National Post (Toronto)
June 23, 2001
Re: the Review of Jan T. Gross's Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, by Allan Levine (June 16)
It is a thankless task to review a sensational bit of historical writing whose accuracy has been seriously challenged by virtually every professional historian who has examined the events, and whose author, American sociologist Jan T. Gross, conducted virtually no research in wartime archives.
Since he cites no supporting Nazi documents or reliable eyewitnesses, Gross's claim that the local Polish population of Jedwabne undertook, on its own, the annihilation of 1,600 Jews in July, 1941, is a theory that requires careful scrutiny. Those witnesses Gross relies on either didn't actually see most of what they claim (Shmuel Wasserstein) or weren't even present in the town (Eliasz Grondowski and Abram Boruszczak) and were therefore discredited at the Stalinist trials.
A census taken by the Soviets counted fewer than 600 Jews in Jedwabne in September, 1940. It has long been known that several hundred of them fled to nearby towns such as Lomza. Not surprisingly, when the investigation branch of Poland's Institute for National Remembrance carried out an exhumation earlier this month, only some 200 bodies were found. Would the supporters of the Gross school of history be so ardent if, say, he had multiplied the number of victims of Deir Yassin sixfold?
More importantly, the discovery of bullet fragments from German weapons at the site suggests that German soldiers were responsible for the massacre. Again, this is not surprising since the German authorities have long suspected the direct involvement of a special Gestapo unit under the command of Hermann Schaper that operated in the area.
While there were doubtless some local collaborators, their number was not the preposterous 225 cited in the book. The prosecutor charged with the investigation has identified no more than 40, some of whom acted under duress, and none of whom represented any Polish authority or organization. Their ringleader was a registered ethnic German who had moved to Jedwabne a few years before the war.
[OMITTED: The book also claims that the locals scavenged the dead bodies. If that is true then they were singularly inept because the exhumation found jewelry and other valuables.]
Another important aspect glossed over by Gross was the role of the relatively small in number but ubiquitous Jewish militiamen – their neighbours! – mentioned by every Polish family from Jedwabne deported to the Gulag between 1939 and 1941. As a Jewish witness from a nearby town reported, the Soviets could not have accomplished this alone: "It was my understanding that my father served as advisor to the NKVD about who among the local Poles was to be sent to Siberia, or otherwise dealt with.
'We have to get rid of the fascists,' he told my mother. 'They deserve to go to Siberia. They are not good for the Jewish people.'"
Polish authorities are presently conducting investigations of civilian massacres (including women and children) in two other villages, Koniuchy and Naliboki, where Jewish partisans boast of killing 300 and 130 Poles respectively. Some of the partisans later surfaced as Stalinist security police after the war and took part in extra-judicial killings like the one in Siedlce that took 34 Polish lives.
Since the victims and perpetrators don't fit the accepted profile, neither the Western media nor the usual pundits who comment on Polish-Jewish relations have picked up on those stories. In his book Fugitives of the Forest, reviewer Allan Levine simply ignored those events, preferring to lay all the blame on the Poles.
Hanna Sokolski, Media Relations
Canadian Polish Congress, Toronto District
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