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 by their non-Jewish neighbors in the village of Jedwabne in Nazi-occupied Poland.[1]

Content and controversy[edit]

The book described how the massacre was perpetrated by non-Jewish civilians (which was noted in 1966 by historian Szymon Datner), and not by the German invaders. The ensuing debate in the media prompted a forensic murder investigation by the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), which partly confirmed Gross's findings.[2][3] But it said that depositions "made by witnesses confirm complicity of both Germans and Polish inhabitants of the town."[4] The IPN investigation concluded that "residents of Jedwabne and its environs, of Polish nationality, committed these acts", although it said Gross's estimate of 1,600 victims "seems highly unlikely".[5] The IPN found evidence for a range of 250[6] to 340 victims.[7] Other historians have suggested from 600,[8] to close to 1,000 victims.[9]

When the book was published, the Nazi program of extermination of the Jews had been well documented. The fact that ordinary Poles in Jedwabne following Soviet–German invasion participated in the massacre of their Jewish neighbors in the presence of Nazi German soldiers,[6] was less known. The book has generated much controversy and vigorous debate in Poland and abroad.[10] It has led to more forensic studies and discussions with regards to Polish-Jewish relations.


In 1988 Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Arnold went to Jedwabne with a film-crew and produced two documentaries based on interviews with the local villagers. Gdzie mój starszy syn Kain (1999, Where Is My Older Son Cain) was inspired by an ongoing debate in the Polish print media. The second one, Sąsiedzi (2001, Neighbors), was aired by the Polish TVP II Channel.

Gross has said that seeing Arnold's films inspired him to write his book. With her approval, he used her transcriptions of interviews, in addition to other materials, and her second film title for the title of his book.[11][12] Arnold was unhappy about the effects of the book on the Jedwabne people.[13]



As noted by Joshua D. Zimmerman in his book about contested Polish history, Neighbors inspired a wide-ranging debate in Poland on its release in 2000. While the mainstream Polish press expressed consensus regarding the basic accuracy of Gross's findings, specific details and questions about Gross's methodology were debated by Polish scholars.[14][page needed]

According to Jaroslaw Anders, although the book has been criticized 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."[15] Polish News Service is said to have reported that other Polish publications such as Nasz Dziennik, Głos, Mysl Polska, and Niedziela accused the book of being a "part of international campaign aimed at damaging the image of Poland and preparing ground for restitution of Jewish property."[16]

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.[17] 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 to be factually inaccurate. Gontarczyk claims that Gross fails to inform the reader about Polish-Jewish relations in the Soviet-occupied Eastern Borderlands and what he describes as 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."[citation needed]

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.[18]

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.[19]

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."[20][page needed] 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."[21][page needed]

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."[22]

In the introduction to "The Neighbors Respond", Antony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic note that the harshest critics of Gross, such as Tomasz Strzembosz, have also rejected earlier evidence of mass murder of Jews by Poles during the Warsaw uprising such as that detailed by Michal Cichy's Poles and Jews: Black Pages in the Annals of the Warsaw Uprising. They note that "Many of those who have espoused what Andrzejowski describes as a "defensive open" stance in the controversy came to adopt quite extreme positions, as has been the case with Tomasz Strzembosz. They seem to have great difficulty abandoning the self-image of the Poles as heroes and victims and use strongly apologetic arguments." [23]

Gross defended the conclusions he drew from his use of testimonials, and insisted that he differentiated between types of testimony. He 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."[24][25]

Reception in the United States[edit]

Neighbors was a 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and a 2001 National Book Award Finalist.[26][27] The publication of Neighbors was credited with launching a debate about the Polish role in the Holocaust.[28][29] Bernard Wasserstein described the book as having "played a productive role in refreshing Polish collective memory of this aspect of World War 2."[30]

Alexander B. Rossino, a research historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., wrote: "while Neighbors contributed to an ongoing re-examination of the history of the Holocaust in Poland, Gross' failure to examine German documentary sources fundamentally flawed his depiction of the events. The result was a skewed history that did not investigate SS operations in the region or German interaction with the Polish population."[31]


Neighbors resulted in provoking an intensive two-year debate in Poland on Polish-Jewish relations.[32] In response to 'Neighbors,' the Polish Parliament ordered an investigation of the Jedwabne pogrom, the IPN investigation. From May 2000 onward, Jedwabne became a frequent topic of discussion in the Polish media. A list compiled by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita counted over 130 articles in Polish on the pogrom.[33] The Catholic periodical Wiez published a collection of 34 articles on Jedwabne pogrom, Thou shalt not kill: Poles on Jedwabne, available in English.[34] In 2003 an extensive collection of articles from the Polish debate, in English translation, was compiled by Joanna Michlic and Professor Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University and published under the title The Neighbors Respond.[35]

Neighbors sparked a controversy in Poland. Some readers refused to accept it as a factual account of the Jedwabne pogrom. While Polish historians praised Gross for drawing attention to a topic that had received insufficient attention for a half-century,[36] Marek Jan Chodakiewicz and Tomasz Strzembosz criticized Neighbors for including accounts they considered uncorroborated, and for editorial decisions they believed Gross had made, such as favoring testimonies that presented the Poles in the worst possible light when there were conflicting accounts.[37][38]

