Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland Hardcover – Apr 15 2001
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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
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The subject matter is shocking, no doubt. But the dry, academic and amateurish way in which Gross presents it detracts from the book's value. In addition, the author rarely backs up his statements with evidence--I'm talking about statements like "a society's history is comprised of discrete events; therefore all events impact all other events" (paraphrase)--not so much the anecdotes regarding the actual mass murder.
Compared to Ambrose, who writes a compelling and character-based narrative with seeming ease; and with Prange, whose exhaustive research regarding Pearl Harbor was brought to the page with density and complexity but still with drama; and even Toland, whose politics I disagree with but whose writing style is exciting; Gross has a long ways to go. This reads like an average Master's Thesis. Maybe it is, I don't know.
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.
This historical novel is compiled by author Jann Gross. To truly understand what exactly happened on that horrible day in July 1941, Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an encapsulating horror story. His focus on Jewish-Polish relations opens the readers mind to truths not yet perceived or dwelled upon simply because no one would think it possible. How the small town of approximately 3,200 people could be so influenced by the Nazis totalitarian rule and murder the other half of their town, and to do so by their own will.
The manner in which these assaults were carried out makes the story that much more difficult to comprehend. To think that 1,600 Jewish, men, women and children were murdered by being drowned, gutted, clubbed and mass burned in their neighbor's barn by those they shared conversations with every day and knew well. These innocent people were murdered by their neighbors and this book illustrates how and why.
A National Book Award nonfiction nominee. Jann Gross's Neighbors succeeds to enlighten the reader into another side of the horror witnessed and dispensed onto the Jews of Europe during the second World War. Not only is it a riveting story, but the style in which Gross presents it makes it quite easy for all, young or old, to read and gain a new view of one of the worst catastrophes known to this world.
Although Neighbors is a short, fast-paced book that can be read in an afternoon, Gross does not skimp on important and complex historical information that sets the scene for the tragedy at Jedwabne. Gross thoroughly discusses the actions that take place before WWII, for example, the dynamics of the Soviet occupation of Poland, and resulting impact such events have on the Poles' perceptions of Jews. Gross's primary concern is to understand the psychology of such a tragedy: why would one half of a small town brutally torture and murder the other half; what possible motivations could drive people to such inhumanities? Descriptions of the atrocities are extensive and graphic, and although they may help reader understand the horror of the event, they can also make reading difficult.
Neighbors is an important book because it makes the Holocaust more personal to students. Students are able to realize that the real evil that allowed the Holocaust to occur may not have sprung from prominent Nazis and their twisted ideologies, but rather from the hearts and minds of everyday people, who were willing to turn their backs on their fellow humans or embrace the horrors of Nazi propaganda and mass hysteria.
Most recent customer reviews
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 morePublished on Nov. 28 2011 by Jolene
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... Read morePublished on Aug. 7 2009 by Cameron Willis
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 morePublished on June 23 2004 by Kevin M Quigg
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 morePublished on June 19 2004
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... Read morePublished on Sept. 4 2003
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 morePublished on July 11 2003
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 morePublished on March 31 2003
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 morePublished on March 24 2003
although most of them can hardly express themselves they have seen fit to hurl insults at this wonderful book. Read morePublished on Feb. 7 2003 by bobo
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