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Symposium's Purpose

The Piast Institute has created this forum to permit analysis and discussion of issues important to Poland and Polonia and of scholarly and other serious works which touch on or affect Poland and Polish Americans in significant ways.  Too often matters enter the public discourse without any serious discussion of the issues they raise except for ill-informed commentary by popular columnists and reviewers, or they are presented without an airing of the full range of relevant scholarly research and opinion on the topic.  We will use this forum to provide the public with an opportunity to get a broad, fair and accurate understanding of issues, and thus raise the level of public discourse to improve the general knowledge available on Poland and the Polish American community.  We feel that except for such a forum, many aspects of the rich and complex history and culture that is our concern will remain shrouded in ignorance and distorted by woefully incomplete or egregiously wrong information.

The first issue that we have chosen for discussion in this forum is the recently published historical essay: Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz by Jan T. Gross.  The book is an attempt at a sweeping interpretation of Polish-Jewish relations after World War II and, by implication, during the war.  Because such an overreaching interpretation of the behavior of an entire society is impossible to document with even minimal historical adequacy, Professor Gross draws heavily on a wide variety of psycho-sociological studies, including Jane Goodall’s primate studies, to supplement primarily single witness memoir anecdotes.  In the end, he concludes that his is the only possible explanation for Polish anti-Semitism after the war.  Thus, the thesis of the book is highly controversial and many Poles and others also find it unfair and tendentious.

Reviews of the work in many of the major newspapers have gone well beyond the conclusions of Professor Gross’s work to create unsubstantiated and often even libelous characterizations of Polish society after the war.  As these reactions are heavy with hyperbole and prejudices, to which no serious and responsible student of the issues would subscribe, they reinforce the need for a careful analysis and discussion of the book and its reviews.

It is clear that the appearance of such negative and irresponsible views in the mainstream media will reach and influence millions of people who will not have read the book, let alone any careful and scholarly analysis and critiques of it.  The result will be an even deeper misunderstanding of this complex and difficult period in Polish and Jewish history than exists currently.  It will damage Polish American – Jewish American relations and can negatively affect the cause of Poland.  Estrangement between Polish and Jewish communities cannot, in the long run, serve the interests of our country or our two communities.

We believe that creating a national forum to provide a comprehensive understanding of key issues based on a comprehensive accounting of the information and scholarship available is a key public service.  In the long run, we believe that a search for truth will always serve the interests of Poland, Polonia and our entire community.

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