"Neighbours", history or literature
The J. T. Gross book "Neighbors: The Story of the Annihilation of the Jewish Town", is a case study of Jedwabne in the county of Lomza, the Province of Podlasie. J. T. Gross based his study on a few Jewish recollections and selected depositions of Polish witnesses, who had testified under torture by the Communist secret police (UB). After only such shallow research, Gross arrived at a conclusion about the alleged mass participation of the "Polish society" of Jedwabne in the Holocaust. He argues that it wasn't the German Nazis, or some Poles led by the Germans, but that "the Polish society" of Jedwabne spontaneously attacked and murdered its Jewish neighbours.
According to Gross, on the 10.07.1941, without any German participation or encouragement, the local Poles an masse, all together in a orchestrated attack, abused, beat and murdered in a very gruesome way some of the Jews. They finally, herded the remainder of them, somewhere between 900 - 3300 people, (according to the various Jewish witnesses’ testimonies) into the ordinary barn and burned them alive.
Well, I have to admit that Gross settled for the number of 1600.
This is probably how he arrived at that number. In his book, on the page 42, Gross mentions the testimony of Menachem Finkelsztajn (Finkelstein?) who states that 3300 Jews were murdered in Jedwabne. On page 43, Gross says that numbers provided by Finkelsztajn should be divided in half. So, Gross arrives to the nice and tidy number of 1600.
The barn in question belonged to Bronislaw Sleszynski, who was a cabinetmaker supplementing his income by farming. He owned two hectares of land and was too poor to afford a huge barn or to have any use for it.
Now, from my experience the barns in Poland are not big or very solid structures. Most of them are big enough to accommodate a horse drawn cart (remember, we are talking 1941) with the horse standing outside the barn. In the best case scenario, such a structure could accommodate maybe 100 people, with a lot of pressure applied to the outside walls. Most of the barns would have an area of 50-70 square meters. How Mr. Gross and his "eye witnesses" managed to fit into such a structure 1600 people is beyond common sense.
But there is more.
On page 78 of his book, (Polish version), Gross is quoting the testimony of Leon Dziedzic, who was forced by the Germans to burry the bodies of the victims. And Leon Dziedzic says that the barn wasn't full. He says: "The left part of the barn was nearly empty, only single corpses were found there. There were more corpses in the middle part. And only on the right, there was a pile of bodies".
So, it’s not just enough that the barn was too small to accommodate so many people, there was still some room left.
The Soviet census conducted in 1940 counted only 1400 Jews in the Jedwabne region, which also included the outlying town of Radzilow and the village of Wizna. If we also take into account the number of Jews that fled approaching German armies, this would put into serious question the number of victims in Jedwabne, where according to Mr. Gross and his witnesses 1600 perished. In Radzilow, only three days earlier, an alleged 1500 Jews were also burned in a barn. But Mr. Gross doesn't bother himself with such "minor" details as the size of the barn and an accurate number of victims. It would have to be the biggest barn in Europe in 1941.
There are some most important steps to be taken to corroborate (or contradict) witnesses testimonies with the physical evidence.
First, the dimension of the barn in question would have to be defined.
Second, as accurately as possible the number of victims would have to be established. Exhumation and forensic examination could do this. There should be enough evidence to make it easy enough to find the location of the barn in question. According to this book (page 62), a monument was erected there. Victims should be buried in the close vicinity.
In the matter of the Polish witnesses, Gross is extensively using 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. Testimonies and confessions obtained by such methods wouldn’t be admissible in any court of law in any democratic country.
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. The confessions were in accordance with a preordained scenario, unofficially promoted by the Communist leadership who deeply believed and promoted the idea that Polish society was "fascist" and "reactionary" and therefore it spontaneously murdered Jews.
Let’s not forget who ruled Poland in 1949. Remember names like Jacob Berman, Hilary Minc, Roman Romkowski, Rozanski and others. With Berman and Minc occupying the second and third most powerful positions in the ruling communist party apparatus.
Throughout his book, Gross is extensively using the testimonies of Karol Bardon, originally sentenced to the death penalty. Such a man would tell anything to survive. What sort of pressure was exerted on him by the interrogating officers?
