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Polish American Journal
August 2006

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Fear... of the Truth

Jan T. Gross, the author of "Neighbors"—a book that blamed 1941 murder of Jews in Jewabne, Poland on Poles—has penned another prejudicial work.

In his new book, "Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz—An Essay in Historical Interpretation," Gross supposes that Poles—angry with Jews for bringing the Nazi wrath to their country—organized pogroms to purge their country of its remaining Jews. He theorizes that Polish peasants, filling a vacuum created by Hitler's "Final Solution," devised this concerted effort to protect their new class status.

Sadly, his conjecture is earning endorsements. Said Thane Rosenbaum in the Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006: "They [Poland's lower class] emerged from the Holocaust as a nouveau middle-class, a post-atrocity artifact of spoliation and unjust enrichment. And they weren't about to return either their ill-gotten gains or their newfound status. Nor did they wish to be reminded of what they had done. And the best way to avoid discomfort was to not have to look into the eyes of the neighbors they once betrayed."

Calling post-war Poles property-grabbing murderers is racist. Were there Poles who resented Jews for what the Nazis had done to their country? Certainly. Does that make all Poles anti-Semitic? Certainly not. Were there Poles who, at the cost of their own lives, gave Jews food and shelter? Certainly. Does that make all Poles heroes? Certainly not. Why is blame not placed squarely on the occupying communist authorities, who—wishing to establish complete control over Poland—were the instigators of post-war pogroms? Gross and his ilk—writing as if obliged to deface Poland—refuse to see the truth, which is neither black, nor white, but a depressing gray.

In his review in the Washington Post (also printed June 25, 2006), "The Killing After the Killing," Nobel Peace Prize winning author Elie Wiesel says that Poles who helped Jews during the war did not talk about their bravery, for fear that they face recrimination from their neighbors. He was taken to task by Adam Michnik, the Jewish editor-in-chief of Poland's Gazeta Wyborcza.

"Wiesel's review," says Michnik, "paints a picture of a country which cannot face up to disease of anti-Semitism."

Michnik points out that following the publication of "Neighbors," Poland was engulfed in a great debate with the participation of the president and the Primate of the Catholic Church.

"Certainly there is no other country in Central and Eastern Europe which would apply such importance and sincerity in accounting for the murkier aspects of its own history."

Michnik rightly says this debate was just as significant at the publication of Gross's book.

He furthers his argument by pointing out Poland's response to a June 2006 attack on Rabbi Michael Schudrich on a Warsaw street. To wit:

"This was not the only incident in the world of a hooligan attacking a rabbi. However, Poland is undoubtedly the only country where, the next day, the president of the country invited the rabbi to his office and in front if the media's cameras expressed his solidarity with the victim. [Translation by Ted Mirecki].

"Whoever writes about anti-Semitism in Poland and neglects to mention these events, then—even if inadvertently—he falsifies the truth about Poland," says Michnik.

The truth—no matter how repulsive to either side—rests in the center. Gross's myopic perspective advances racism and fuels anti-Polish sentiment.

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