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Huntington News (West Virginia)
July 31st, 2006

David Kinchen is a book critic for the "Huntington News" Network.

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"Fear" by Jan T. Gross Shows That Murdering Jews in Europe Didn't End with Defeat of the Germans; Ordinary Polish Gentiles Murdered Their Neighbors in Kielce in July 1946 - Among Many Other Locales

The cruelty and depravity of “ordinary” people – to use a word popularized by both Daniel J. Goldhagen and his rival Christopher R. Browning – never fails to amaze me. Most particularly, the murder of Jews surviving the destruction of more than 90 percent of Poland’s 3.5-million-strong Jewish community was a fact of life in many cities and towns in postwar Poland and is vividly described by Jan T. Gross in “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz” (Random House, $25.95, 336 pages, illustrated, indexed, sources, bibliography).
Gross created a firestorm of controversy with the publication by the Princeton University Press (where Gross teaches) of “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, ” (2001), which showed that not only the occupying Germans were murdering Polish Jews, but also their Gentile neighbors. Half the Polish Catholic residents of the town clubbed, burned and dismembered the town’s 1,600 Jews in July 1941, killing all but seven. A government commission in Poland found that not only did Gross get his facts right but that many other cities had done exactly the same thing,
something that Browning (see below) confirmed. In 1938, Jews numbered about 3.5 million, fully 10 percent of ’s 35 million people.
While the Germans ended up killing about 3 million non-Jewish Poles, only the Jews – as well as gypsies or Roma -- were targeted as part of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
“Fear” deals with several incidents of wartime Poland, including the cheering of Polish Gentiles as the Germans obliterated the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1943, during the uprising of Jews against their tormenters (pages 171-2). Shop girls and secretaries laughed about the Germans turning Jews into “cutlets” as the SS used flamethrowers to kill the militants who had held off the Nazis for weeks.
Gross concentrates on the murder of more than 80 Polish Jews in the town of Kielce on July 4, 1946, triggered by a an eight-year-old boy who falsely claimed he had been kidnapped by Jews and held in a basement. The pogrom, vividly described by Gross from reports of survivors and eyewitnesses, fits into a pattern described by Goldhagen in “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” (Knopf, 1996).
The book includes photos of the victims, including a young mother named Regina Fisz, who was butchered along with her newborn son who was shot in the head by her murderers pretending to be policemen protecting her. After reading the passage describing this atrocity (Pages 104-106), I asked myself “what God would permit this?” That night I had a nightmare about Kielce . Strangely, Gross includes only one reference to Goldhagen in his bibliography. Maybe it’s not so strange, as professional historians have long objected to sociologist Goldhagen writing about history; Gross, a sociologist himself, seems to be no exception. Gross is kinder to Christopher R. Browning’s “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 103 and the Final Solution in ” (1998) quoting Browning: (Page 179: about the role played by Poles in “rounding up and killing local Jews. We can gauge from this one example what a devastating impact the collusion of the local population had on the fate of those Jews who attempted to hide from their Nazi murderers. In Jozefow, Browning writes: ‘Poles help roust Jews from their dwellings and revealed Jewish hiding places in garden bunkers or behind double walls. Even after the Germans had finished searching, Poles continued to bring individual Jews to the marketplace throughout the afternoon.’”
To me this sounds a lot like the “willing executioners” so well described in Goldhagen’s best-selling book, which was honored by the Germans themselves shortly after it was published.
Gross says that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church – with the one shining exception of the Bishop of Czestochowa, Teodor Kubina -- not only failed to condemn the pogrom at Kielce, but tried to explain it away, even raising the hoary lie of ritual murder. Bishop Kubina, Gross recounts, “spoke forcefully and unambiguously against anti-Semitism and the lie of ritual murder and he was promptly reprimanded by fellow bishops for having done so.” (Page 135).
Again, Gross and others writing about the role of the Catholic Church echo what Goldhagen says in his second controversial book, “A Moral Reckoning : The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair” (Knopf, 2002). I read this book when it was published and found it very helpful in understanding Roman Catholic Church’s state of denial that persists to the present over the destruction of Europe’s six million (at least three million from Poland) Jews.
