A historian Leszek Zebrowski about Gross's "Neighbors"

polish version
translated by: Mariusz Wesolowski

A historian Leszek Zebrowski about Gross's "Neighbors" and the resulting discussion. The original title of the interview, "Jedwabnym szlakiem klamstw", is a pun on the name of Jedwabne which also means in Polish"made of silk", hence my "Silk Road". The heading of the post paraphrases the title of Brumberg's propaganda piece in the TLS, and has been invented by one of my correspondents.

Mariusz Wesolowski
[email protected]
Sat, 31 Mar 2001 23:27:19 -0800


A conversation with a historian Leszek Zebrowski (excerpts) and Waldemar Moszkowski: The discussion about the events at Jedwabne has been going on for several months. What conclusions can draw from it the average newspapers reader?

Leszek Zebrowski: It is a multilayered discussion which takes place on different levels: historical, political, theological, ethical, even financial. The presence of real historical analysis in it is minimal. The majority of writers simply accepted Prof. Gross's book "Neighbors" as the revealed truth. Anyone who tries to check, compare or criticise it automatically places himself in the lost position. During various public meetings, Prof. Gross ignores everything that doesn't fit into his principal thesis that the Poles (as a national group) have been co-perpetrators of the Holocaust. His followers, such as Jerzy Slawomir Mac from the weekly "Wprost", go even further. Unfortunately, the discussion has been joined by politicians who rely mostly on similar articles in the press. And although the investigation hasn't been concluded yet, the case already seems closed. Foreign publications present an even worse picture (although I have to admit that some of them talk about the ongoing harassment of the inhabitants of Jedwabne, or even quote opinions of Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz, thus doing much more than the majority of Polish publicists; but there are also common calumnies, for example, Abraham Brumberg's article in the TLS, which was too much even to Jan Nowak-Jezioranski). [...]
For the last few months, Gross's book has been very aggressively advertised. The prestigious Princeton University Press (followed by various Internet booksellers) has published the following blurb: "One day in the summer of 1941 one half of the inhabitants of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half. 1,600 men, women and children - all, except seven, Jews in the town." Gross also repeats this statement several times in the English-language introduction to "Neighbors" [...].
This is an obvious untruth! Did one statistical Pole murder there one statistical Jew? It doesn't matter that in Jedwabne lived a little over 2,000 people, of which the Jews constituted about 40 percent (although Gross states, without revealing his source, that "sixty some percent were Jews"). [Zebrowski's point is that the total population of Jedwabne would have to number about 3,200 people for the above statement to be true. MW] We must also remember that some of the Jews run away with the Soviets in June 1941, some were later on killed in the Lomza ghetto, and yet others were murdered by the Germans in various executions in the area. [...] September 1940, in the "Jedwabne oblast'" (it was an administrative region introduced by the Soviets, which consisted of 161 settlements including the towns of Jedwabne, Radzilow and Wizna) there lived about 1,400 Jews. If we add up the figures appearing in various Jewish testimonies (and Gross wants us to accept them "in an affirmative way", that is, at face value), the total number of murdered Jews will be several times bigger than the entire Jewish population of that area before the German-Soviet war. [...]

Waldemar Moszkowski: Could one expect such a slanted "discussion"?

LZ: Of course, because this discussion has been going on for a very long time. It is enough to consult the excellent monograph by Tadeusz Radzik, called "Polish-Jewish Relations in the United States of America in the years 1918-1921" (Lublin 1988) [in Polish]. Its author presents, on the basis of sound and well-researched sources, the full extent of the anti-Polish hysteria at the moment when Poland was regaining her independence. Newspapers published drastic photographs of Jewish pogroms [in Poland], which later on turned out to be taken [many years before] in Tsarist Russia! The Poles were even blamed for the pogrom in Kishyniev which had taken place in 1903. This method has been used again in more recent times. [...] Prof. Krystyna Kersten's article about the Kielce "pogrom", published in "Polityka" (June 8, 1996) and entitled "The Polish hand", was adorned with a picture taken in Kovno in late June of 1941. It is hard to blame it on accident, because the photograph was clearly doctored. From the original (published... in "The Century of Ambivalence. The Jews of Russia and the Soviet Union 1881 to the Present" and in "The Pictorial History of the Holocaust") someone had cut out the fragment with a Gestapo agent in the forefront! Even then in the background there were still visible the figures of uniformed Germans. We may also recall the discussion started by "Gazeta Wyborcza" in 1994, just before the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. According to Michal Cichy and his "findings" presented there, the Warsaw insurgents murdered "plenty" of Jews. We also learned about some Jewish historians' belief that the Poles in the uprising had killed "more Jews than Germans". German losses numbered about 10,000 killed and 6,000 missing in action. So did the Poles murder 16,000 Jews? Obviously, in some circles the end justifies the means: falsified quotes, telling omissions, strained arguments. It all came to light, and then "Gazeta Wyborcza" suddenly closed the "discussion". [...]

