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Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

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Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland is a 2001 book by Princeton University historian Jan T. Gross exploring the July 1941 Jedwabne massacre committed against Polish Jews in a village in Nazi-occupied Poland by their long-time neighbors.


At the time of the book's publication, the horrors of the Nazi program of extermination of the Jews were well known. The fact that ordinary Poles in Jedwabne following Soviet–German invasion took it upon themselves to massacre their Jewish neighbors in the presence of German gendarmes,[1] was less known. The book has generated much controversy and vigorous debate in Poland and abroad,[2] and led to more forensic studies and discussions with regards to Polish-Jewish relations.

In the book Gross described how the massacre was perpetrated by non-Jewish civilians and not by the German invaders, as previously assumed. A subsequent investigation conducted by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) largely supported Gross's conclusions.[3] The IPN investigation concluded that "residents of Jedwabne and its environs, of Polish nationality, committed these acts," although Gross's estimate of 1,600 victims "seems highly unlikely."[4] The IPN found evidence only for a range of 250[1] to 340,[5] while other Polish estimates suggested from 600[6] to close to 1,000.[7]

Reception in the United States

Neighbors was a 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a 2001 National Book Award Finalist.[8][9] The publication of Neighbors was credited with launching a debate about the Polish role in the Holocaust.[10][11] Bernard Wasserstein described the book as having “played a productive role in refreshing Polish collective memory of this aspect of World War 2.”[12]

Reception in Poland

As noted by Joshua D. Zimmerman Neighbors inspired a wide-ranging debate in Poland on its release in 2000 and that, while there was a consensus in the mainstream Polish press regarding the basic accuracy of Gross's findings, specific details and questions about Gross's methodology were debated by Polish scholars.[13] According to Jaroslaw Anders, although the book has been met with criticism in Poland, it has also generated acknowledgment from leading Polish figures such as Józef Cardinal Glemp who described it as “incontestable” and from Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski who asked Poles to “seek forgiveness for what our compatriots have done.”[14] Polish News Service is said to have reported that other Polish nationalist publications such as Nasz Dziennik, Głos, Mysl Polska, and Niedziela accused it of being a "part of international campaign aimed at damaging the image of Poland and preparing ground for restitution of Jewish property."[15] Piotr Gontarczyk of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance was one of the first Polish historians to publicize the fact that the often contradictory testimonies on which the book was based were extracted from Polish witnesses in pre-trial beatings conducted by the Security Office (UB) in 1949.[16] According to Gontarczyk Gross's narrative was uncritical in that regard. Plus, additional accounts used by Gross came from recollections of Jewish emigrants from postwar Poland (pg. 18) which since have been proven also to be factually inaccurate. Gontarczyk noted that Gross fails to inform the reader about Polish-Jewish relations in the Soviet-occupied Eastern Borderlands and the Jewish participation in the communist terror apparatus in Jedwabne preceding the German attack on the Soviet Union controlling the area since 1939. Gontarczyk writes that in Neighbours Gross "constructs a historical narrative on the basis of stereotypes, prejudices and common gossip... which have no scholarly basis whatsoever." Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz wrote. "One cannot claim that for 50 years nothing has been written about the crime committed in the town of Jedwabne in Podlasie. There have been a number of articles in the press and references made in books on the Holocaust about the incident. Records utilized by Gross and made public only after the publication of his book reveal that the excessive use of physical torture during interrogation resulted in many persons admitting to made-up crimes, later renounced by them before the courts. Half of the accused retracted their earlier statements given during prolonged beatings by the Security Service. Ten of them were pronounced innocent and released by the judge. Out of 22 men tortured, half were wrongfully accused by a single Jewish individual.[17] After analyzing documents Strzembosz concludes.

