Polish Princeton historian draws controversy over claims that Poles profited off the Holocaust





At first glance, it seems like an ordinary, innocent photograph: a group of Polish peasants holding shovels in a field on a sunny day. But look closer and you see the skulls and bones scattered at their feet.

According to some historians, the photo was taken at the site of the Treblinka death camp in eastern Poland shortly after World War II and shows the peasants digging up Jewish remains in search of gold or other valuables. When it ran alongside a 2008 newspaper feature about Poland's postwar era, most readers didn't take much notice. But when historian Jan Tomasz Gross saw the photo, he was moved to write Golden Harvest, a controversial new book in which he argues that many Poles enriched themselves during the war by exploiting Jews, from plundering mass graves to ferreting out Jews in hiding for reward. In the book's introduction, Gross recalls how the photo made a big impression on him. "I could not understand why it passed without echo among the [newspaper's] readers," he writes.

While the photo did not create much of a stir, the book — which was published in Poland on March 10 — has. Co-written by Gross's wife Irena Grudzinska Gross, Golden Harvest charges that some Poles searched mass graves to retrieve golden teeth from the skulls of Jews murdered by the Nazis, traded glasses of water for golden coins from emaciated Jews being transported to death camps and pointed out hiding Jews to the Nazis in order to get ahold of their belongings. "Plundering Jewish property was an important element of the circulation of goods, an element of economic life, and thus a social fact, not an incidental behavior of demoralized individuals," writes Gross about the villagers living near the death camps in Poland.

Gross, a Princeton historian who was born and educated in Poland, became famous for his contentious 2001 book Neighbors, which chronicles the massacre of Jews at the hands of Poles in the village of Jedwabne during the Nazi occupation. The thesis of Golden Harvest again touches a raw nerve in a country that prides itself on being the only nation in Nazi-occupied Europe that did not have a collaborator government. Poland was home to about 2.5 million Jews before World War II, the second biggest Jewish population in the world, and Poles highlight the fact that they are the largest single nationality among those awarded the Israeli-based Yad Vashem institute's title of Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews during the Holocaust....



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Jacquelyn M Kennedy - 3/30/2011

There has been ample evidence for some time that Poland is trying to re-write their role during the Nazi era, to diminish their actions. Whether they admit it or not, the non-Jewish Poles were collaborators, and there should be no 'willingness to forget' at any level! Jan Gross and his wife are to be congratulated on yet another throwing aside of the curtain that Poland would keep in place forever.

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