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A National Institute for Polish and Polish American Affairs


Analysis of Ruth Franklin's Review of FEAR
Franklin's review appeared in "The New Republic" on October 2nd, 2006

Link to PDF of Article

1.)    Ruth Franklin’s The New Republic review is first and foremost an extended summary of Jan Gross’ book including a significant number of quotes from the work to show the extent of Polish anti-Semitism. Her summary does not provide, however, a systematic reprise or analysis of the key feature of Professor Gross’ theory and argument.

2.)  Franklin does disagree with Professor Gross when she insists that postwar anti-Semitism was not a unique manifestation. This is contrary to a key point of Professor Gross’ argument. Instead, she insists that Professor Gross’ book “documents in . . . indisputable detail” that Auschwitz made it easier for Poles to “act on what they already believed.” Professor Gross, on the contrary, insists that earlier anti-Semitism was not “exterminatory.”

3.)  Franklin is wrong when she asserts that there were no societal or legal norms regulating the return of Jewish property. In Kielce alone there are almost three hundred volumes of court documents relating to Jewish claims to property lost in the war. About 90% of the cases were decided in the Polish courts in favor of the claimants.

4.)  In regard to the issue of Jedwabne, Franklin asks why such a thing happened in a place where Christians and Jews had apparently lived together with some amity over a period of time. The question is, alas, rhetorical. She does not address the issue or ask why such an incident took place in Jedwabne and fifteen or twenty other nearby places over a period of the same few weeks in year two of the war and at the beginning of a brutal second occupation. Why did this not happen before the war, or in 1939 or 1940? Why did it not happen in the thousands of other villages in Poland? Franklin does not address these questions.

5.)  Franklin insists the debate in Poland about Jedwabne was not honest or serious and that by asserting that it was, Adam Michnik, a prominent Polish Jew, was engaged in a “falsification.” In fact, she has found that a “torrent of unreconstructed anti-Semitism was unleashed by the episode” which evidently Michnik and most other observers failed to take seriously or even mention. Ms. Franklin is entitled to her opinion on these matters but hyperbolic charges of “falsification” and “torrents of unreconstructed anti-Semitism” require more proof and documentation than she seems willing to provide.

6.)  It is not clear what point Franklin is making in her closing ruminations on her student days in Poland more than a decade ago, in which she found that markers at sites of Jewish history and memorials to Holocaust events were not plentiful and often neglected. She would have found, if she looked, that the neglect extended to sites associated with the Home Army and historical figures not on the Communist “A List.” There were other matters, especially economic issues, which were considered more pressing in newly liberated Poland than redoing historical sites. Now that Poles are indeed interested in the Jewish history of Poland she is equally discomfited and dismisses it as a “grim carnival of Holocaust tourism” and a product of “Polish national schizophrenia.”

Yet, if she had been more aware of what was going on in Poland during her stay she would have discovered that the fall of Communism sparked a genuine revival of serious interest by Polish scholars in the history of Polish Jewry and the Holocaust. Works such as Bozena Szaynok’s excellent study of the Kielce incident are the products of that interest. The current enthusiasm was born out of that work and is primarily supported by Polish interest, not kitschy tourism. She also neglects entirely the growth of an increasingly confident, self-conscious and vital Jewish community in Poland.

7.)  Franklin’s closing shot that Poles are not ready to face “a genuine confrontation with the manner of [Jewish] disappearance: when, where and by whom” implies that someone other than the Germans perpetrated the Holocaust in Poland and was thus responsible for the “disappearance” of the Jews. The context clearly indicates it is the Poles who are guilty. Such an implication is irresponsible and libelous.

8.)  Franklin begins her long review of Gross’ book with a story of Primo Levi, who, upon leaving Auschwitz, came across a crowd of “curious people” who he perceived in some way as possibly hostile. He recounted that he was assisted by a Polish lawyer who explained to the crowd that he was an “Italian political prisoner” but did not mention that he was Jewish. When Levi asked him about the omission he answered, “It is better for you. The war isn’t over.”

The story points out what is the most serious omission of Franklin’s extended review - that the war was indeed not over in Poland in 1945 or 1946. It went on, in fact, until at least 1948. The violent deaths of 700 or 800 Jews in those years parallels the death of tens of thousands of Gentile Poles and the torture, jailing and deportation of tens of thousands more in the brutal imposition of Communist rule in Poland. The Jewish deaths cannot be fully explained without the context of what was a virtual civil war. This issue is treated in the analyses of Professor Gross’ book elsewhere on this site.

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