At the same time, it inspired among Poles "a new curiosity in Polish Jewish history," including for the Polish film director and screenwriter Władysław Pasikowski. The book and its related controversy inspired his dramatic film Aftermath (2012 Pokłosie), which he wrote and directed.[39] Pasikowski said, "The film isn't an adaptation of the book, which is documented and factual, but the film did grow out of it, since it was the source of my knowledge and shame."[40]

In other media[edit]

Neighbors and its surrounding controversy inspired Władysław Pasikowski's dramatic 2012 film Aftermath (Pokłosie), which he wrote and directed.[39] Pasikowski said, "The film isn't an adaptation of the book, which is documented and factual, but the film did grow out of it, since it was the source of my knowledge and shame."[40]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Neighbors By Jan Tomasz Gross, Princeton University Press, 2001. Google Books
  2. ^ Jedwabne, July 10th, 1941: an Interview with Pawel Machcewicz Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine, Director, Office of Public Education, Institute of National Remembrance.
  3. ^ Craig Whitlock, "A Scholar's Legal Peril in Poland", Washington Post Foreign Service, Friday, January 18, 2008; Page A14
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2015-05-12. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ a b (in Polish) The 90th session of the Senate of the Republic of Poland. Stenograph, part 2.2. Archived 2008-04-23 at the Wayback Machine 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.
  7. ^ Postanowienie o umorzeniu śledztwa IPN, June 30, 2003 (in Polish)
  8. ^ Dariusz Stola, 'A Monument of Words', Yad Vashem Studies, 2003. In Michlic "Letter to the Editor."
  9. ^ Joanna B. Michlic and Antony Polonsky. Letter to the Editor, History. January 2008, Vol. 93 Issue 309.
  10. ^ Norman Davies describes Neighbors as "deeply unfair to Poles". Source: Davies: "Strach" to nie analiza, lecz publicystyka Archived 2008-01-28 at the Wayback Machine, Gazeta Wyborcza, January 21, 2008. (in Polish)
  11. ^ 65. urodziny Agnieszki Arnold (On the 65 birthday of Agnieszka Arnold). Archived 2012-10-06 at the Wayback Machine Stowarzyszenie Filmowców Polskich, 2010.
  12. ^ Michał Okoński (2001), archival copy of Sprawiedliwi z Jedwabnego (Righteous from Jedwabne) published by Tygodnik Powszechny. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  13. ^ Robert Walenciak (March 2008), archival copy of Polacy, Żydzi i... strach Tygodnik Przegląd. Retrieved November 20, 2012.
  14. ^ Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath, Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  15. ^ Steiner, George (8 April 2001). "Poland's willing executioners: Jan T Gross's unflinching account of anti-Semitic atrocities in the war, Neighbors, has awakened a nation to its systematically hidden and falsified past". The Observer.
  16. ^ "Jedwabne Questions about the Past and the Future." Polish News Bulletin, July 26, 2001.[verification needed]
  17. ^ PBU Report, 6 and 20 March 2001. Credibility of Witnesses in 1941 Pogrom Book Questioned Archived 2008-05-09 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 2008-05-10.
  18. ^ Tomasz Strzembosz, “Inny obraz sąsiadów”, Rzeczpospolita, archived by Internet Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Prof. Tomasz Strzembosz, "Ultimate debunking of Gross" Polish original published in Rzeczpospolita, 31 March 2001.
  20. ^ Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath., Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  21. ^ Joshua D. Zimmerman. Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and its Aftermath. Rutgers University Press, 2003.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ "Introduction to The Neighbors Respond" (PDF).
  24. ^ Jan Tomasz Gross, "Podtrzymuję swoje tezy," Gazeta Wyborcza, April 3, 2001, 16-17.
  25. ^ Jan T. Gross. "A Response". Slavic Review. Vol. 61, No. 3 (Autumn, 2002):483-489.
  26. ^ National Book Critics Circle. All Past National Book Critics Circle Award Winners and Finalists.
  27. ^ The National Book Foundation. The National Book Awards Winners & Finalists, Since 1950 Archived 2010-06-20 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Padraic Kenney, "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland," The American Historical Review. Washington: Jun 2002. Vol. 107, Iss. 3.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ Bernard Wasserstein, "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland." The English Historical Review, Vol. 116, No. 469, 1303-1304.
  31. ^ Alexander B. Rossino, "Polish 'Neighbors' and German Invaders: Contextualizing Anti-Jewish Violence in the Białystok District during the Opening Weeks of Operation Barbarossa"; Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, Volume 16 (2003).
  32. ^ "The Jedwabne Tragedy", "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-07-16. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  33. ^ Rzeczpospolita list of articles on Jedwabne,
  34. ^ 'Thou Shalt not Kill,' Poles on Jedwabne, 34 articles[permanent dead link]
  35. ^ Polonsky, A., & Michlic, J. B. (2004). The Neighbors Respond: the Controversy over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11306-8
  36. ^ Dariusz Stola, A Monument of Words, Shoah Resource Center, Yad Vashem,
  37. ^ Tomasz Strzembosz, Jedwabne 1941,
  38. ^ Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, 'Research Before Conclusion: The Problems of Shock Therapy in Jedwabne,' "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-03. Retrieved 2011-10-31. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  39. ^ a b "In the Polish Aftermath". Tablet Magazine. 17 April 2013. Cite error: The named reference "tablet" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  40. ^ a b "The Past Can Hold a Horrible Power". The New York Times. 25 October 213. Cite error: The named reference "nyt" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).