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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
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.
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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