21 January 2008

Poland: Post-war atrocities

Princeton University Professor Jan Gross wrote Neighbors (2001) which focused on the 1941 events in the small Polish town of Jedwabne, where Polish Jews were massacred or burned alive by their Polish neighbors.

Gross moved to the United States after an anti-Semitic campaign was launched by Poland's communist party in 1968.

The book prompted then-Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski to apologize to Jews worldwide for Jedwabne.

His 2006 book, Fear, has just been released in Polish, and deals with the Kielce Pogrom on July 4, 1946, a year after the end of Nazi occupation. Forty Holocaust survivors were massacred following rumors that Jews had killed a Polish boy.

In the immediate post-war period, between 600 and 3,000 of the 300,000 surviving Jews were killed in pogroms or murdered individually, according to Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance (IPN), which is charged with investigating Nazi and communist-era crimes.

Gross points out that thousands of Poles had risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors.

Poland’s communist regime, he says, took over where the Nazis left off in the annihilation of 3 million of the pre-war 3.5 million Jews who lived in Poland.

The Jews who reappeared after having been hidden or who returned from the Soviet Union, were rejected by the Poles, he says, because of "the Poles’ desire to keep abandoned Jewish properties and guilt over having profited from the riches left by Holocaust victims."

A just released AP story says this Polish edition of Fear has forced Poland to confront history. sparking a debate about anti-Semitism, the book has been criticized in newspapers. Historians also accuse Gross of inflammatory language and the unfairanti-Semitic labeling of post-war Polish society.

According to the story, Gross was at debates in Kielce and Warsaw, recorded bythe media at standing-room-only events. The Kielce debate was televised live.

"I would like for my book to show people what an incredibly strong toxic poison anti-Semitism is in the general psychology of Poles, because it made us incapable of withstanding temptation," Gross told a crowd of some 250 people who crammed into a cultural center in Kielce, a town of 200,000 inhabitants, some 110 miles south of Warsaw."

Although few in Poland argue with the facts, many criticize his interpretation, including some Polish Jews who lived through the events. The last living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Marek Edelman, says the murdering of Jews was "banditry," not anti-Semitism, in an interview with a daily paper.

The accusations in "Fear" are tough for Poland, where the Nazi occupation also killed some three million Polish citizens in addition to the 3 million Jews. And there is also criticism in that the deaths of the non-Jews and the efforts of other non-Jews to save the Jews has received little attention.

Thousands of Poles risked their own lives and those of their families to save Jews. More than 6,000 Poles — the most in any country — have been named "Righteous Among the Nations," a title granted to non-Jews who helped Jews escape Nazi persecution.

But violent incidents of anti-Semitism did tarnish Poland's postwar history.

While some at the Kielce meeting shouted "Lies, lies," others commended Gross for forcing the country to confront the post-war killing.

Read the complete story here.

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