Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz

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Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz

Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation, is a book by Jan T. Gross, published by Random House and Princeton University Press in 2006. An edited Polish version was published in 2008 by Znak Publishers in Krakow as Strach: antysemityzm w Polsce tuż po wojnie: historia moralnej zapaści ("Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland shortly after the war: the history of a moral fall"). In the book, Gross explores the issues concerning incidents of post-war anti-Jewish violence in Poland, with particular focus on the 1946 Kielce pogrom. Fear has received international attention and reviews in major newspapers; it has also been the subject of criticism.


Gross begins the English version of Fear with a chapter summarizing the devastation of Poland during World War II, including the physical destruction of Poland's Jews; the initial partition of the country between Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler; the subsequent Nazi crimes; the Katyn massacre of Polish army officers by the Soviets; the Warsaw uprising of 1944; the Soviet decision to postpone their advance until the German army had defeated the Polish Armia Krajowa, which resulted in the total destruction of Warsaw and the abandonment of Poland by Britain and America at the Yalta Conference, knowingly consigning it to Soviet communist domination.

Gross estimates that approximately 250,000 Polish Jews returned home at the end of the war. In his chapter "The Unwelcoming of Jewish Survivors," Gross describes how returning Polish Jews were subjected to a wave of violence and hostility, with up to 1500 murdered either individually or in pogroms.[1] Often they would find their property occupied by non-Jewish Poles or taken over by the communist government, which nationalized much of the Polish economy. According to Gross, the expropriation of Jewish property continued a trend that occurred throughout the war years, with non-Jewish Poles acquiring the property of Polish Jews who were sent off to extermination camps, and in some instances, carrying out the killings themselves. Gross describes how the looting of property extended to digging through the ashes of Treblinka for gold fillings.[1] He discusses the alienation, hostile atmosphere, and violence experienced by some Jews and the inability of Polish elites to prevent it.[2] Gross makes additional claims about the Kielce pogrom, arguing that the crime was initiated not by a mob, but by the police, and that it involved people from every walk of life except the highest level of government officials in the city.[3]

According to a Piast Institute online summary,[2] Gross concludes by writing that some Poles, especially in rural areas, participated in the Nazi wartime effort to annihilate and despoil the Jews, which was the cause of postwar anti-Semitism in Poland. The fear of punishment for their own crimes, according to Gross, was what drove them to continue attacking Jews after the war.[4][5] Historian David Engel describes the following quote as a "summation of [Gross'] basic thesis:"

We must seek the reasons for the novel, virulent quality of postwar anti-Semitism in Poland not in collective hallucinations nor in prewar attitudes, but in actual experiences acquired during the war years.... Living Jews embodied the massive failure of character and reason on the part of their Polish neighbors and constituted by mere presence both a reminder and a threat that they might need to account for themselves.[6]

The Polish version of Fear differed from its English original because Gross assumed that his Polish readers were familiar with the tragic history of wartime Poland. The first chapter of the English version was replaced by a chapter documenting Polish awareness of the genocide of the Jews. Fear includes several photographs taken by Julia Pirotte.


United States[edit]

Fear received praise in reviews in a number of popular American magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe.[7]

David Margolick writing in New York Times Book Review, took issue with Gross' thesis that the murders of Jews in post-war Poland was inspired by feelings of guilt on the part of Poles, positing instead that perhaps "through their own state-of-the-art anti-Semitism, the Germans emboldened many Poles to act upon what they had always felt," taking as credible "Nazi accounts of Judenjagd, or 'Jew hunts,' [which] detailed how Poles pitched in to find any stray Jews the Germans somehow managed to miss."[1]

Elie Wiesel, reviewing the book in The Washington Post, rejected the notion of collective guilt for all of Poland but noted that Gross' book impels Poland to confront its past.[8] In response to Wiesel's review, Polish-Jewish journalist Adam Michnik wrote in a leading Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza (of which he is editor-in-chief), that "Wiesel's review conveys the image of a country unable to confront the plague of anti-Semitism... Anyone who writes about anti-Semitism in Poland and ignores those facts, falsifies — even if unintentionally — the truth about Poland."[9] The Washington Post printed a letter to the editor by Janusz Reiter, the Polish ambassador to the United States, who cited Michnik.[9]

Thane Rosenbaum, reviewing Fear for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that the book "should inspire a national reflection on why there are scarcely any Jews left in Poland.[10]

Deborah E. Lipstadt wrote in Publishers Weekly that Gross "builds a meticulous case."[11]

David Engel wrote that, unlike Gross' earlier work Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, in which Gross posited a continuity in the actions of a community of people over generations, in Fear "Gross himself appears to have bracketed off the Nazi era from the longer course of Polish history and by doing so to have altered the terms for reflecting on transgenerational Polish responsibility for past deeds that he set forth in his earlier work." Engel wrote that Gross now sees World War II as a radical break in the history of Polish behavior towards Jews.[6]

The Piast Institute, a Polish-American think tank, published a broader analysis of Fear and its reception. While the institute was critical of the book itself,[12] it also criticized some of the reviews in popular press: "reviewers in major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times, none of whom has any expertise in Polish or East Central European history, have reacted to the book with uncritical acclaim and considerable anti-Polish rhetoric. As such, it is clear already that Fear will have a serious and negative effect on Polish-Jewish relations."[13]


In Poland Fear caused controversy and what the German magazine Der Spiegel described as a "right wing backlash;" with the book coming under strong criticism by Polish nationalists, the country's conservative establishment as well as some historians.