LZ (cont.): What is happening now in connection with Gross's book can be described by a single word: hysteria. [...] Gross just cannot be criticised! And this book contains numerous errors and even obvious lies. For example, its author quotes sources (with page references, etc.) which do not contain this specific information, or which state something completely different. Also, by omitting important fragments, he manipulates their meaning, etc.

WM: Can you give us some examples?

LZ: Certainly. For example, Gross refers to the unpublished typescript of Tadeusz Fraczek's doctoral thesis about the postwar underground movement in the Bialystok region, and indicates the pages containing descriptions of "executions of Jews, communists and other people". Some of these pages do not contain anything like that at all, while other descriptions are taken from the Security Office reports, so they require an independent confirmation. Gross also quotes a 1962 deposition of Aleksander Wyrzykowski (who, together with his wife, hid some Jews from Jedwabne) [...] but he omits the following most important fragment: "At that time we lived in Janczewko, in the Lomza district. In the nearby town of Jedwabne the Germans, with the help of some Poles, burned alive in 1942 [sic] 1,600 Jews." [...] Gross ignored this because of Wyrzykowski's unequivocal statement regarding the fundamental role of Germans. It is also not true that the Wyrzykowskis were hiding seven Jews, there were nine of them. One man, old and seriously ill, died in hiding [and] a baby was also born. Wyrzykowski wrote: "It was healthy and able to survive. Alas, an infant could betray the hiding place.This group of unfortunates decided to liquidate the child". Another example - Gross quotes a fragment of Dr. Zygmunt Klukowski's diary (referring to the German occupation in the Zamosc region): "The peasants, afraid of repressions, catch the Jews in villages and bring them to the town, or sometimes just kill them on the spot". However, he does not mention the reasons, also described by Klukowski: " the area there take place constant roundups, raids, executions, etc. Armed attacks are so frequent that it is impossible to even keep track of them. ...Among the "bandits" are numerous Jews."If we read the sentence quoted by Gross together with this (preceding it) fragment, the whole quote assumes a completely different meaning. The errors and lies of Gross can be listed almost infinitely. Using such "research methods", one can prove literally anything, even that the earth is flat.

[The next question refers to the denial - by Gross and Anna Bikont - of the substantial Jewish collaboration with the Soviets in general and the NKVD in particular; WM wants to know if there exist any primary sources indicating the existence of such collaboration in Jedwabne.]

LZ: Of course they exist! What's more, Gross should be familiar with them [...] After all, he is reputed to be an expert on the questionnaires collected [...] still during the war and the regional monographs prepared later on in the Study Centre in London under Prof. Wiktor Sukiennicki. In his book Gross ignores them carefully. [...] Also, such testimonies are very common, they relate not only to Jedwabne but to the entire Borderlands under the Soviet occupation. What's more, there are relations of Jews who describe their collaboration with the Soviets in detail, some are even proud of it.

WM: Is that possible? How can anybody boast about that?

LZ: Of course it is possible. The notorious Yaffa Eliach, describing the situation in Ejszyszki, writes: "In Eishyshok the local communists prepared a list of persons for deportation." She also gives the names of these communists: "Luba Ginunska was the local party chief, and her most active helpers included Chaim Szuster, his girlfriend Maitke Bielicka, Rywka Bojarska di Bulbichke (Potato), who was the Komsomol leader, Welwka Katz and Pessah Cofnas". A similar story emerges from the memoir of Mendel Mielnicki from Wasilkow near Bialystok: "I don't exactly know how my father got in touch with the NKVD.[...] I understood that he served as an advisor to point out the Poles to be deported to Siberia or to be taken care of in some other way. (...) "We have to get rid of fascists," he said to my mother. "They deserve to go to Siberia. They are not good to the Jewish people."Yitzhak Arad, a Jewish historian from the Yad Vashem Institute, described in his memoirs the situation in Swieciany in the Wilno district: "During the night of June 14 the whole town was taken by surprise by the members of the NKVD and militia who had arrested hundreds of people and put them in prison. The majority of prisoners were the former Polish officials, landowners, army officers... On the very same night similar actions had been conducted everywhere in Lithuania; almost 30,000 people, often including entire families, were arrested and deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. ...Jews played a rather important role in the apparatus of the Communist Party which was behind this operation." Gross states vaguely that in Jedwabne the situation in the 1939-41 period must have been similar to what was happening elsewhere at that time. [...] We must remember, too, that there were only a few NKVD agents there. But they were helped by several scores of local [Jewish] "militiamen" wearing red armbands and carrying carbines. We know the names of some of them.They were visible every day. They took part in herding the locals to various "meetings" and "votings", and also in roundups, arrests, house searches and deportations.

