“Neighbors” by Jan Gross – A Retrospective Analysis
We should thank Gordon Black for calling our attention to a defamatory play and the persistent lying and defamation of Poland and its people (P.E. 5/15/13 “Staging Jedwabne”). It is important that when looking at this constant mud slinging that we do not accept “official Polish government” versions of events as the most recent “facts” about a given event. It is just the latest twit of an old Communist lie and another version of a lie. It is part of a continuing attack on true Polish identity.
I think that “Our Class” was the first adaptation of the fictional account of the murder of Jews in Jedwabne. It surfaced in 2010, about two and half years ago and is now being recycled. The second was a film entitled “Poklosie” (The Aftermath) released in November of 2012. Although promoted as fiction it is an adaptation of Gross’s “Neighbors”. Both were largely funded by the Polish government and local provincial governments. You might ask why this play and this film are being promoted at this time? The best answer is that their release follows an old pattern of Communist propaganda in using charges of anti-Semitism to distract from a serious challenge to their rule. That, in spite of the fact that anti-Semitism was largely confined to the Soviet and Polish Communist Party. These days, the PO government, which is largely under control of Jaruzelski and his minions, is under attack for its cover up of the cause of the plane crash that killed President Kaczynski and the Polish conservative elite. It was no accident. The play and the film are their response to their critics. In evaluating this play and film, it is important not to view this as a conflict between the Jews and Poles, but that it is a conflict between the Post-communist government and the Polish nation as a whole. It is a life and death struggle over Polish National Identity. Nothing infuriates Poles more than these constant false charges of anti-Semitism and of collaboration with the Nazis, taken straight out of the Soviet propaganda.
The nagging question is why Gross’s book “Neighbors” was written, who commissioned and promoted it, and how to begin to respond to a sweeping and mendacious assault on the Polish nation and Poland as a whole? “Neighbors” has all the elements of Soviet post-WWII anti-Polish propaganda, and needless to say has an enthusiastic support of the post-Communist camp in present day Poland, which includes some of the more influential newspapers, such as Gazeta Wyborcza, the heir to Trybuna Luda. With post-Communists in control, Gross was given access to “documents which were inaccessible to the real Polish historians. These “documents” were records of “show trials” and Communist propaganda releases. Clearly, this was a planned assault on Polish nation and its true history. There are other examples in which poorly qualified “historians” were given preferential access to documents by the post-Communist government, but only few used them to make such an unabashed assault on the Polish nation.
To start with, you might ask why any educated person in the West would swallow Gross’s construction of events, namely that 1600 Poles (that includes all women and children) murdered or burned alive 1600 of their Jewish neighbors (which includes 1000 that never existed) in a barn 60’ x 21’, about the two or three times the size of a living room? It is an absurdity, yet it is now quoted as a “holocaust fact” in the Holocaust Museum and of course by pretentious media honkies like George Will, and the Holocaust crowd. Only those with prior strong bias or hatred towards Poles could believe such a story.
There is a lot more known about the pogrom in Jedwabne than has been reported in the US. For those interested in what really happened, let me suggest that we start by asking a question: “What is the physical evidence that the crime was committed”? In case of the Jedwabne pogrom, the only material evidence of the crime is the evidence collected by the aborted exhumation. There are also numerous personal narratives of residents of Jedwabne and depositions by real eye witnesses. These witnesses and all depositions were ignored by Gross and subsequently by Keres, the President of IPN at the time and Ignatiew the prosecutor. It was a classic Soviet style investigation, where facts are erased to be substituted by lies.
So what is the material evidence? First, a foundation of a rather small barn, which was used as a carpentry shop, measuring approximately 21×60 feet (19×7 meters) with the foundation. Two graves, one inside and one outside the barn.
Secondly, inside the barn a shallow grave measuring 18×3 feet (6×1 meters), 22 lower jaws and several skulls were counted before the end of exhumation. The number of jaws corresponds to the number of victims. Also present in the grave was the bust of Lenin which the victims were forced to carry to the barn. Skulls had bullet holes in them. Also spent cartridges and bullets were found buried three feet under the surface suggesting that they were buried with the bodies and released as the bodies decomposed. Only Gestapo police had firearms. In addition, personal valuables were found such as gold coins, keys, jewelry etc. belying Gross’s lie that victims were beaten and robbed by those evil Poles before being killed.
Third, outside the barn, another grave measuring 24×6 ft (8×2) meters and four feet deep. The IPN report claims that at one end it was filled with bodies, but photographs reveal no bodies and only scattered individual bone (the grave or a ditch was dug into a pre-WWII Jewish cemetery). Since, no bones were removed from the grave one must assume that none were there to begin with. The words did not match the photographs. All other evidence, or lack there off, were sealed. No effort was made to ascertain whether the few individual bones were from burn victims, an easy determination to make.
