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A National Institute for Polish and Polish American Affairs

Analysis of David Margolick's Review of FEAR
Margolick's review appeard in the "New York Times" on July 23rd, 2006

Link to PDF of Article

David Margolick has written an essay that goes far beyond Jan Tomasz Gross’s FEAR, the book he is reviewing, in its negative attitudes toward Poles and Poland. Contrary to Professor Gross’s interpretation of anti-Semitism in postwar Poland, Margolick concludes that “the Germans emboldened many Poles to act upon what they had always felt.” Margolick seems more ready to accept Yitzhak Shamir’s argument that “Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk” as more explanatory, despite Professor Gross’s dismissal of it as “untenable in light of common sense and empirical evidence,” and Margolick’s own admittance that such a statement is “simplistic and racist.”

Many of the issues raised by Margolick are discussed in the analyses of earlier reviews, notably the use of 1,600 as the number of victims at Jedwabne and the use of 1,500 as the number of Jewish victims killed during the postwar period. The most recent studies on the Jedwabne massacre conclude that 300 to 400 is a more appropriate estimate of the number of victims, and recent scholarship on the number of Jews killed during the postwar period, as Professor Gross himself notes, is approximately one-third the number favored by Margolick.

In his discussions of the meeting of the Peasant Party delegates in his review and his exchange with Charles Chotkowski, Margolick illustrates one of the problems of documenting using only single source evidence, a problem that dogs both Professor Gross’s essay and Margolick’s own review. The event, which is reported in a single source of untested authenticity, may indeed have happened as reported. However, these are the kind of reports that the communist regime sought eagerly in order to discredit opponents such as the Peasant Party. The delivery of such reports was aggressively encouraged by the communist regime and on occasion such reports were even manufactured by the authorities. As such, a note on its provenance and possible reliability, and a search for at least some corroborative evidence, would have been in order. Professor Gross, however, does not qualify his use of this report, and hence leads Margolick to assert implications relating to this information with a confidence that this “evidence” cannot really support.

Finally, it is worth noting that while the quote from Jan Karski, which Margolick borrows from Professor Gross, is accurate, it is also part of a larger report in which Karski speaks critically of Jewish behavior and Poles’ response to it. In fairness, Karski’s reports should be used in a full and proper context to give the reader the flavor of the wartime atmosphere that Karski was reporting.
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