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June 1st, 2006

Jay Freeman is a book reviewer for "Booklist."

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Professor Gross’ widely acclaimed Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (2001) described the slaughter of Polish Jews by their fellow Poles as the Nazis watched approvingly. Now Gross illustrates with eloquence and shocking detail that the bloodletting did not cease when the war ended. Contrary to most expectations, many Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust wished to remain in Poland. After all, Jewish and Gentile Poles had generally coexisted peacefully, if not harmoniously, before the war, and many Polish Jews viewed themselves as staunch patriots. But when Jews attempted to return to their hometowns and to reclaim their property, tensions reached the boiling point; the explosion came in the town of Kielce, when the disappearance of an eight-year-old boy sparked the old blood libel of ritual murder. As the slaughter of Jews began, police and military officials either joined in the outrages or refused to intervene. In succeeding years, with the complicity of Communist authorities, the position of the remaining Polish Jews continued to deteriorate. By 1949, the goal of the Nazis had been achieved: Poland was essentially free of Jews.

This is a masterful work that sheds necessary light on a tragic and often-ignored aspect of postwar history.
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