Goldhagen, who was turned down for tenure at Harvard – surely a major miscarriage of the politics of academe – is the Rodney Dangerfield of Holocaust writers, getting little or no respect from his peers. Books like the two by Gross, along with “Cruel World” by Lynne Nicholas, which I recently reviewed, and “Witnesses of War” by Nicholas Stargardt (Knopf, 2006), which I soon will review, only serve to show how on target was Goldhagen’s 1996 book – as well as his 2002 volume “A Moral Reckoning.” Gross deals extensively with the conflating by Poles – especially the Roman Catholic Church – of Jews with Communism. It’s called “zydokomuna” or “Judeo-Communism” in Polish. He demonstrates that, while young Jews may have been initially attracted to Bolshevism in because it ended the anti-Semitic rule of the Czars and – initially – promised an end to Jew hatred, the anti-Semitism of Joseph Stalin proved to be even worse. His various purges succeeded in eliminating Jews from positions of power from the top down, including the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronstein), the brilliant organizer of the Red Army and the biggest threat to Stalin’s hegemony.
In , the young Polish republic succeeded in defeating the Bolsheviks and banned the Polish Communist Party in 1918-22. Polish Jews, Gross demonstrates through voting lists in the country’s largest cities, aligned themselves with forces of Polish nationalism, Bundists (a Yiddish Marxist labor organization) or Zionists, not Communism, despite the stereotyping of the Catholic Church in their attempt to explain away ingrained Polish anti-Semitism.
Here is Gross (Page 198) describing Jewish voting habits in pre-WWII : “Contrary to the myth of the ‘Jewish Communist,’ Jews provided only a small fraction of the electoral support of the communist parties. The evidence shows that not only were the overwhelming number of Jews not communist supporters but the vast majority of communist voters were not Jews.”
Gross points out that a 2004 survey by a Polish magazine found that 40 percent of those polled believed that Jews ran – in a nation of 39 million people that has less than 20,000 Jews! He says that by 1949, from a combination of pogroms and emigration to Israel, the U.S., Canada, Australia and other countries, the nation’s approximately 200,000 surviving Jews had emigrated -- finally achieved what Hitler set out to do in 1939: turn Poland into a country without Jews. Unfortunately, it resonates today as an anti-Semitic country, albeit one without a necessary ingredient of anti-Semitism: Jews. But, of course, most Muslim countries are Jew-free and they are as anti-Semitic as Nazi Germany.
Other stereotypes dealt with by Gross – and thoroughly demolished – include one held by both Russians and Poles that Jews couldn’t fight and were draft dodgers. In fact, of all the “nationalities” in the Red Army during that phase of World War II dubbed “The Great Patriotic War” when fought with the allies – from June 22, 1941 on – Jews were third in the numbers receiving wartime heroism medals, Gross points out. They also fought in the Polish Army and – as the April 1943 Warsaw Uprising and other events showed – were valiant fighting men and women. More than a few of the Russian and Polish Jews became the nucleus of the armed forces that became the Israeli Defense Forces that defeated much larger combined Arab armies – many of them led by British officers – during the birth of Israel beginning in 1948. Quoting Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz --- “Let it be stated here clearly the Party / Descends directly from the fascist Right,” Gross notes that “’s Communist rulers fulfilled the dream of Polish nationalists by bringing into existence an ethnically pure state.” (Page 243).
Gross: “As to the persistence of the zydokomuna myth in popular memory one may attribute it among other reasons, to an attempt by complicitous Poles to deflect their own guilt over having contributed to the triumph of Communism.”
In his summation, Gross says that the postwar anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland occurred because “Jews were perceived as a threat to the material status quo, security, and peaceful conscience of their Christian fellow citizens after the war because they had been plundered and because what remained of Jewish property, as well as Jews’ social roles, had been assumed by Polish neighbors in tacit and often directly opportunistic complicity with Nazi-instigated institutional mass murder.” (P. 247).
The “Fear” of the title was operative on both sides: Gentile Poles feared Jews and had to destroy them or drive them out of the country. Jan T. Gross has written a truly masterful work of history and sociology in “Fear.” About the author:
Jan Tomasz Gross is the Norman B. Tomlinson '16 and '48 Professor of War and Society at Princeton University . He grew up in a Jewish family in and attending Warsaw University , he emigrated to the in 1969 after being imprisoned during the March 1968 events. He later earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University , and he has taught at Yale, NYU, and Paris, in addition to Princeton.

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