Neighbors by Jan T. Gross
The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

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Synopsis

One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town's Jews. Neighbors tells their story.

This is a shocking, brutal story that has never before been told. It is the most important study of Polish-Jewish relations to be published in decades and should become a classic of Holocaust literature.

Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne's Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne's surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it.

Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne's Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why.

In many ways, this is a simple book. It is easy to read in a single sitting, and hard not to. But its simplicity is deceptive. Gross's new and persuasive answers to vexed questions rewrite the history of twentieth-century Poland. This book proves, finally, that the fates of Poles and Jews during World War II can be comprehended only together.

 

About Jan T. Gross

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Jan T. Gross is Professor of Politics and European Studies at New York University. He is the author of, among other books, "Revolution from Abroad: Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia" (Princeton) and a coeditor of "The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath" (Princeton).
 
Published September 17, 2012 by Princeton University Press. 216 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Neighbors

The Guardian

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'Around the tortured ones [they included a 90-year-old rabbi] crowds of Polish men, women and children were standing and laughing at the miserable victims who were falling under the blows of the bandits.' The only Polish doctor in the town refused to give any medical assistance to any Jew.

Apr 08 2001 | Read Full Review of Neighbors: The Destruction of...

Publishers Weekly

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Claude Lanzman's myth-shattering documentary film Shoah demonstrated that some Polish peasants were keenly aware of the Nazis' mass murder of Jews on Polish soil.

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The New York Review of Books

About 20 percent of Jews under Bulgarian rule became victims, including the Jews in territories formerly in Greece and Yugoslavia occupied by the Bulgarian state, as he explains later in his review.

Sep 20 2001 | Read Full Review of Neighbors: The Destruction of...

Project MUSE

While acknowledging the existence at the fringes of Polish society of so-called szmalcownicy, who extorted sums from Jews attempting to hide outside the ghettos among the non-Jewish population, and who nevertheless often denounced them to the Germans despite being paid off, Poles were for the mo...

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