Gross himself writes extensively on this subject on pages 23, 24, 25, 26. (Polish original). But of course, it has no meaning to him. The same as many other important facts.
According to the testimony of Aleksander Wyrzykowski, who saved Szmul Wasersztajn, the Nazis carried out the murder with some Polish participation. A Polish cook, Julia Sokolowska, testified in court that she prepared a meal that day for a large number of Nazi policemen, who were the chief perpetrators of the crime. Another eyewitness, Leokadia Blajszczak, recalls the presence of the German police as well, and blames a local Volksdeutsches for leading the pogrom. The same Jan Sokolowski also provides a very similar version of events.
Now from the Polish historian, Marek Jan Chodakiewicz who is Instructor in History at Pierce College in California and an ABD in History at Columbia University:
"Professor Gross quotes the testimony of Aleksander Wyrzykowski to underscore the persistence of ugly anti-Semitism in the Jedwabne region even after the war. Alas, Gross failed to include in his lengthy quote Wyrzykowski's assertion that Germans murdered the Jews of Jedwabne with some Polish assistance. Further, Professor Gross analysed, but rejected the testimony of Sokolowska, who claimed that she had cooked a meal for "60 Gestapomen" on the tragic day. Both accounts thus flatly contradict the central thesis of "Neighbours"; Aleksander Wyrzykowski, AZIH, file 301/5825. By the way, Wyrzykowski's testimony is also suspicious. Only
"Copy III" is available. Where is the original?
Further, Gross uses Wyrzykowski as an isolated case of a Righteous Gentile who was persecuted after the war for having assisted Jews and was even forced to flee the area. However, according to Jewish and Polish witnesses, the Wyrzykowskis were indeed persecuted, and Aleksander's wife even savagely beaten, by bandits who wanted to extort from them the "Jewish gold" that they falsely assumed the couple had received for helping Jews. Were the bandits anti-Semites? Perhaps so. Clearly, however, they were not motivated by a desire to punish the Wyrzykowskis for their rescue of Jews, but by avarice. (See Jozef Gradowski, "Zaswiadczenie," 26 April 1967, AZIH, file 301/5825; Jan Sokolowski to Andrzej Kaczynski, editor of "Rzeczpospolita" 12 may 2000.)
If we take into the account what prof. C.I. Pogonowski had to say in his critique of the "Ghastly decade 1939-1948" about Gross’s methodology:
"On page 56, he changes the meaning of a sentence in the diary of Dr. Zygmunt Klukowski (Dziennik z lat okupacji Zamojszczyzny - A diary of the years of occupation of Zamojszczyzna). Gross insinuates that in October 1942, Poles murdered some 2300 Jews while the Germans deported for execution 934 other victims. The deception is achieved by the omission of quotation marks; this changed the meaning of a crucial statement in the original diary, in which reference was made to locally stationed German gendarmes."
We can see that Mr. Gross is not a stranger to manipulation of his sources.
Professor Tomasz Strzembosz, in the interview conducted by Elzbieta Isakiewicz for "Gazeta Polska", cites an eyewitness who maintains that only about 20 or 30 Polish thugs (and not the entire "society" of Jedwabne) abused the Jews. It was the Germans who herded about 800 (and not 1600) of them into the barn and burned them alive.
Here I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the number of " about 20 or 30 Polish thugs" would correspond approximately with the names that the Jewish witnesses named as perpetrators.
The Jewish witnesses.
It is very curious that the Jewish witnesses could record the events in such detail, when in fact the Jewish witnesses usually ran away very early on and hid in places from which it was rather difficult to observe the unfolding tragedy. I say it only as an example of normal human behaviour. Fight or flight behaviour. If you can't fight, you run as fast as you can. I know I would under the circumstances that they are describing.
So these witnesses are in hiding, in the cellars of their Polish rescuers' homes, in the barns under the hay, in the stables, woods, shrubs and so on. And from such places, they are able to see everything?
Here I would use as an example part of the article written by Willma and printed in "Gazeta Pomorska" under a title "Beard of my son" (Broda mojego syna).
"...Couple of days after burning of the Jews, Leon Dziedzic went to the stable to get some hay for a horse. From under the hay looked at him Szmul's face. From his hiding Wasersztajn saw everything what happened in Jedwabne..."
