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A National Institute for Polish and Polish American Affairs

Analysis of Theo Richmond's Review of FEAR
Richmond's review appeard in "The Spectator" on September 2nd, 2006

Link to PDF of Article

In his review of Jan Gross’ Fear, Richmond raises the question of why, after suffering grievously at the hands of a common enemy, Poles and Jews did not forge a common bond. This is a question dealt with at length by the Polish historian Bozena Szaynok in her essay in the section on this site on alternative readings. She describes clearly how dramatically different were the concerns of the demoralized Polish and Jewish populations after the war. They may have been living in different universes. Neither understood the sorrow and mourning of the other very well. Poles were concerned primarily with the brutal new Soviet occupation and their new loss of independence. The Jews, on the other hand, were concerned with reconstruction of their shattered communities and finding surviving family members.

In the end Richmond, who seems to find the answer to post-war anti-Semitism in pre-war attitudes, appears to disagree with, in his words, “Gross’ psychological theorizing.” He notes that Gross leaves the history of Polish-Jewish relations unexamined and does not ask what kind of neighbors they were. In the end, he seems to agree with Zygmunt Bauman’s observations that “Poles and Jews did not live together. They lived side by side.”

Bauman’s observation fails to account for the deep impact of Jews on Polish culture and vice versa and why the absence of Jews in the post-war period has left so deep a void in Polish consciousness. In fact, Christians and Jews in the Polish lands had developed over the long centuries a middle ground in which they did interact with each other based on a remarkable and rich series of creative misunderstandings of each other’s respective cultures. It is in this middle ground that a special part of Polish history was lived that affected strongly each of the groups. This is a world still not fully explored or understood by either side, but it shadows all of the debates and dialogues. 
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