Jan Tomasz Gross left out several dozen testimonies of various persons - witnesses, defendants, etc., who talked about the role of Germans as the causative agents; he only quoted the testimonies which mentioned the participation of Poles. He relied, among others, on an initial testimony of cook Julia Sokolowska, which was later withdrawn, and the material written by Karol Bardon, a German gendarme who, being sentenced to death, tried to dilute his responsibility by blaming the inhabitants of the town. Professor Gross has never explained the reasons for such selection. He has never explained why he accepts some documents and rejects other ones.[18]

Father Stanisław Musiał, who had been a leading figure in advocating a Catholic-Jewish dialogue and Polish-Jewish reconciliation, wrote that Gross' book had shattered the myth that Poles were solely victims who "themselves never wronged anyone."[19] Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, a former deputy editor-in-chief of the Polish Catholic magazine Znak and Polish consul-general, wrote

I am convinced that Neighbors is a book which had to be written and which is needed. Facing up to the painful truth of Jedwabne is, in my conviction, the most serious test that we Poles have had to confront in the last decade.[20]

According to Joanna B. Michlic, "Gross and his supporters referred to the Polish version of the notion of Judeo-communism (see żydokomuna) as an antisemitic cliché, whereas Gross’s opponents, to varying degrees, treated it as an actual historical fact. In the latter group, Judeo-communism served the purpose of rationalizing and explaining the participation of ethnic Poles in killing their Jewish neighbors and, thus, in minimizing the criminal nature of the murder."[21]

Gross responded by defending the veracity of the conclusions he drew from his use of testimonials, and insisted that he differentiated between types of testimony, and pointed out that Neighbors contained "an extensive justification why depositions produced during a trial conducted in Stalinist Poland, extracted by abusive secret police interrogators, are credible in this case."[22][23]

Further reading

  • Antony Polonsky and Joanna Michlic (eds) The Neighbors Respond (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004)
  • Marek Chodakiewicz, The Massacre in Jedwabne July 10, 1941. Before, During and After (Boulder CO: East European Monographs, 2005)


  1. 1.0 1.1 (Polish) The 90th session of the Senate of the Republic of Poland. Stenograph, part 2.2. Report by Leon Kieres, president of the Institute of National Remembrance for the period from July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001. Donald Tusk presiding.
  2. Norman Davies describes "Neighbors" as "deeply unfair to Poles". Source: Davies: "Strach" to nie analiza, lecz publicystyka, Gazeta Wyborcza, January 21, 2008 (Polish)
  3. Craig Whitlock, A Scholar's Legal Peril in Poland, Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, January 18, 2008; Page A14
  4. Findings of Investigation S 1/00/Zn into the Murder of Polish Citizens of Jewish Origin in the Town of Jedwabne on 10 July 1941, pursuant to Article 1 Point 1 of the Decree of 31 August 1944. In: Antony Polonsky & Joanna B. Michlic, eds. The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland. Princeton University Press, 2003.
  5. Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa IPN, June 30, 2003 (Polish)
  6. Dariusz Stola, ‘A Monument of Words’, Yad Vashem Studies, 2003. In Michlic "Letter to the Editor."
  7. Joanna B. Michlic and Antony Polonsky. Letter to the Editor. History. January 2008, Vol. 93 Issue 309.
  8. National Book Critics Circle. All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists.
  9. The National Book Foundation. The National Book Awards Winners & Finalists, Since 1950
  10. Padraic Kenney, "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland." in The American Historical Review. Washington: Jun 2002. Vol. 107, Iss. 3.[verification needed]
  11. John Connelly, "Poles and Jews in the Second World War: the Revisions of Jan T. Gross." Contemporary European History. Cambridge: Nov 2002. Vol. 11, Issue 4.[verification needed]
  12. Bernard Wasserstein, "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland." The English Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 469, 1303-1304.[verification needed]
  13. Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  14. Jaroslaw Anders, "The Murder of Memory." The New Republic. April 9, 2001.[verification needed]
  15. "Jedwabne Questions about the Past and the Future." Polish News Bulletin, July 26, 2001.[verification needed]
  16. PBU Report, 6 and 20 March 2001. Credibility of Witnesses in 1941 Pogrom Book Questioned. Accessed 2008-05-10.
  17. Tomasz Strzembosz, “Inny obraz sąsiadów”, Rzeczpospolita, archived by Internet Wayback Machine
  18. Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz, Ultimate debunking of Gross. Polish original published in Rzeczpospolita (newspaper), 31 March 2001.
  19. Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  20. Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  21. Joanna Michlic. The Soviet Occupation of Poland, 1939–41, and the Stereotype of the Anti-Polish and Pro-Soviet Jew. Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, and Society. Spring/Summer 2007, Vol. 13, No. 3:135-176.[verification needed]
  22. Jan Tomasz Gross, “Podtrzymuję swoje tezy,” Gazeta Wyborcza, April 3, 2001, 16-17.
  23. Jan T. Gross. A Response. Slavic Review. Vol. 61, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002):483-489.

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