Soviet rule was accompanied by widespread "expropriation" of the "bourgeoisie. It is important to note that Gross, in an earlier book, Revolution from Abroad, was quite clear about the extent of Polish suffering during this period: this should be kept in mind when evaluating the apparent lack of objectivity in Neighbors. Another feature of the Soviet occupation, very relevant to reconstructing the events in Jedwabne, is the fact that there was widespread cooperation between elements of the Jewish community and the Soviet occupiers, which could easily have led to ethnic hatred. However, this aspect of the Soviet occupation, forthrightly described by Polish historians, including, in his earlier book, Gross, seems deliberately downplayed, and indeed, with the claim of implied Polish gentile complicity with the Soviets later in the book, turned upside down.
According to several eyewitness accounts, beginning on June 25, several "town hooligans" began to harass the Jews of Jedwabne in several ways, mainly through beatings and robberies. According to Gross, the culmination of these anti-Jewish actions came on July 10, , when the Jews of Jedwabne -- numbered at 1, by the author -- were rounded up in the town square by their Polish neighbors, beaten and subjected to various indignities, and then finally marched to a nearby barn, where they were locked in and burned alive.
One of the first criticisms of Gross' book was that it relied largely, but not exclusively, on a single deposition describing the pogrom, as well as testimony from a couple of postwar trials which that deposition generated. The trials were held in Communist Poland during the late Stalinist period For the most part, Gross depended on the deposition of Shmuel Wasserstein Szmul Waszerstajn , a Jedwabne Jew, who, according to some sources, was a member of the Polish secret police Security Office, or "UB" during the time of the postwar trials.
Furthermore, Wasserstein was not strictly speaking an eyewitness, since he was hiding in another part of town during the massacre. While several Poles were convicted of participation in the events of July 10, , there were several acquittals, and no death sentences were ever carried out. One of the mysteries to Gross is how Wasserstein's deposition -- originally drafted in April by a Jewish agency in Warsaw -- could have led to a trial by the Polish state in a backwater town four years later. It seems likely that, if Wasserstein was indeed a member of the secret police by this time, the impetus for the trial could well have come on his initiative.
On the other hand, the general unwillingness of the state authority to pass judgment on Poles for their conduct during the German occupation would be a likely explanation for the light sentences.
Poland's willing executioners
Certainly, one of the most unusual things about the postwar Jedwabne trials is that, while held, they generated no spectacle of retribution: they were, in effect, show trials with no show. Bearing in mind that trials under Communist systems invariably contain an element of political "education," this is most unusual. Another criticism of Gross is that he failed to consult records in other archives, specifically, the records of the German Einsatzgruppen, known to have been active in the area at the time, for his account of the massacre at Jedwabne.
Gross has been the target of several barbs for this research failure. Such criticism, however, presupposes that Gross' intent was to exhaustively reconstruct the events of the massacre. That this was not the case can be clearly seen from an endnote entry p. Clearly, the second deposition suggests a rather different massacre, at least in terms of scale, yet Gross has chosen not to explore these discrepancies. Perhaps in anticipation of such criticism, Gross makes an unusual appeal about the nature of eyewitness evidence about two-thirds of the way through his book.
He writes:. I suggest that we should modify our approach to sources for this period. When considering survivors' testimonies, we should be well advised to change the starting premise in appraisal of their evidentiary contribution from a priori critical to in principle affirmative.
By accepting what we read in a particular account as fact until we find persuasive arguments to the contrary, we would avoid more mistakes than we are likely to commit by adopting the opposite approach, which calls for cautious skepticism towards any testimony until an independent confirmation of its content can be found. This reads as an extraordinary appeal to ignore the most basic canons of historiographical practice, but the wording also suggests that Gross had in mind specific practices of Polish historians in ignoring eyewitness testimony. It should be said that the issue of eyewitness testimony is a problem of twentieth-century history writing, for the greater democratization of societies has created a situation in which virtually anyone's narrative of a historical event is considered historiographically valid.
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It is an issue particularly dear to revisionists, since so many of the events revisionists dispute -- in particular the narratives concerning "extermination camps" in which three million were gassed and burned -- rest almost entirely on eyewitness accounts. This has even led a few revisionists to the position that all eyewitness testimony should be declared invalid and ignored as much as possible.
Yet this approach seems both extreme and misguided. Eyewitness testimony is a very valuable tool to the historian attempting to reconstruct events. The key issue is the basic credibility of what the eyewitness narrates. If an eyewitness describes a massacre of Jews in a small Polish village, whether it be by Polish marauders or by the Gestapo, then the event might well have occurred, since it does not strain credulity.
The problem with the "gas chamber" narratives is not that they are based on eyewitness testimony, but rather that the testimony offered is incredible on its face, and can only become credible if there is an underlying mass of credible documentary and forensic evidence. Of course, the entire point of Holocaust revisionism is that this underlying evidence does not exist.
In May , the Institute of National Memory conducted excavations of the site of the massacre, that is, in the area of the burned-out barn and between the barn and the former Jewish cemetery.
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The results offered confirmation and contradictions of aspects of Gross' account. In the first place, the excavations revealed the remains of a statue of Lenin that the Jews had been forced to remove from the square, a detail which tallies with several accounts. On the other hand, while the total number of bodies could only be estimated, due to Jewish complaints of desecration, it appears that no more than or people were killed in the massacre of July 10, In addition, some ammunition of German manufacture was discovered at the site.