At this point the exhumation was terminated, not because of any objections on religious grounds, but because no more bodies or graves were found. The Rabbis who were present at the excavation did not ask that exhumation be terminated. That determination was made in Tel Aviv and Warsaw.
What can we conclude from this evidence. We can say that the Gestapo police killed twenty two Jewish males after forcing them to carry the bust of Lenin to the barn. The question remains whether 300 Jews were burned alive on July 10th, 1941, by Gestapo police. Unless another very large grave, at least 150 x 8 feet and 6-8 feet deep (around 8,000 cubic feet capacity), which could accommodate 300 victims is found, then there is no evidence that 300 Jews were burned alive by the Gestapo. The second grave outside the barn had the capacity of 500 cubic feet. The barn was much too small to accommodate that number of victims. Also, after Tremblinka extermination camp was opened, over 300 Jews were taken from the Jedwabne ghetto and murdered there.
A few comments on numbers. The number of 1600 victims is pure fiction, and only appears in a brief prepared for the show trial in 1946. That number was probably an invention of a Soviet advisor. That trial was aborted in 1946, and then resumed in May of 1949. At the beginning of the war and in 1941 there were around 560 Jews in Jedwabne (Soviet census). When the Nazis attacked there might have been fewer than 400 since at least 150 left for the Soviet Union either voluntarily or were deported. The number of 300 victims which appears in the original IPN report is a negotiated one, and is not based on any material evidence. According to Radoslaw Ignatiew, the prosecutor, and Witold Kulesza, chief coroner, the number was based on the amount of “ash” suggesting that the victims were incinerated in an open fire. That is another absurdity. The negotiations began at 50 and ended up at 300. They did not find 50 or the 300 bodies.
The original IPN report of 2002 is just another betrayal of Poland and its people by former Communists. One should not underestimate the power of the WSI (Wojskowe Sluzby Informacyjne, the Polish version of SMERSH and GRU) in post-Communist Poland. They ruled Poland from behind a curtain before 1989 and after that until 2005, and are doing it again today. Unless we find other bodies and evidence other than the “show trial confessions”, we must accept the conclusion based on that rather paltry material evidence, namely that the Nazis perpetrated the crime and it is unclear if any Jews were burned alive in the barn that day.
What “evidence” did Jan Gross use for his book ‘Neighbors”? His primary source were the records of the May 1949 two day “show trial” based primarily on the depositions of four (4) false “eye witnesses”: Shmul Wasersztajn, Eliasz Gradowski, Mordecai Finkelsztajn, and Abram Boroszczuk. None of the four were even close to the site of the murder and were not in Court during the trial. The UB Court ruled that they were not reliable witnesses because they were not in Jedwabne, but nevertheless used some of their “testimony”, which was par for Communist Courts. Gradowski was in a Siberian labor camp and both Wasersztajn and Finkelsztajn were nowhere near Jedwabne; and Boruszczuk may have been a fictional character. No one in Jedwabne ever heard of him and no one ever saw him. All of them were connected with UB, the secret police. Gross also quotes extensively from “confessions” of the accused men. The men convicted in the 1949 show trial all stated that they were tortured or coerced into signing confessions which were prepared by the secret police (the UB) of which Wasersztajn was a member. Torture was routine UB procedure. Contrary to Gross’s claim he was anything but a witness. He was a Soviet collaborator, an UB officer, who was charged with preparing the evidence for the show trial. Show trials are propaganda tools and not historical regards.
Thus, the primary source were the records of the show trial. Although Gross uses the charges of the 1949 trial and the so called testimony of false witnesses, he conveniently ignores the decision of that UB Court. Surprisingly, none of the Poles on trial were convicted of killing Jews. They were found guilty of helping the Germans by “guarding” the Jews. According to the “Judges”, the Germans were found guilty of the killings. Furthermore, that Court found that the four key witnesses, including Wasersztajn, were not credible since none of them were eye witnesses. The change of mind of the UB Court reflects the changing political objectives of the Soviet occupiers. They had already vanquished the Polish underground army (AK) and did not need to kill a few remaining ones, such the Laudanski brothers. It was a classic show trial from the beginning to the end. The men were “guilty” even before th trial began. Show trials are propaganda instruments. Most of the convicted men were members of the underground.
