Norman Davis



March 30, 2001

Letters to the Editor

The massacre at Jedwabne

Sir, - It was bad enough to see Abraham Brumberg passing judgment on the nations in his review (March 2) of Jan T. Gross's book, Neighbours. But he cannot be allowed without challenge to batter your correspondents, who, despite their disagreements with him, have been extremely polite and conciliatory. Having, by his own admission, confused a respected liberal newspaper with a way-out rag of similar name (Letters, March 23), he expresses surprise that the defamed Editor should even bother to complain. He then goes on to accuse Jan Nowak, whose standing in these matters is incomparably higher than his own, of writing "Absurdities". Nowak holds that Brumberg makes "inflammatory statements" and "generalizations that lie at the root of all ethnic and racial hatred". And Nowak is absolutely right.

Of course, Brumberg is a better bruiser that most; but his tendentious techniques are transparent for anyone who cares to examine them. He gives us one or two fine demonstrations in his letter, let alone in his review. He gains the effect by pointing exclusively to the conduct or misconduct of the group whom he wishes to denigrate, while keeping quiet about all the people or facts which would not support his bias. On the question of wartime collaboration with the Nazis, for example, he brings up the role of the (Polish) Blue Police "in helping round up Jews for extermination". It never strikes him to mention the Ghetto Police, who were not exactly Hindus but who were often entrusted with the key operation of rounding up victims for transport to the death camps. On the question of Polish recruitment for military service, he quotes just one correspondent to one journal, whose talk of the "paltry attractiveness" of Polish recruits would have delighted Heinrich Himmler, while flying in the face of all the evidence from the Battle of Britain, from Monte Cassino and indeed from the Afrika Corps. If one doesn't know what Brumberg is omitting. One can't see what he is peddling. Jewish people have suffered more in the past from the habits of gratuitous selectivity and of collective ethnic slurs than anyone else. Brumberg should have more sense than to carry on the trade.

Yet many issues of more general interest are raised by Gross's book. One of them concerns the context and sequence of events at the Jedwabne massacre, which actually took place before the Nazi Holocaust in a district that had recently been subjected to the murderous rule of the Soviets. Gross himself says this is important and has written about it at length elsewhere. But it isn't given prominence in any detail in the reviews. Another issue concerns the peculiar reactions of the British and American media, which seem to be greatly exercused by this one atrocity, while ignoring many others that would equally illuminate the overall wartime picture.

Most importantly, Jedwabne raises the sensitive moral question of those nations, like the Poles, who have every reason to regard themselves as victims, yet who discover individuals in their midst who can only be described as criminals. If Mr Nowak's letter is a guide, the Poles would appear to be responding to their dilemma with thoughtfulness and humility. Which is more than can be said for some.

Norman Davies

Wolfson College, Oxford


And for good measure the TLS published a letter from Werner Cohn of Brooklyn, NY:

" ...Poles committed ghastly mass murders of Jews during the Second World War.

...the very large National Party (Endeks), used its underground press to carry on a vicious anti-Semitic campaign, barely distinguishable from that of the Nazis. ..."

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