So Wasersztajn is hiding in Dziedzic's stable and sees everything? From under the hay, through the walls, three kilometres away, he sees everything? Very gifted man, indeed.
But at least one Polish source claims that the key witness, Szmul Wasersztajn, learned only after the war about the alleged scenario of the events in Jedwabne from a Jewish woman, Zejer, who was connected to the NKVD. (Teodor Eugeniusz Lusinski to the Institute of the Jewish History (ZIH), 20. 03.1995)
Wasersztajn is not a very credible witness. There are two testimonies from 1945 by Wasersztajn. And Gross himself in his book complains: "In ZIH are two testimonies by Wasersztajn written up separately - numbers don’t correspond and some other details don’t." (Prof. Jerzy Robert Nowak, article "Kto falszuje historie")
The contradicting testimonies of the witnesses, Shmul Waserstein (Wasersztajn) and Mrs. Rivka Fogel, regarding the same event, are as follows.
Mrs. Rivka Fogel,
"The sisters, the wife of Avraham Kubzanski and the wife of Saul Binshtein, whose husbands left with the Russians after enduring horrible punishment at the hands of the Germans, decided to end their own lives and that of their children. They exchanged the children between themselves and together they jumped into deep water. Gentiles standing nearby pulled them out, but they managed to jump in again and were drowned."
Mr. Shmul Wasersztajn about the same incident, as translated from JT Gross book "Neighbours":
"That same day I saw a horrible scene. Chaja ("Chaya") Kubrzanska, 28 years old, and Basia Binsztajn, 26, both with babies in their arms jumped into the pond and drowned, rather than falling into the hands of those hoodlums. First they tossed the babies into the water and then they followed them themselves." Baska Binsztajn sank immediately to the bottom while Chaja Kubrzanska suffered for hours.
Bystanders (hoodlums) made a spectacle out of it enjoying the view and were advising her to lie face down in the water, so she can drown quicker..."
Let's compare these two sentences: "Gentiles standing nearby pulled them out..." and "Bystanders (hooligans) made a spectacle out of it..."
Then there is a problem with the Bishop of Lomza, Stanislaw Lukomski, who according to Gross (page 52, 53, Polish original), accepted a tribute of money and silver artefacts from the Jewish delegation in exchange for protection. Gross even mentions Nielawicki's uncle, who went to Lomza in this delegation.
Now, if you’ll remember from the earlier quote ofMr. Chodakiewicz, where he says: "...Both accounts thus flatly contradict the central thesis of "Neighbours"..."
But there is a third account that, if accepted by Gross, (so Gross also flatly rejects it), would also contradict this central thesis of "Neighbours".
Gross did not explain the question of the German presence in Jedwabne and their role in organising and conducting the pogrom.
Gross assumes that there were practically no Germans in Jedwabne, apart from a small group of 11 gendarmes in the local precinct and maybe a few Gestapo men.
But prosecutor Monkiewicz, in his article published in 1989 in the Bialystok University periodical "Studia Podlaskie" states, that among other events concerning the Jedwabne pogrom, there was active a so-called Kommando Bialystok led by Hauptsturmfuehrer Wolfgang Birkner from the Warsaw Gestapo office. Here is a translation of the relevant part:
"In the beginning of July 1941 from the German police battalions No. 309 and 316 were selected 200 men assembling a special troop called Kommando Bialystok under the command of the Wolfgang Birkner from the Warsaw Gestapo branch. That troop arrived to Jedwabne by trucks on the 10.07.41. For this action against the Jews, the Germans also used the Gendarmes and some of the "supporting police". This last formation was only used to bring victims to the main plaza and escort them outside the town. There the Hitlerites locked app. 900 persons in the barn and set it on fire..."
Somehow, I don’t think that prosecutor Monkiewicz just "dreamed up" or made up those 232 Germans, trucks and the figure of Birkner.
According to prof. Szarota, such an officer existed in the Warsaw Gestapo, held the rank of SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer, and was probably killed in Poznan.
