issues during the inter-war years, the war, and the Holocaust extensively on their front and main story pages, and were extremely responsive, professional, and vocal in their journalism.

The Polish-language press in North America presented a unique perspective on unfolding events. The press communicated an interpretation of events to a transnational community; Poles in America were uniquely placed to comment freely on events happening in their motherland. Poland, and Auschwitz in particular, is emblematic of Nazism’s machinery of destruction, and Poles within Europe and America had a distinctive perspective of what was happening and advocated against Nazism and genocide. Contrary to the notion that news regarding genocide was unavailable or unreliable, news from Europe was frequently communicated through the Polish press and demonstrated that the evolution of genocide was in the public domain. American travellers confirmed that the horrific stories being reported in the United States were true and unexaggerated. Because information (in many forms) was readily available during the entire evolution of the Holocaust, the debate of who knew what when followed by the many rationales for American inaction are further debunked in understanding reactions to the genocide.

[1]Note: Polish-Jewish relations signify relations between Polish Gentiles and Polish-Jews unless otherwise noted.

[2]All translations from Polish to English (quotations, paraphrasing and titles) are my own. Please contact me for original articles written in Polish.


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