Szmalcownik (Polish pronunciation: [ʂmalˈtsɔvɲik]), in English also spelled shmaltsovnik, is a pejorative Polish slang expression that was used during World War II for a person who blackmailed Jews who were in hiding, or who blackmailed Poles who protected Jews during the German occupation.
The term originated in the German word Schmalz (Polish phonetic spelling: szmalc, literally meaning "lard") and indicated the blackmailer's financial motive.
The Polish Secret State considered szmalcownictwo an act of collaboration with the occupying Germans. The Home Army (Armia Krajowa) punished it with death as a criminal act of treason. Blackmailers were sentenced to death by Polish Underground Special Courts for crimes perpetrated against Polish citizens. A decree of 31 August 1944 of Polski Komitet Wyzwolenia Narodowego (the Polish Committee of National Liberation) also condemned such acts as collaboration with Germany. This decree remains valid law in Poland, and anyone convicted of szmalcownictwo during the war may face life imprisonment.
Gunnar S. Paulsson estimates that the total number of szmalcowniks in Warsaw were "as high as 3-4 thousand." The damage that these criminals did was substantial. Most were interested in money. By stripping Jews of assets needed for food and bribes, harassing rescuers, raising the overall level of insecurity, and forcing hidden Jews to seek out safer accommodation, blackmailers added significantly to the danger Jews faced and increased their chances of getting caught and killed. At the beginning of the German occupation, szmalcowniks were satisfied with a few hundred zlotys in extortion, but after the death penalty was introduced for hiding Jews, the sums rose to several hundred thousand zlotych.
The Germans sometimes also treated szmalcowniks as criminals and punished them. The reason was that szmalcowniks also bribed German officials and police: after a rich Jew had been denounced, the szmalcownik and corrupt German shared the loot.
- Jan, Grabowski (2004). "Ja tego żyda znam!": szantażowanie żydów w Warszawie, 1939–1943 / "I know this Jew!": Blackmailing of the Jews in Warsaw 1939-1945 (in Polish). Warsaw, Poland: Wydawn. IFiS PAN : Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów. ISBN 83-7388-058-5. OCLC 60174481.
- Źródło: Żydzi polscy, zeszyt 24, "Sprawiedliwi wśród narodów" str. 11 artykuł "Śmierć dla szmalcowników" dodatek do Rzeczpospolitej z 23 września 2008
- Biuletyn IPN 3 (12)/2013, p. 5, Instytut Pamięci Narodowej