Princeton’s Jan Tomasz Gross's controversial research into Polish complicity in the Holocaust is again in the news

Historians in the News
tags: Jan Tomasz Gross

Commemorations were held on Sunday in the north-eastern town of Jedwabne to mark the 75th anniversary of the 10 July 1941 massacre of around 300 Jews during the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany. Polish Radio’s Halina Ostas spoke to Piotr Gontarczyk, a political analyst and historian from the Institute of National Remembrance, who says more research is needed into the killings.

Halina Ostas: The public learned of the crime 16 years ago, thanks to a book by Jan Tomasz Gross called “Neighbours”. The scenario of events presented in the book is horrifying. However, many acclaimed historians have pointed out many mistakes, distortions and even false information. Before we focus on these, let’s talk about what we can find in Jan Tomasz Gross’ publication.

Piotr Gontarczyk: In his book, Gross writes that when the Germans came to Jedwabne, they forwarded a proposal to the local authorities in Jedwabne that the Poles kill their Jewish neighbours by burning them alive. They signed an agreement, after which Poles eagerly started to go about the murder of 1,600 people.

[According to Gross] Dantesque scenes were unfolding in the meantime, such as playing football with the victims‘ disembodied heads. Earlier, a delegation of Jews went to a local bishop, Stanisław Łukomski, requesting that he stop the pogrom. Not only did the bishop do nothing, he also took a bribe in the form of candlesticks. This is a somewhat dramatic scenario, which puts the sole blame on Poles, and in a way incriminates the whole of Polish society and the Catholic Church. None of this proved true in the end.

Halina Ostas: No wonder then that the publication sparked great interest and dismantled all that we considered true about Poles’ role in World War II. I’d like to note here that Poles comprise the largest group of people recognised as the Righteous among the Nations, Israel’s highest distinction awarded to civilians. Nearly 7,000 Poles have received the Righteous Medal – the figure accounts for a quarter of the total number of recognised gentiles. And so, Jan Tomasz Gross’ book was shocking.

Piotr Gontarczyk: Of course, especially as there were no contradictory voices or any possibility of verifying what Gross had written. This was a time when the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) was being established, therefore the materials on which Gross based his book, that is records from a trial conducted against the participants in the events, were simply inaccessible to historians. Then the IPN launched its own investigation [...] Meanwhile, Jan Tomasz Gross was having his moment in the media, and was not held accountable for his claims.

Moreover, we need to remember that the book became a political instrument in the hands of certain journalists and ideologues as a way of hitting out at Poles. If these individuals wanted to deal a blow to Poles, Polish patriotism or their sense of national identity, it was easy to bring the book out and say, “This is you, Catholic Poles.” The book became the centre of a fierce debate and was evidently used for political purposes. ...

Read entire article at Radio Poland

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