The data have been interpreted variously by the partisans in the debate. The presence of German ammunition, for example, has been taken as proof that the killings were carried out by the Gestapo, although that doesn't very well explain why so many people in the area seemed to have no difficulty in admitting that Poles carried them out. Even the defendants in the and trials, who later claimed to have been tortured during their confinement, did not generally dispute the claim that at Jedwabne Poles killed Jews, while Germans were not involved. Moreover, German ammunition was widely used throughout Eastern Europe during this time, and thus the presence of German bullets is meaningless: recall that the NKVD used German ammo at Katyn.
The presence of the Lenin statue is rather more significant, for it strongly suggests that the massacre was carried out in revenge for perceived Jewish participation in Soviet rule, and the deportations these engendered. Indeed, it is hard to find any other explanation, and the presence of the statue also tends to refute one of Gross' main arguments, that the violence of the Poles against their Jewish neighbors was not due to rationally explicable motives, such as intergroup competition, class resentment, or even revenge, but rather to such superstitious causes as deicide and the blood libel.
Towards the end of the book Gross charitably offers theft as a possible quasi-rational motivation. The estimation of only dead has been taken as vindication by Polish nationalists, who consider this reduction to have somehow removed the blot on Polish honor cast by Gross, as though the mob murder of people is significantly less a moral stain than the murder of 1, Here we should emphasize that, patriotism apart, no good can come from attempting to explain away mass murders.
The proper aim of rationalization is to help us understand the causality of tragedies such as Jedwabne, which otherwise run the risk of becoming mystified or two-dimensional: but understanding can never be equated with justification. In reality, the excavations raise more questions than they answer. We can summarize the matter as follows: It appears that about Jewish citizens of Jedwabne were murdered in by their Polish neighbors in retaliation for real or imagined collaboration with the Soviets. After the war, a monument blaming the deaths of some 1, Jedwabne Jews on the Nazis was erected in the town.
At the same time, trials were held in which Polish defendants admitted to their exclusive role in murdering the Jedwabne Jews.
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The forensic evidence does not contradict this general narrative. However, if only Jedwabne Jews were killed, what happened to the rest?
If they fled with the Soviets -- as seems likely -- why were the Nazis blamed for killing all 1,? Why would the Communist government present essentially two different stories to account for the absence of Jedwabne's Jews, who in any case were not killed there?
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These are difficult questions, but they may conceivably again go back to what might have been a complex of competing interests in the late s and s. We can imagine a situation in which Soviet and Polish Communist governments would be willing to ascribe any population losses to Nazi conduct. The absence of Jews or even ethnic Poles from Jedwabne or elsewhere could be explained away by accusations of Nazi mass murder. In this way, one could avoid facing the more politically incorrect but more likely explanations that the missing people were either deported or forbidden to return home by the Soviet Union or had escaped to freedom in the West.
On the other hand, we can also see the desire of Polish Jews who survived the war to see a measure justice or revenge meted out. In sum, while the events of July 10, , seem rather clear in outline, the delineation of Poland's historical memory of the war years since then seems to have been a much more complex and competitive process.
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Perhaps further study will reveal that Neighbors itself is a part of that process. In Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Arnold went to Jedwabne with a film-crew and produced two documentaries based on interviews with the local villagers. Gross has said that seeing Arnold's films inspired him to write his book. With her approval, he used her transcriptions of interviews, in addition to other materials, and her second film title for the title of his book.
As noted by Joshua D. Zimmerman in his book about contested Polish history, Neighbors inspired a wide-ranging debate in Poland on its release in While the mainstream Polish press expressed consensus regarding the basic accuracy of Gross's findings, specific details and questions about Gross's methodology were debated by Polish scholars. Piotr Gontarczyk of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance was one of the first Polish historians to publicize the fact that the often contradictory testimonies on which the book was based were extracted from Polish witnesses in pre-trial beatings conducted by the Security Office UB in Plus, additional accounts used by Gross came from recollections of Jewish emigrants from postwar Poland pg.
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Gontarczyk claims that Gross fails to inform the reader about Polish-Jewish relations in the Soviet-occupied Eastern Borderlands and what he describes as the Jewish participation in the communist terror apparatus in Jedwabne preceding the German attack on the Soviet Union controlling the area since Gontarczyk writes that in Neighbours , Gross "constructs a historical narrative on the basis of stereotypes, prejudices and common gossip One cannot claim that for 50 years nothing has been written about the crime committed in the town of Jedwabne in Podlasie.
There have been a number of articles in the press and references made in books on the Holocaust about the incident. Records utilized by Gross and made public only after the publication of his book reveal that the excessive use of physical torture during interrogation resulted in many persons admitting to made-up crimes, later renounced by them before the courts. Half of the accused retracted their earlier statements given during prolonged beatings by the Security Service. Ten of them were pronounced innocent and released by the judge.
Out of 22 men tortured, half were wrongfully accused by a single Jewish individual. Jan Tomasz Gross left out several dozen testimonies of various persons - witnesses, defendants, etc. He relied, among others, on an initial testimony of cook Julia Sokolowska, which was later withdrawn, and the material written by Karol Bardon, a German gendarme who, being sentenced to death, tried to dilute his responsibility by blaming the inhabitants of the town.