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

Jan T. Gross
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 29 2002
On a summer day in 1941 in Nazi-occupied Poland, half of the town of Jedwabne brutally murdered the other half: 1,600 men, women, and children-all but seven of the town's Jews. In this shocking and compelling study, historian Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts as well as physical evidence into a comprehensive reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but hidden to history. Revealing wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism, Gross's investigation sheds light on how Jedwabne's Jews came to be murdered-not by faceless Nazis, but by people who knew them well.


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"One day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small east European town murdered the other half--some 1,600 men, women and children." This short sentence summarizes the subject of Neighbors, historian Jan Gross's account of a massacre that occurred in Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland. Gross describes the atrocities of Jedwabne in almost unbearable detail. Men and women were hacked to death with knives, iron hooks, and axes. Small children were thrown with pitchforks onto a bonfire. A woman's decapitated head was kicked like a football. Historians before now have blamed the massacre on the Nazis--whose participation in and responsibility for these crimes has been exaggerated, Gross says. In fact, he argues, a virulent Polish anti-Semitism was liberated by German occupation. Instead of explaining the horrors of Jedwabne, which would be impossible, Neighbors sets the record straight as to the identity of the criminals. In doing so, Gross has ensured that future histories of the Holocaust, particularly in Poland, will be more honest, because future historians will be answerable to his argument that the evil of the Nazis was not only forced on the Poles. In places such as Jedwabne, it was welcomed by them. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Claude Lanzman's myth-shattering documentary film Shoah demonstrated that some Polish peasants were keenly aware of the Nazis' mass murder of Jews on Polish soil. This volume takes the real-life horror story a step further, documenting how nearly all of the Jews of Jedwabne, Poland, were murdered on one day most of them burned alive by their non-Jewish neighbors. Drawing on testimony that prompted and emanated from a 1949 Polish trial, Gross carefully describes how apparently normal citizens terrorized and killed approximately 1,600 Jewish villagers. Gross, a professor of politics and European studies at New York University, also attempts to place this heinous crime in historical and political context, concluding that he can explain but not fully understand. How to understand the Polish villagers, led by their mayor, exceeding the July 10, 1941, command of conquering German soldiers to annihilate the Jews but spare some tradesmen? Immediately,according to Gross, local townsmen-turned-hooligans grabbed clubs studded with nails and other weapons and chased the Jews into the street. Many tried to escape through the surrounding fields, but only seven succeeded. The thugs fatally shot many Jews after forcing them to dig mass graves. They shoved the remaining hundreds of Jews into a barn, doused it with kerosene and set it ablaze. Some on the outside played musical instruments to drown out the victims' cries. Yet Neighbors isn't as terrifying as one might expect, since Gross, a Polish ‚migr‚ himself, guides the reader along an analytical path. By de-emphasizing the drama, he helps readers cope with the awful incident, but his narrative occasionally bogs down in his own thoughts. Still, he asserts hopefully that young Poles are "ready to confront the unvarnished history of Polish-Jewish relations during the war." (May)Forecast: The always heated question of the role of Poles in the Holocaust comes to a head here. The book is bound to generate controversy (it has already garnered mention in the New York Times), though its sales will probably be limited.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Something happened Sept. 18 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
"Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne,
Poland" is a controversial book whose reputation suffers the more
independent research is done on it. Gross' number of 1600 victims has been reduced to 400 or less, as the mass graves were investigated by authorities with Rabbis standing by.
(In comparison 3,000,000 Polish-Jews were killed in the rest of Poland by Nazis. Notably also 2,000,000 (half by Soviets) non-Jewish Poles died at the same time. How many at the hands of the hundreds of (well documented) Jewish Commissars? Probably many times more than 400.)
By his own admission in recent interviews; Gross concludes that his exploration of the evidence was "incomplete", as the presence of German soldiers everywhere was brought out by witnesses some from as far away as Israel. What was the purpose of this book - one could speculate - self hatred?
It's a narrowly (amateurishly) researched book, long on drama short on verity. Many exist significantly more broadly based.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A short book with deep problems Aug. 7 2009
Format:Paperback
Many of the reviewers who have tackled this book have done so as Polish nationalists, or as opponents of Gross' often somewhat questionable methodology, or as both, using his methodology to push a Polish nationalist interpretation of the events Gross narrates. That the agenda with many of these negative reviews is to repudiate Gross' insistence on the role that everyday Poles played in the Jedwabne, and thus his insistence that some Poles at least publicly admit they, or their families, or their communities, played an active role in the Holocaust. This is undoubtedly a contentious position, but it is, I believe, a correct one, and one supported tentatively by the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland; his methodology might be somewhat questionable, but it is hardly easy to disprove as well, despite the insistence of his many detractors. The period when this book was written and researched was at the end of a decade of (justly) resurgent Polish nationalism, frequently (and understandably) conservative and Catholic, but also a time when prominent parties, individuals and groups insisted with vitriol that no Poles had played any part in the Holocaust, and that anyway, the Jews were all Bolshevik conspirators anyway (and thus, in some way, deserved their fate). For that reason alone it needs to be important, needs to be read, despite the many flaws.

