One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half - 1,600 men, women, and children - all but seven of the town's Jews. Neighbours tells their story. Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. The unfolding of his investigation yields wider truths about the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne's Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne's surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it. Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne's Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbours tells us why.
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(198mm x 129mm x 19mm)
Arrow Books Ltd
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UK Kirkus Review »
During the Second World War, Poland's total population was reduced by almost 20 per cent - a significant proportion of those who died being Jewish. In the small Polish town of Jedwabne, not far from the present border with Belarus, a memorial states that 1,600 Jews were killed there by the Nazis in 1941, though the exact number is disputed. After careful research, Gross has concluded that it was really the Poles living in the same neighbourhood who carried out the massacre. Only a handful of Jews survived. Even for the time, the cruelty was shocking. After being rounded up, humiliated and tortured, those left alive - men, women and children - were burned to death in a barn. Gross asks how half the inhabitants of the town could turn so brutally against the other half. He explains the background to the massacre - a Soviet invasion preceded that of the Germans - in order to assess the likely effect on both the Polish and the Jewish communities. Although details of the violence are given, the study concentrates on the psychological and sociological implications of the event, and the wider issue of anti-Semitism within Poland during that period. Gross rules out the possibility of a minority of thugs being held responsible for the Jedwabne atrocity. He discovered that the town mayor and certain officials of the time were deeply implicated, while the Gestapo's role was less active than once believed. Authentic evidence was hard to find, especially with so few survivors left to tell their story, but the book includes verbatim eyewitness accounts and statements from the 1949 Lomza district trial. Naturally enough, when this reappraisal was first published in Poland in the year 2000, some found it an unacceptable slur on their nation's past. But Gross is more concerned with uncovering the truth than with protecting reputations and quotes Abraham Lincoln - 'we cannot escape history'. In this important book, Gross has shed new light on our understanding of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. (Kirkus UK)
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Author Biography - Jan T. Gross
Jan T. Gross is Professor of Politics and European Studies at New York University.