By following his tracks, one could try to find documents related to the German presence in Jedwabne and their role in the pogrom. Any responsible historian would do that before publishing his findings. By the end of the day, an investigation carried out by prosecutor Monkiewicz belongs to the bibliography of the issue, and Gross should follow the lead, and then, after thoroughly checking his information accept or disregard Monkiewicz’s investigation, but not to dismiss it off hand.
And Monkiewicz’s findings are supported to a certain extend by the Polish historian Marek Chodakiewicz:
"The claims by Gross that on July 10 the SS-Einsatzgruppen were near Minsk, in Belorussia, notwithstanding, the presence of at least of a part of those units in the Bialystok area as late as the beginning of August 1941 is confirmed by the Gestapo functionary Waldemar Macholla, by the war diary of the 322 police battalion, by a study of the annihilation of the Jewish population in Choroszcz, a town not far from Jedwabne, and by the investigation of the Nazi crimes in the Bialystok area conducted in the 1960s in the then West Germany. (Szymon Datner, "German occupation security forces in Bialystok Region (1941-1944 in the German documentary material (Waldemar Macholla)", "Biuletyn Glownej Komisji Badania Zbrodni Hitlerowskich w Polsce [afterward BGKBZHwP], no. 15 (1965): 11; Kazimierz Leszczynski, "War diary of the Police Battalion 322" BGKBZHwP, no. 17 (1967): 216,218,222)
For a proper understanding of the entire case of Jedwabne it is not insignificant whether the murder has been committed spontaneously by the town's inhabitants with the permission of local gendarmes, or if it was done by a bunch of scumbags who were stirred up by Germans who had sent to Jedwabne a police battalion in order to "cleanse" the town of Jews.
Gross chose the first, without properly exploring the second.
So, prosecutor Monkiewicz clearly states that in the massacre were involved specially assembled troops from police battalions 309, 316, and that they were called Kommando Bialystok.
Yet, Gross is clinging to the notion that Einsatzgruppe B was at the time of the massacre somewhere near Minsk.
We know that Einsatzgruppe B was assembled from Einsatzkommando 8 (aka Sonderkommando 8), Einsatzkommando 9, Sonderkommando 7a, Sonderkommando 7b and Sonderkommando 7c (aka Vorkommando Moskau). Could it be just possible that one of the Sonderkommandos or Einsatzkommandos was present in Jedwabne? Just one of the possibilities.
But isn’t it possible that the Kommando Bialystok wasn’t part of Einsatzgruppe B at all, but was a separate battalion operating at the rear of Einsatzgruppe, and independently of it, as some kind of "mop up squad"? Simply finishing off people that Einsatzgruppe missed?
The Bialystok General District constituted an independent administrative district within the German regime in occupied Poland, so wouldn’t it be advisable to search for any documentation of the German activities there, not only the Einsatzgruppe B reports?
It seems that in Gross’s opinion, the only German military or paramilitary unit operating in the area was Einsatzgruppe B. But according to historical sources the Einsatzgruppe numbered only between 600 - 1000 men, and all four units numbered approximately only 3000 men. Einsatzgruppen were dispatched with the advancing army groups. So, what’s left behind? Nothing? No troops at all? Maybe this massacre was committed by some other unit, not necessary the Einsatzgruppe B.
There are far more questions that should be answered and untied ends in "Neighbours". Gross’s methodology leaves much to be desired.
In his book "Neighbours", Gross proposes a new methodology: "As far as the craft of the historian who deals with 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."
New scholarly standards? It truly shows in his latest book. Are the Holocaust "near victims" different than any other "near victims"? Thank God, Courts of Law don’t operate according to this principle.
Hopefully current investigation by IPN, headed by prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew, will shed a little more light on the events in Jedwabne. I think Gross would be showing a much wiser and more prudent attitude if he were to wait with publishing his book until this current investigation finishes.
To end this work, and to show that the same accusations were already aimed at the Poles and Poland, I will quote Adam Dobronski, a history professor at the University of Bialystok:
"...I’m not very familiar with the Jedwabne case, but I know very well what happened in Tykocin, that till now was considered in the Bialystok region to be the most drastic case of Polish participation in the extermination of the Jews.
