The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

Jan T. Gross

Cloth | 2001 | $19.95 / £12.95
216 pp. | 5 x 8 | 27 halftones, 3 maps

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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.

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).


"Nothing could have prepared the 1,600 Jews in Jedwabne, a town in northeast Poland, for the hell of their final days in the summer of 1941. . . . It is an especially gruesome Holocaust horror story. But it is a tale that, 60 years later, has stunned Poland. For what Poles have learned recently is that the perpetrators in this case weren't Germans, though the Nazi occupiers clearly approved the slaughter. They were Poles, the Jedwabne neighbors of the Jews. And the revelation of their role has triggered a wave of agonized soul-searching since it emerged . . . in Neighbors, a slim, carefully researched book [that] has guaranteed that Poles will never see their wartime history in the same way. . . . The controversy over Neighbors is already spreading across the Atlantic."--Andrew Nagorski, Newsweek

"Neighbors strikes squarely at Poland's accepted historical narrative . . . One Polish critic compares the gathering controversy to the uproar with which Germans greeted Hitler's Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen's 1996 study of civilian participation in the Holocaust."--John Reed, Financial Times

"The first question that leaps to mind is why the story of a massacre so monstrous, and of such historic significance, should surface only now, half a century after the fact. The answer to this question is both startling and complex. . . . A detailed account is provided by the sociologist and historian Jan T. Gross in his book. . . Gross's scrupulously documented study challenges another cherished myth: the noble attempts of most Poles to save Jews."--Abraham Brumberg, Times Literary Supplement

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction 3
Outline of the Story 14
Sources 23
Before the War 33
Soviet Occupation, 1939-1941 41
The Outbreak of the Russo-German War and the Pogrom in Radzilow 54
Preparations 72
Who Murdered the Jews of Jedwabne? 79
The Murder 90
Plunder 105
Intimate Biographies 111
Anachronism 122
What Do People Remember? 126
Collective Responsibility 132
New Approach to Sources 138
Is It Possible to Be Simultaneously a Victim and a Victimizer?143
Collaboration 152
Social Support for Stalinism 164
For a New Historiography 168
Postscript 171
Notes 205
Index 249

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For customers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Asia and Australia
ISBN: 0-691-08667-2 Cloth: $19.95
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ISBN: 0-691-08667-2 Cloth: £12.95

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File created: 6/5/01