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“Shmaltsovnikes” — Exploitation of Jews Living in Disguise as Polish Christians

The name derives from the word "shmalts" (chicken fat). These people used to approach their victims with the words "Give me [money] for shmalts" ? a kind of euphemism for their ugly trade. This was a terrible plague for the Jews who lived on the Aryan side. Apart from the deadly fear of the men of the Gestapo, the SS men and other Angels of Destruction, whom it was possible to recognize from afar, there was another form of inquisition which lay in ambush for these latter-day Marranos. It came in the person of the scum of Polish humanity, who made a business for themselves of Jewish lives. These "shmaltsovnikes" ["shmalts people"] were organized in whole gangs; hundreds busied themselves with this ugly occupation: to look for, recognize and catch those unfortunates who escaped from the ghetto and lived with Aryan documents, forced to live the life of genuine Catholics. The "shmaltsovnikes" sucked the last drops from them, and if they did not [pay] ? they handed them over to the bestial Germans....

This scum recruited itself from various strata of the population: former schoolmates could usually recognize the Jewish comrades with whom they had studied together at school or university; neighbors recognized Jews who had lived together with them in one courtyard or one house; merchants, traders, shopkeepers recognized those Jews who handed over, "sold" their businesses and apartments to them when they were forced to move away into the ghetto; Polish policemen and officials who knew the Jews well from before [the war] "recognized" them now, armed with all the powers of the new rulers and always at their service; and many others. All of these blackmailed the wretched Jews who were condemned to death, and held the sword of the Angel of Death over their heads at all times.

This was a many-branched organization spread over the whole city section by section. Each group watched the victims in their quarter; they waited at the gates of the ghetto searching with greedy eyes for suspicious [passersby] in the street, the tramway or the train ? they pursued their every step, and ruined and embittered the life of such a one. Once they laid hold on such a victim it was not easy for him to escape from their clutches....

We appealed many times to the organizations of the Polish Underground and demanded that they take steps against the "shmaltsovnikes," that they should treat them, too, as common agents and Nazi collaborators, whom they punished with death. The Underground Press often published reports from the organizations concerning the trials of persons who worked with the Germans, helping them in one way or another; there were reports of death sentences carried out on such persons. Warnings were printed several times against the actions of the "shmaltsovnikes" against Jews; but there was not a single trial of any such person, and they suffered no penalty. The Polish Underground, with its wide network of organizations, did not consider it to be its task, it paid no attention to our warnings and demands that they take up the fight against the "shmaltsovnikes" as part of their program....


B. Goldstein, Finf yor in Varshever geto, New York, 1947, pp. 369-372. (English version: B. Goldstein, Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto, New York, 1961.)


* Extract from a book of reminiscences by Bernard Goldstein, one of the leading activists in the Bund in the Warsaw Underground.

Source: Yad Vashem