WM: [...] the Poles have several thousand trees in the Yad Vashem, Does this fact reflect the true scale of the Polish help given to Jews?

LZ: [...] These 5,000-some people are only a tip of the iceberg, but one doesn't hear about that in Poland. However, there are historians who, on the basis of solid (unlike Gross's) research, hold that the real extent of the help to Jews in Poland was completely different. It is worthwhile to quote the findings of Gunnar S. Paulsson, which are not being popularized in Poland: "Among the nations who risked their own lives to save the Jews, the Poles have an absolute precedence. (...) The fate of 27,000 Jews hiding in Warsaw depended on 50-60,000 people who gave them shelter, and on 20-30,000 people helping in different ways; on the other hand, the "szmalcowniki", police informers and anti-Semites numbered 2-3,000 people. They claimed two or three [Jewish] victims per month."
The same historian goes on to ask: "How many Poles were involved in saving the Jews? Of those who fit the Yad Vashem criteria, maybe one hundred thousand. Of those who gave the less vital help, two or three times as many. The ones inclined to offer passive help constituted the majority of the population." Let's not forget that Paulsson analysed only the situation in Warsaw and its environs! His conclusions are completely contradictory to those of Gross and the journalists repeating his statements [...]. Paulsson also undertook a very interesting comparison between Warsaw and Holland [...] which is considered by the Holocaust historians as [...] the country most helpful to the Jews: "For comparison purposes we may analyse the case of Holland. 20-25,000 Jews were hiding in that country, especially in Amsterdam, out of whom 10-15,000 survived the war. The general percentage of survivors in Holland was then 40-60 percent, while in Warsaw it was 55-75 percent..." [...] These facts must be compared with the idiocies written by Stanislaw Janecki and Jerzy Slawomir Mac in the post-communist "Wprost" of 25 March 2001: "If the Poles helped the Jews to the same extent as they conspired against the Germans, the associated with it risk would be minimized. Mutual denunciations would stop, and the Gestapo would be helpless. The good example here is Holland, where a Jew was hidden in almost every home." Since the population of Holland at that time numbered about 8 million, how many Jews would have to hide there, and where would they come from? [...]

WM: Recently we hear more and more often about the collective responsibility of the Poles (Gross wrote that the Jews in Jedwabne "were murdered by the society"). Is this point of view valid?

LZ: I don't agree with the concepts of collective guilt and collective punishment. These are criteria used by totalitarian states! It is absurd to accuse even all the inhabitants of Jedwabne (because, contrary to Gross's opinion, only individuals took part in those events), not to mention the whole nation, and equally absurd is to apologize in the name of everybody. Anyway, this kind of thinking is done on a strictly ethnic platform: any time now the Russians will demand from us an apology for Dzerzhynsky, the Germans for von dem Bach-Zelewski. There are even people who want to make a Pole out of Stalin... Should we also apologize to ourselves for Bierut, Radkiewicz and Jaruzelski? Furthermore - the apologies have been already made. President Walesa apologized in the Knesset, the Church apologized for Kielce. Asking for more and more apologies will only lead to the general loss of meaning of such acts. It is worthwhile to quote an opinion of Gerald Reitlinger from his book "The SS: Alibi of a Nation, 1922-1945, about Reinhard Heydrich (the chief architect of the Endloesung) and his helpers: "Since Heydrich, to whom was attributed a Jewish pedigree, had to take this guilt on himself, he decided to turn Jews into their own executioners. Hitler [...] knew about Heydrich's hatred toward his Jewish origin. Heydrich, in his turn, knew other (Jews) who shared with him this pathological self-loathing. He was finding them, thanks to his infallible instinct, those Globocniks, Eichmans, Knochens, Dannekers and Brunners, those pseudo-Aryans connected with the SS and the SD." Thinking in ethnic categories may therefore lead "ad absurdum". In any case, it is interesting that these numerous publicists who have been for so many years fighting againstthe concept of "nation", considering it outdated and unfashionable, here do not show such reservations, freely putting the blame on the entire Polish Nation.[...] [...] Let's remember: the investigation is not finished, the documents of this case (but what documents and when?) are supposed to be published soon, nevertheless, the verdict has been already delivered. Gross published a list of murderers, the President apologizes, other officials are under the pressure to do the same, we have been "collectively found guilty"...

[...] (end)

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