Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

Princeton University Press
11
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One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town's Jews. Neighbors tells their story.

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.

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About the author

Jan T. Gross is Professor of Politics and European Studies at New York University. He is the author of, among other books, Revolution from Abroad: Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia (Princeton) and a coeditor of The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 17, 2012
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9781400843251
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Holocaust
History / Military / World War II
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The presentation of Europe's immediate historical past has quite dramatically changed. Conventional depictions of occupation and collaboration in World War II, of wartime resistance and post-war renewal, provided the familiar backdrop against which the chronicle of post-war Europe has mostly been told. Within these often ritualistic presentations, it was possible to conceal the fact that not only were the majority of people in Hitler's Europe not resistance fighters but millions actively co-operated with and many millions more rather easily accommodated to Nazi rule. Moreover, after the war, those who judged former collaborators were sometimes themselves former collaborators. Many people became innocent victims of retribution, while others--among them notorious war criminals--escaped punishment. Nonetheless, the process of retribution was not useless but rather a historically unique effort to purify the continent of the many sins Europeans had committed. This book sheds light on the collective amnesia that overtook European governments and peoples regarding their own responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity--an amnesia that has only recently begun to dissipate as a result of often painful searching across the continent.

In inspiring essays, a group of internationally renowned scholars unravels the moral and political choices facing European governments in the war's aftermath: how to punish the guilty, how to decide who was guilty of what, how to convert often unspeakable and conflicted war experiences and memories into serviceable, even uplifting accounts of national history. In short, these scholars explore how the drama of the immediate past was (and was not) successfully "overcome." Through their comparative and transnational emphasis, they also illuminate the division between eastern and western Europe, locating its origins both in the war and in post-war domestic and international affairs. Here, as in their discussion of collaborators' trials, the authors lay bare the roots of the many unresolved and painful memories clouding present-day Europe.

Contributors are Brad Abrams, Martin Conway, Sarah Farmer, Luc Huyse, László Karsai, Mark Mazower, and Peter Romijn, as well as the editors. Taken separately, their essays are significant contributions to the contemporary history of several European countries. Taken together, they represent an original and pathbreaking account of a formative moment in the shaping of Europe at the dawn of a new millennium.

Poland suffered an exceedingly brutal Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Close to five million Polish citizens lost their lives as a result. More than half the casualties were Polish Jews. Thus, the second largest Jewish community in the world–only American Jewry numbered more than the three and a half million Polish Jews at the time–was wiped out. Over 90 percent of its members were killed in the Holocaust. And yet, despite this unprecedented calamity that affected both Jews and non-Jews, Jewish Holocaust survivors returning to their hometowns in Poland after the war experienced widespread hostility, including murder, at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodiest peacetime pogrom in twentieth-century Europe took place in the Polish town of Kielce one year after the war ended, on July 4, 1946.

Jan Gross’s Fear attempts to answer a perplexing question: How was anti-Semitism possible in Poland after the war? At the center of his investigation is a detailed reconstruction of the Kielce pogrom and the reactions it evoked in various milieus of Polish society. How did the Polish Catholic Church, Communist party workers, and intellectuals respond to the spectacle of Jews being murdered by their fellow citizens in a country that had just been liberated from a five-year Nazi occupation?

Gross argues that the anti-Semitism displayed in Poland in the war’s aftermath cannot be understood simply as a continuation of prewar attitudes. Rather, it developed in the context of the Holocaust and the Communist takeover: Anti-Semitism eventually became a common currency between the Communist regime and a society in which many had joined in the Nazi campaign of plunder and murder–and for whom the Jewish survivors were a standing reproach.

Jews did not bring communism to Poland as some believe; in fact, they were finally driven out of Poland under the Communist regime as a matter of political expediency. In the words of the Nobel Prize—winning poet Czeslaw Milosz, Poland’s Communist rulers fulfilled the dream of Polish nationalists by bringing into existence an ethnically pure state.

For more than half a century, what happened to the Jewish Holocaust survivors in Poland has been cloaked in guilt and shame. Writing with passion, brilliance, and fierce clarity, Jan T. Gross at last brings the truth to light.
The presentation of Europe's immediate historical past has quite dramatically changed. Conventional depictions of occupation and collaboration in World War II, of wartime resistance and post-war renewal, provided the familiar backdrop against which the chronicle of post-war Europe has mostly been told. Within these often ritualistic presentations, it was possible to conceal the fact that not only were the majority of people in Hitler's Europe not resistance fighters but millions actively co-operated with and many millions more rather easily accommodated to Nazi rule. Moreover, after the war, those who judged former collaborators were sometimes themselves former collaborators. Many people became innocent victims of retribution, while others--among them notorious war criminals--escaped punishment. Nonetheless, the process of retribution was not useless but rather a historically unique effort to purify the continent of the many sins Europeans had committed. This book sheds light on the collective amnesia that overtook European governments and peoples regarding their own responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity--an amnesia that has only recently begun to dissipate as a result of often painful searching across the continent.

In inspiring essays, a group of internationally renowned scholars unravels the moral and political choices facing European governments in the war's aftermath: how to punish the guilty, how to decide who was guilty of what, how to convert often unspeakable and conflicted war experiences and memories into serviceable, even uplifting accounts of national history. In short, these scholars explore how the drama of the immediate past was (and was not) successfully "overcome." Through their comparative and transnational emphasis, they also illuminate the division between eastern and western Europe, locating its origins both in the war and in post-war domestic and international affairs. Here, as in their discussion of collaborators' trials, the authors lay bare the roots of the many unresolved and painful memories clouding present-day Europe.

Contributors are Brad Abrams, Martin Conway, Sarah Farmer, Luc Huyse, László Karsai, Mark Mazower, and Peter Romijn, as well as the editors. Taken separately, their essays are significant contributions to the contemporary history of several European countries. Taken together, they represent an original and pathbreaking account of a formative moment in the shaping of Europe at the dawn of a new millennium.

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