From the testimonies of the Jewish witnesses, it was assumed that it was the Poles who organised pogrom: armed with sticks (such as pieces of wood, canes) they dragged the Jews from their hiding places and chased them to Lopuchowo.
But after further research of the sources, the extent of the Polish involvement had been largely minimised, and now it is said that yes, some number of Poles participated in this, but only because the Germans rounded them up (lapanka). Some were summoned by their names; some were picked up off the streets and in that way forced to obey the orders. In any case, it wasn’t their initiative, or they weren’t the first culprits of the crime. (Main culprits of the crime). Under duress, they committed those shameful acts."
Maybe the same situation that was in the Tykocin case can be seen in regard to the Jedwabne case?
A translation by Joanna Zimmerman of this part of the interview with Prof. Dobronski from Rzeczpospolita is available from the
Let’s compare the most important parts of it:
First: "...In Jedwabne I encountered a common fear. A fear of how the world would react once word comes out that the Poles helped the Germans murder Jews. Unfortunately, I am... "
The way these two sentences are presented on the Yizkor Book Project page would imply that this is a statement made by Prof. Dobronski, when in fact it is a question-statement made to Mr. Dobronski by the interviewer Kaczynski.
Manipulation done in the aim of making an impression on the reader, to persuade them to believe that this is a statement made by the learned professor, when in fact it is a statement made by some reporter.The professor’s answer in the Polish original starts from the words "Unfortunately, I am..." See the Polish original in "Rzeczpospolita" 05.05.00 Nr 104 Publicystyka.
I would classify the interviewer Kaczynski as hostile and manipulative, but Prof. Dobronski is not allowing him to do that. But, the Polish speaking readers can judge this for themselves. And the translator from "Yedwabne: History and Memorial Book" is doing her best to use Kaczynski’s attitude to the maximum.
Second: "Armed Poles pulled Jews...". Armed with what? Machine-guns, rifles, some other firearms? No. In the original, it is clearly said that the Poles were armed with the sticks. (In Polish kije) Suggestive manipulation again.
Third: The very important sentence "From the testimonies of the Jewish witnesses, it was assumed that it was the Poles who organised pogrom..." is also missing from Ms. Zimmerman translation. In Polish: "Z relacji zydowskich wynikalo, ze to wlasciwie Polacy zorganizowali pogrom..." Probably because it would be a bit inconvenient in the Jedwabne scenario, where witnesses are also accusing the Poles.
Fourth: After the sentence "Armed Poles pulled Jews out of their hiding places and caused them to lop uchowa." is the half of a very important sentence in the Polish original, which is missing from the translation. In Polish this sentence is: "Ale po szerszej penetracji zródel, rozmiar polskiego udzialu zostal wyraznie pomniejszony..." This should be translated as: "But after further research of the sources, the extent of the Polish involvement had been largely minimised..." but Ms. Zimmerman translates it only as: "But later on, the extent of the Polish involvement had been minimized...". It is important to show that the Polish involvement was minimised because of the research that had been done, and "largely" minimised. She is clearly attempting to make a false impression on the reader.
The third and fourth omissions were attempts to hide the fact that "the testimonies of the Jewish witnesses..." were negated by the "further research of the sources".
Also, here is what prof. Kola had to say on the subject:
"It is very regrettable that the Jewish side doesn't agree to the exhumation. In one-week time, we would be able to verify what the people are saying and what the author of "Neighbours" has written.
This could serve as a good lesson for the future. Many times I've found that the verbal testimonies of the witnesses have to be treated as not very reliable historical sources". (As reported by "Nowosci - Gazeta Pomorza i Kujaw" 19.03.2001)
Now, to conclude this article.
From "Different versions of crime" MJO " Kurier Poranny" 18.02.2001:
"At the end of the meeting, I asked Professor Gross, would he be writing more about Jedwabne. - This is not my interest any longer, now it is a matter for historians - he rebuffed."
So, the learned professor of sociology, portrayed and also portraying himself as historian, Mr. Gross fulfilled his role as propagandist, and after writing his book of half-truths, manipulations and lies, he is not interested in uncovering the whole truth.
He left the mess to be cleaned up by us, the Poles. Just another "chutzpah".
Collated and based on the various sources.