Protest letter to "The Observer"
Email: [email protected]
Protest letter regarding publication of the article "Poland's willing executioners' by George Steiner
Dear Sir or Madam:
Views that Mr. Steiner expressed in your publication are based on the badly researched book written by J. T. Gross "Neighbours".
There are many questions one can ask after analytically, not emotionally reading prof. Gross’s book and comparing his statements with various sources and researches done by Polish recognised historians. Many questions could be raised about the methodology used by prof. Gross.
Below I enclose my own comment about prof. Gross’s book "Neighbors", that I hope you will be able to publish as an answer to the article written by Mr. Steiner.
"Neighbors" - literature or history
Perusing the first few pages of Jan T. Gross' book "Neighbors" one's hopes rise that here we will learn the truth about the crime of Jedwabne. The author is being introduced as a noted historian (by education he is a sociologist), professor of political sciences of the University of New York and author of essays on the subject of Polish-German-Jewish relationships in the years 1939-1948.
Gross names various sources that he relied on. Unfortunately, as one reads his book, one is assailed by doubts whether the version presented in it is trustworthy. Although Gross mentions various sources and refers to numerous historians, yet in his argumentation he is relying on the statements of one man only - Shmul Wasersztein, a Jew living in the town, but according to some witnesses, not present there during the massacre. (Teodor Eugeniusz Lusinski to the Institute of Jewish History, 20.03.95, according to Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz). This crown witness of Gross, in Poland went under the name of Calka and not Wasersztein, who after the war had the rank of lieutenant in U.B. (dreaded Communist State Security Forces). This fact was established by Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz, who has been researching this period of Polish history for many years, based on depositions of two reliable witnesses who were interrogated by Wasersztein (Calka) at the UB after the war.
Another witness whose testimony is used by prof. Gross, Abram Boruszczak, never lived in Jedwabne, and another witness, Eljasz Gradowski, was sentenced by the Soviet authorities for stealing of some electrical equipment and deported to Soviet Union in 1940, well before the events in Jedwabne took place. He returned to Jedwabne in 1945
Prof. Strzembosz draws attention to the credibility of sources and witnesses on which Gross relies.
In the matter of the Polish witnesses’ testimonies, Gross is extensively using the testimonies of people who were interrogated by the U.B. (Communist State Security) in 1949. That organisation was well known for extracting statements from the suspects by using such methods as torture, sleep depravation, beatings and the threat of deportation to Siberia, not only for the suspects, but also for their families.
Most of the accused recalled their "confessions" in front of the court. This was not only an act of self-defence. It was also a sign of bravery. After all, the accused were immediately returned to the "tender, loving care" of secret police officers, who had tortured the confessions out of them in the first place. Here I would like to remind, that prof. Gross’s main witness was one of the functionaries in that apparatus. The confessions were in accordance with a preordained scenario, unofficially promoted by the Communist leadership who promoted the idea that Polish society was "fascist" and "reactionary", what was supposed to create an explanation for the repressive regime and an excuse for the West inaction.
Yet, it would appear that such facts have no meaning for Prof. Gross, because throughout his book he extensively uses the testimonies of Karol Bardon, originally sentenced to the death penalty, which was commuted to a 15 years prison sentence. Any man subjected to such circumstances would tell anything that the interrogating officer wants him to say, simply to survive. What sort of pressure did the interrogating officers exert on him?
Testimonies and confessions obtained by such methods wouldn’t be admissible in any court of law in any democratic country.
When on the subject of the witness testimonies and methodology that a historian should use in analysing his sources and then disseminating his findings, I would like to mention the statement that Prof. Gross himself made in the book "Neighbours":
"As far as the craft of the historian who deals with the era of the gas ovens is concerned, I think we must radically alter our attitude toward the sources. Our initial attitude toward each testimony of near victims of the Holocaust should change from the inquisitive to the affirmative."
This is a startling statement because it would be practically tantamount to abandoning the scholarly standard.
In each instance, if possible, historians must attempt to verify the sources, testimonies, recollections and memoirs against other documents. A history scholar needs to apply a rigorous litmus test to each testimony by checking it against other witness account and contemporary documents: Jewish, German, Polish, and Soviet. Finally, he has to divide recollections into first- and second-hand observations and classify their reliability accordingly.
The lack of scientific honesty on the part of prof. Gross, has been commented on by numerous historians, among others by Dr. Sławomir Radon, chairman of the College of IPN (Polish National Remembrance Institute) conducting the present investigation headed by the public prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew. They accuse prof. Gross of drawing premature conclusions without a solid research of Polish and German archives and following up all possible leads.
Unfortunately, Prof. Gross doesn’t adhere to such standards in his book. That’s why "Neighbors" should be classified as a literary work and not as historical research, ergo not factual in every aspect.