To give credibility to his wild accusations and place the blame on the residents of Jedwabne, Gross had to inoculate the Gestapo, the SS-death squads, and even German officials, such as Heinrich. The last paragraph on p. 103 of “Neighbors” tells all:
“After July 10th, Poles were no longer permitted to kill the Jews of Jedwabne at will. The routine of German occupation administration was reestablished. A few survivors returned to town. They lingered there for a while – a few worked at the gendarmerie outpost – and in the end they were driven by the Nazis to the ghetto in Lomza. About a dozen people survived the war. Seven of the total had been hidden and cared for in the nearby Janczewo hamlet, by Wyrzykowski family.”
It seems that Gross was relieved that Jews were finally under Nazi protection and free from fear of their Polish neighbors. He omits the fact that soon after Tremblinka death camp was opened all Jews were sent there and killed. Most of Jedwabne Jews were not killed on July 10th 1941. Did the Jews work for the gendarmerie or were they all locked up in the Ghetto? This kind of banality by Gross was described by Michnik, the Editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, and others as some kind of” insightful analysis and moral courage”. By the way, many more than a dozen survived. At the end of the day, when supposedly all the Jews were burned in that one small barn, there were still over 300 Jews left in Jedwabne and eventually put in a ghetto. There are many more depositions on record by Jewish survivors which contradict Gross. They all state that the Nazis killed the Jews. Of course these were ignored.
Gross claims that there were no Germans in Jedwabne except for a few CRIPO (criminal police) policemen (I believe he stated that it was 7 policemen). From other sources including the residents of Jedwabne, it appears that indeed:”232 German Gestapo police from battalions 309 and 316, within the Einsatzgrupen B, forming the “Kommando Bialystok” came to Jedwabne before the pogrom. They were the uniformed Gestapo troops under the command of Gestapo officer Wolfgang Burkner (from Warsaw) (3). They shot and killed the 22 men inside the barn and latter on set the barn on fire. That would be consistent with testimony of real eye witnesses that there were many Germans in Jedwabne at that time. Gross denies that, in order to make his fantasy more believable. Yes, he exonerates the Nazis in order to taint Poles with Nazi crimes.
But, a nagging question remains: Why “Neighbors”? Why was it written? Why did the Kwasniewski’s government used all its power to make the world believe that it was true and used IPN (before its restructuring) to libel the Polish people. His and Keres’s apologies and statements hurt more than Gross’s lies. The answer lies in post-Communist politics in Poland since 1989. The Poles are still awaiting their freedom from former Communist control.
The book itself is not a scholarly work, no more than the Burdenko report on Katyn. It is a rehash of a brief, a litany of accusations, fabricated for a show trial used to justify the imprisonment and killing of innocent people. It is nothing more than an emotional, hateful attack on Poles as a nation meant to elicit condemnation and hatred of Poland among uninformed readers. There is no truth in it. Yet, it seems that Gross received support and cooperation from post-Communists in control of Polish government and from the WSI. Coupled with the printing of the Polish edition was a film by Arnold likewise based solely on the ‘show trial” documents. Was this written to somehow help post-Communists retain power by portraying the anti-Communist Poles as anti-Semites and Nazi collaborators? They post-Communists in power were constantly defending themselves against accusation of not only corruption but thievery reminiscent of the long Communist rule. Gross parrots the main theme of Soviet anti-Polish propaganda.
But the inescapable conclusion is that the book is a hoax with a political purpose. Nazis committed thousands of executions of Jews in small towns and anyone of them could be taken and transformed into pogrom by Poles. Usually, it would have been written by a Soviet Intelligence Officer and then handed over to NKVD and UB for execution. Today, no one with authority speaks for the Polish people and the true history of WWII in Poland. Until Poland is cleansed of its post-Communist control and a truly pro-Polish government is empowered in Poland, we will remain in an unenviable position of arguing against what media portrays as the official “Polish Government” version. Just as the Polish Communist government was the primary source of anti-Polish defamation prior to 1989, so were the post-Communist government including the current one.
– Walter Orlowski
1) Piotr Gontarczyk, The Verdict of Circuit Court in Lomza in 1949, http://www.naszawitryna.pl/jedwabne
2) Zdjęcia z “ekshumacji”, czyli manipulacji IPN-u ciąg dalszy Dziwnie rosnąca liczba ofiar i mierne dowody IPN-u na jej potwierdzenie, Włodzimierz Kałuża, Nasza Witryna, 17.10.2002
3) Piotr Gontarczyk, Rzeczpospolita, 2001-04-20 “Kiedy zabraknie argumentow”
4) Stefan Łojewski, Nasza Polska, 2001-04-08
5) Also visit Nasza Witrina web site:
http://www.naszawitryna.pl/index_jedwabne_en_7.html (English language site) This site includes articles by Prof. Iwo Pogonowski and other prominent Polish Historians.
Also: http://www.naszawitryna.pl/ (Polish language site)
These two web sites contain numerous articles on this subject and include the reference above.