The book elicited responses from the modern Polish Jewish community. Polish rabbi Burt Schuman, quoted in Der Spiegel, said he welcomed the debate Fear had begun, but described the book as unfairly depicting the country as anti-Semitic thus "harming our goal of reconciliation."[14][15][16] Marek Edelman, a Jewish leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis, responded to the book by stating that postwar violence against Jews was "not about anti-Semitism... Murdering Jews was pure banditry, and I wouldn't explain it as anti-Semitism... It was contempt for man, for human life, plain meanness. A bandit doesn't attack someone who is stronger, like military troops, but where he sees weakness." [17]

Anita J. Prazmowska, Professor in International History at the London School for Economics, has described the debate over Gross' book in Poland as "driven by historians with a nationalist agenda that they have pursued since the end of Communism," an agenda in which Jews are portrayed as antagonistic to the existence and interests of the Polish nation and in which their claims to a Polish identity are negated in order to portray communism as an alien creed.[18]

In a letter to the Polish publishers of Fear, Znak, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, secretary to Pope John Paul II, said Gross' book "awakened the demon" of antisemitism. A Znak spokesperson responded to the complaint by asserting that the issues should be talked about. Znak spokesman Tomasz Miedzik told Der Spiegel "We have the freedom to ask difficult questions about our history and we should do that."[14][15]

In a televised discussion with Gross, historian Andrzej Paczkowski expressed his discomfort about the speed with which Gross makes generalizations. "Memory and history are two different things," Paczkowski said. "Memory is black and white while history is about shades of gray."[19]

Fear has been criticized by historians such as Paweł Machcewicz,[16] Piotr Gontarczyk,[4] Thaddeus Radzilowski,[20] Janusz Kurtyka,[21] Dariusz Stola,[22] and Marek Jan Chodakiewicz.[16][23] Gross has been accused of using imperfect methodology,[4][23] making generalizations,[22][23] stereotyping,[23] ignoring works which did not confirm his views,[4] neglecting the wider context of the events in that Jews were not a unique subject of persecution and banditry which occurred throughout postwar Europe,[16] misinterpreting or distorting data,[4][22] relying mostly on Jewish sources,[4] using inflammatory and emotional language,[4][16][20] and drawing unsubstantiated conclusions.[4][16][20][22][23] The book quotes alleged Józef Kuraś' diary, fabricated by Communist activist and journalist Władysław Machejek.[24]

Janusz Kurtyka, the president of the Institute of National Remembrance, in an interview with journalist Konrad Piasecki [pl], stated that Fear has serious methodological errors and omissions and that it makes emotive use of political epithets, and therefore will not be accepted — even conditionally — in the historical community.[21]

Marcin Zaremba [pl], a historian at Warsaw University, described Fear as an important publication. Zaremba told Network Europe radio that he "agree[d] with [Gross'] argument that Poles had their share in the Holocaust," and that "anti-Semitism was a kind of cultural code which Poles used at that time, and that Jews were not responsible for the introduction of communist rule in Poland",[25] however, he also said that Gross often "can't see the forest for the trees", i.e. the hunger, Soviet brutality, and the wartime fear in the hearts of all Polish nationals regardless of faith. In 2012 Zaremba published a book about the years 1944-1947 in Poland (Wielka trwoga), in which he opposed some opinions of Gross.[26]

In response to the coverage of Fear in the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, Marek Beylin [pl], a columnist for the competing daily Gazeta Wyborcza, called for a "sincere debate about the dark secrets of the Polish past."[15][27]

Feliks Tych, head of Warsaw's Jewish Historical Institute, criticized Gross for being more of a judge than an analyst, neglecting the impact of the post-war collapse of state institutions, and selectively using facts to support his thesis. Tych also said that "after [Gross'] book, it is no longer possible to escape from the question why there were killings of Jews after the war, and that is his undeniable achievement."[28]

Polish prosecutors reviewed accusations that Fear is slanderous against the Polish nation, but rejected the claims and refused to launch an investigation. The fact that such requests were made became the subject of additional media controversy. The article of the Polish law that allowed the case to be made in the first place has been criticized by some as infringing upon the right to free speech and will be reviewed by the Polish Constitutional Court.[29]

