Antony Polonsky and Joanna Michlic introduce the debate, focusing particularly on how Neighbors rubbed against difficult old and new issues of Polish social memory and national identity. The editors then present a variety of Polish voices grappling with the role of the massacre and of Polish-Jewish relations in Polish history. They include samples of the various strategies used by Polish intellectuals and political elites as they have attempted to deal with their country's dark past, to overcome the legacy of the Holocaust, and to respond to Gross's book.
The Neighbors Respond makes the debate over Neighbors available to an English-speaking audience--and is an excellent tool for bringing the discussion into the classroom. It constitutes an engrossing contribution to modern Jewish history, to our understanding of Polish modern history and identity, and to our bank of Holocaust memory.
This is a shocking, brutal story that has never before been told. It is the most important study of Polish-Jewish relations to be published in decades and should become a classic of Holocaust literature.
Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne's Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne's surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it.
Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne's Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why.
In many ways, this is a simple book. It is easy to read in a single sitting, and hard not to. But its simplicity is deceptive. Gross's new and persuasive answers to vexed questions rewrite the history of twentieth-century Poland. This book proves, finally, that the fates of Poles and Jews during World War II can be comprehended only together.