A Polish Historian's Accounting of the Holocaust Divides His Countrymen

Historians in the News

Most academic historians labor in obscurity. But in Poland last year, a Princeton professor's slim volume of Holocaust history became a controversial best seller. The publisher, Znak, saw its e-mail addresses bombarded, its business threatened with a boycott, and the area by its office graffitied. At a news conference, the publisher's own executive director proclaimed herself opposed to the book's publication and apologized to offended readers.

Such is the radioactive celebrity of Jan T. Gross, whom one Polish critic has called "a vampire of historiography." Mr. Gross's latest book, just released in English by Oxford University Press, investigates a sensitive topic: how Poles colluded in the pillaging and murder of Jews "at the periphery of the Holocaust."

Its title, Golden Harvest, stems from a cover photograph that purportedly shows Polish peasants who have been digging through remains of victims killed at Treblinka, where 800,000 Jews were gassed and cremated, to find gold or valuable stones neglected by the Nazis.

From there, Mr. Gross narrates events beyond the barbed wire of Nazi death camps. He describes Poles hunting Jews down, extorting money from them, massacring them, and profiting by taking over their jobs and property. Some 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland before the war began, and about 90 percent had perished by its end....

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