Gross' book was denounced at an impromptu political debate held in February 2008 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Kraków without the full awareness of priests.[30] The gathering, set to take place elsewhere,[31] was moved by its organizer Jerzy Robert Nowak to the Basilica at the last minute in anticipation of a mass attendance by 1,000 people. Among the invited guests were the Catholic station Radio Maryja and Telewizja Trwam. The debate was preceded by a short mass by a 91-year-old Bishop Albin Małysiak who had no idea what it was all about.[30] The speeches were described by Israeli press as having strong overtones of antisemitism.[32] The Polish Church officials strongly criticized the Jesuits for making the Basilica available to the event organizers. Likewise, the Society of Jesus issued a statement from Vatican confirming that the ageing priest made a mistake by allowing a Roman Catholic church to be used as a stage for this sort of agitation.[30][31][33][34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c David Margolick. Postwar Pogrom. The New York Times Book Review, July 23, 2006
  2. ^ a b "Symposium: Analysis of Fear - Summary of the Essay". Fear.piastinstitute.org. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  3. ^ Fear, pp. 83-166
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Piotr Gontarczyk, Far From Truth Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, Rzeczpospolita, January 12, 2008 (in English)
  5. ^ David M. Crowe. The Holocaust: Roots, History, and Aftermath. Westview Press, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Engel, David (2007). "On Continuity and Discontinuity in Polish-Jewish Relations: Observations on Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz—An Essay in Historical Interpretation by Jan T. Gross. New York: Random House, 2006". East Eur. Polit. Soc. 21 (3): 534–548. doi:10.1177/0888325407303795.
  7. ^ Susan Rubin Suleiman. Aftershocks. The Boston Globe, July 02, 2006
  8. ^ Elie Wiesel. The Killing After The Killing. The Washington Post, June 25, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Janusz Reiter, Anti-Semitism in Poland, Washington Post July 9, 2006.
  10. ^ Thane Rosenbaum, "A Lethal Homecoming" (pdf), book review of Fear, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006.
  11. ^ Book review, Publishers Weekly, 29 May 2006
  12. ^ "Symposium: Analysis of Fear - Symposium's Purpose". Fear.piastinstitute.org. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  13. ^ "Symposium: Analysis of Fear - Introduction". Fear.piastinstitute.org. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  14. ^ a b Sleeping dogs that won't lie: book on Poland's anti-Semitic record triggers fierce controversy. The Economist, January 31, 2008.
  15. ^ a b c Siobhán Dowling. Fear and Slander in Poland. Anti-Semitism Book Could Land Historian in Jail. Spiegel International. January 18, 2008.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Craig Whitlock, A Scholar's Legal Peril in Poland, Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, January 18, 2008; Page A14
  17. ^ Lucas, Ryan (2008-01-24). "Book on Polish anti-Semitism sparks fury". Usatoday.Com. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  18. ^ A. J. Prazmowska. Review of: Jan T. Gross, Fear. Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation. The Institute of Historical Research, 2007. Date accessed: 11 August 2008.
  19. ^ TVN24 2008, "Gross chce zmusić Polaków do zmiany świadomości", 2008-19-1, TVN24, PAP
  20. ^ a b c "Thaddeus Radzilowski, Review Of Fear". Fear.piastinstitute.org. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  21. ^ a b Piasecki, Konrad (10 January 2008). "Gross to wampir historiografii - interview with historian Janusz Kurtyka" (in Polish). RMF FM.
  22. ^ a b c d Dariusz Stolam Review of Fear, in The English Historical Review 2007 CXXII(499):1460-1463; doi:10.1093/ehr/cem344 [1]
  23. ^ a b c d e Marek Jan Chodakiewicz: People's past has to be reviewed critically on individual basis Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine, Rzeczpospolita, January 11, 2008 (in English)
  24. ^ "Maciej Korkuć about Józef Kuraś". Tygodnik.onet.pl. 2008-02-27. Retrieved 2013-06-27.
  25. ^ Michael Kubicki. New books on afterwar Polish-Jewish relations provoke heated debate in Poland. Network Europe, January 18, 2008.
  26. ^ Zaremba, Marcin (September 18, 2012). "Polak wszystko przetrzyma" [A Pole can take on anything (In conversation with Marcin Ł. Makowski)]. Tygodnik Powszechny. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  27. ^ Beylin, Marek (January 13, 2008). "Jews, Poles, Fear". Gazeta Wyborcza.
  28. ^ Beats Pasek (January 23, 2008). "Confronting Poland's Anti-Semitic Demons". Time.com.
  29. ^ (in Polish) Nie będzie śledztwa ws. książki Grossa Wprost 24
  30. ^ a b c (in Polish) Katarzyna Wiśniewska, Jerzy Robert Nowak wchodzi do Kościoła, Gazeta Wyborcza, February 12, 2008.
  31. ^ a b Ludwik Grzebień, Ignatianum odcina się od Jerzego R. Nowaka, Gazeta Wyborcza, February 16, 2008. (in Polish)
  32. ^ Aviva Lori, Krakow church holds service against 'kikes who spit on us'. Haaretz, February 12, 2008.
  33. ^ Małgorzata I. Niemczyńska, Żydzi nas atakują ! Trzeba się bronić, Gazeta Wyborcza, February 11, 2008. (in Polish)
  34. ^ Anti-Semitism watchdog urges Polish church to denounce lecture. Agence France Presse. February 14, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Engel, David (2007). "On Continuity and Discontinuity in Polish-Jewish Relations: Observations on Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz—An Essay in Historical Interpretation by Jan T. Gross. New York: Random House, 2006". East Eur. Polit. Soc. 21 (3): 534–548. doi:10.1177/0888325407303795.

External links[edit]