Many reviews here have already pointed out the major flaws with his book: reliance on evidence that was sometimes extracted by torture, and his significant minimization of the role of the German Army, state and police. What rarely goes noted, in the rush to condemn this book for 'tarnishing' Poland's image, or for blaming at least some massacres of Jews on Poles, is how typical and pedestrian, and Polish nationalist, Gross' position is.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Cautious Skepticism" Nov. 20 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
While interesting reading, and somewhat overdone in terms of the gory detail, one is still lead to not fully take at face value all that is stated by Gross as "fact" in the book.
By his own admission in the chapter titled "New Approach To Sources", Gross offers us the new way of studying history by suggesting that we should accept "...what we read in a particular account as fact, until we find persuasive arguments to the contrary, we would avoid more mistakes than we are likely to commit by adopting the opposite approach, which calls for cautious skepticism toward any testimony until independent confirmation of it's content has been found".
If all "historians" were to follow that approach than our historical texts (which are based on empirical evidence) might be full of false information. I am not suggesting that the events described in the book did not happen at all (to the contrary there is independent confirmation of some of what is written), but I am suggesting that all historical subjects be treated with the same "cautious skepticism". The Holocaust of the WW II era should not be afforded any different treatment, just because it may be politically correct to do so.
Gross has cheated the process by which a historical thesis is made, investigated, proven, and documented, by simply taking a few uncorroborated testimonies at face value. As a respected historian and Professor at New York University, Gross should both know better, and should be ashamed of his behavior as a "historian" in the writing of this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars "Cautious Skepticism" Sept. 4 2003
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
While interesting reading, and somewhat overdone in terms of the gory detail, one is still lead to not fully take at face value all that is stated by Gross as "fact" in the book.
By his own admission in the chapter titled "New Approach To Sources", Gross offers us the new way of studying history by suggesting that we should accept "...what we read in a particular account as fact, until we find persuasive arguments to the contrary, we would avoid more mistakes than we are likely to commit by adopting the opposite approach, which calls for cautious skepticism toward any testimony until independent confirmation of it's content has been found".
If all "historians" were to follow that approach than our historical texts (which are based on empirical evidence) might be full of false information. I am not suggesting that the events described in the book did not happen at all (to the contrary there is independent confirmation of some of what is written), but I am suggesting that all historical subjects be treated with the same "cautious skepticism". The Holocaust of the WW II era should not be afforded any different treatment, just because it may be politically correct to do so.
Gross has cheated the process by which a historical thesis is made, investigated, proven, and documented, by simply taking a few uncorroborated testimonies at face value. As a respected historian and Professor at New York University, Gross should both know better, and should be ashamed of his behavior as a "historian" in the writing of this book.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An untold story
After reading Nighbors, when sharing the story with friends very few people knew about this. Most people know of the Holocaust and the horrific things Jewish people and others... Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2011 by Jolene
4.0 out of 5 stars Poles killing Jews in German occupied Poland.
Gross's book Neighbors illustrates the latent anti-Semitism prevalent in pre-war Poland and the murderous result when the Poles took action against their Jewish neighbors. Read more
Published on June 23 2004 by Kevin M Quigg
1.0 out of 5 stars Gross Misrepresentation
As interesting as the book may or may not be, let alone the questionable methodology employed by Gross, I find the customer comments much more telling. Read more
Published on June 19 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Lies vs anti-semitism
The Holocaust should be presented honestly. In 1941 about 300 of Jewish inhabitants of Jedwabne, small town in eastern Poland, was burned alive in a small barn. J.T. Read more
Published on July 11 2003
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Exactly Logical in Its Reasoning
This book is worthwhile for those who need apparent support for their anti-Polish prejudices. It includes the Germans, who would be all too happy to try to dilute their guilt, as... Read more
Published on March 31 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars THE BOOK OF POLISH RIGHTEOUS GENTILES?
There appears to be no market for the other story. When I was in Isreal in 1972, the huge majority of trees on the Blvd of the Rigtheous Gentiles were of Christian Poles. Read more
Published on March 24 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars As expected many in the polish community deny it.
although most of them can hardly express themselves they have seen fit to hurl insults at this wonderful book. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2003 by bobo
5.0 out of 5 stars As expected many in the polish community deny it.
although most of them can hardly express themselves they have seen fit to hurl insults at this wonderful book. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2003 by bobo
1.0 out of 5 stars Let's get the facts straight
This book is a rather poor effort in describing an event of World War 2. Gross only looks at one side of the issue... Read more
Published on Jan. 9 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating Study Of Local Massacre During The Holocaust!
I first became aware of the controversy over this historically based event with a report on "60 Minutes" a number of months ago in which the author of the book and a variety of... Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2002 by Barron Laycock
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