Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz

Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz

by Jan Gross
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Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz by Jan Gross

Poland suffered an exceedingly brutal Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Close to five million Polish citizens lost their lives as a result. More than half the casualties were Polish Jews. Thus, the second largest Jewish community in the world–only American Jewry numbered more than the three and a half million Polish Jews at the time–was wiped out. Over 90 percent of its members were killed in the Holocaust. And yet, despite this unprecedented calamity that affected both Jews and non-Jews, Jewish Holocaust survivors returning to their hometowns in Poland after the war experienced widespread hostility, including murder, at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodiest peacetime pogrom in twentieth-century Europe took place in the Polish town of Kielce one year after the war ended, on July 4, 1946.

Jan Gross’s Fear attempts to answer a perplexing question: How was anti-Semitism possible in Poland after the war? At the center of his investigation is a detailed reconstruction of the Kielce pogrom and the reactions it evoked in various milieus of Polish society. How did the Polish Catholic Church, Communist party workers, and intellectuals respond to the spectacle of Jews being murdered by their fellow citizens in a country that had just been liberated from a five-year Nazi occupation?

Gross argues that the anti-Semitism displayed in Poland in the war’s aftermath cannot be understood simply as a continuation of prewar attitudes. Rather, it developed in the context of the Holocaust and the Communist takeover: Anti-Semitism eventually became a common currency between the Communist regime and a society in which many had joined in the Nazi campaign of plunder and murder–and for whom the Jewish survivors were a standing reproach.

Jews did not bring communism to Poland as some believe; in fact, they were finally driven out of Poland under the Communist regime as a matter of political expediency. In the words of the Nobel Prize—winning poet Czeslaw Milosz, Poland’s Communist rulers fulfilled the dream of Polish nationalists by bringing into existence an ethnically pure state.

For more than half a century, what happened to the Jewish Holocaust survivors in Poland has been cloaked in guilt and shame. Writing with passion, brilliance, and fierce clarity, Jan T. Gross at last brings the truth to light.

Praise for Fear

“You read [Fear] breathlessly, all human reason telling you it can’t be so–and the book culminates in so keen a shock that even a student of the Jewish tragedy during World War II cannot fail to feel it.”–Elie Wiesel, The Washington Post Book World

“Bone-chilling . . . [Fear] is illuminating and searing, a moral indictment delivered with cool, lawyerly efficiency that pounds away at the conscience with the sledgehammer of a verdict. . . . Fear takes on an entire nation, forever depriving Poland of any false claims to the smug, easy virtue of an innocent bystander to Nazi atrocities. . . . Gross’ Fear should inspire a national reflection on why there are scarcely any Jews left in Poland. It’s never too late to mourn. The soul of the country depends on it.”–Thane Rosenbaum, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Provocative . . . powerful and necessary . . . One can only hope that this important book will make a difference.”–Susan Rubin Suleiman, Boston Globe

“Imaginative, urgent, and unorthodox . . . The ‘fear’ of Mr. Gross’s title . . . is not just the fear suffered by Jews in a Poland that wished they had never come back alive. It is also the fear of the Poles themselves, who saw in those survivors a reminder of their own wartime crimes. Even beyond Mr. Gross’s exemplary historical research and analysis, it is this lesson that makes Fear such an important book.”–The New York Sun

“After all the millions dead, after the Nazi terror, a good many Poles still found it acceptable to hate the Jews among them. . . . The sorrows of history multiply: a necessary book.”
Kirkus (starred review)

“Gross illustrates with eloquence and shocking detail that the bloodletting did not cease when the war ended. . . . This is a masterful work that sheds necessary light on a tragic and often-ignored aspect of postwar history.”–Booklist (starred review)

“[Fear] tells a wartime horror story that should forces Poles to confront an untold–and profoundly terrifying–aspect of their history.”–Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812967463
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/14/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 865,791
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jan T. Gross was a 2001 National Book Award nominee for his widely acclaimed Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. He teaches history at Princeton University, where he is a Norman B. Tomlinson ’16 and ’48 Professor of War and Society.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's hard for any author to buck the national consensus when dealing with his country's history, especially the dark corners that have been kept purposely hidden. For a Polish historian like Professor Gross to come forth with this unflinching account of the Kielce pogrom, and the culture of intolerance behind it, is just such an act of courage. Ironically, it compares with modern Israeli historians who have come clean about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the same period. The anti-Semitic scapegoating of the Polish Catholic Church's highest officials - specifically Cardinal Hlond - are too much on public record to take seriously the spirit of denial found in other reviews. When the spiritual leaders of a very religious country begin abusing their position politically, and pandering to the darker side of their people while piously distancing themselves from the results, Kielce is bound to happen. Surely, Poland suffered greatly during WW II from enemies and allies alike, but that does not justify or excuse the deep-seated bigotry which made Kielce possible. Poland was also well-known during the interwar years for its intolerance of ethnic Germans and Ukrainians. While not carried to the same extremes as anti-Semitism, it is doubtless well for Jews, Germans, and 'Pravoslavs' that population transfers, genocide, voluntary emigration, and territorial concessions have removed them as targets for future patriots.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is telling one side of history only. To help Jews during WW2 the entire family would be killed, and yet, 200.000 Jews were saved by Polish people  On the other hand, pogroms were happening all over Eastern Europe, much worse in Ukraine, Latvia, etc. There would be some occasions where Polish were telling Germans where Jews are hiding, but not without a reason. To protect themselves, because it was known that Jewish gangs did the worst plundering of all gangs, even worse than Russians. The Jewish gangs in Eastern parts of Poland did not only take what they needed, but would destroy everything even though they did not have to. This is a part of history which Gross does not speak about. How about the murders of Polish by Jews during WW2? 
karlpov More than 1 year ago
Sometimes it's valuable to tell unpleasant truths. The Polish people have many merits. They can credibly be said to have initiated the fall of the Soviet Empire. Personally I find them a wonderful people aside from their tendency to tell Russian jokes (repurposed old Polish jokes) for hours and hours on end. However, Poland -- Kielce, Poland -- was the site of the only major pogrom in Europe to occur in the aftermath, repeat the aftermath, of WW2. It is a place where courageous Poles protected Jews from their countreymen and never talked about it afterwards, for fear that they would suffer ostracism at best for their heroism. Poles were, of course, victims of the Nazis. But too many of them were also enthusiastic collaborators in the Nazi persecution of Jews. This book attempts to explain this bizarre situation, and I found it fascinating. I'm happy that someone bothered to tell this story before all firsthand sources had died.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The truth is that no one can MAKE people hate unless there exist legitimate reasons for that hate. Total lies about a group of people wouldn't survive a decade, let alone a millenium, unless there were, at a minimum, threads of truth involved. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, whether real or fraudulent, were believable only because of the pre-existing notions about Jews. These notions -- that Jews scheme to conquer, rule, subjugate, economically plunder their gentile countrymen -- are based largely on empiricism. Is it really plausible that Jews would be expelled from dozens of countries over the centuries for utterly no reason other than blind hatred? Mr. Gross is yet another in the litany of politically correct illuminati who try to convince, through exaggeration and obsfucation, that blind hatred of the utterly innocent can and does exist. He paints millions of Poles (similar-minded authors paint Germans, Ukrainians, Turks, French et al in a similar light) as blindly prejudiced and utterly wicked. When a person tries to tell you that everyone ELSE is an a-hole? Well, he's saying a lot more about himself than his targets of denigration.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is distasteful what professor Gross is doing, trying to built his position and career on the tragedy of so many of people. The tragedy which he is willing to (ab)use and manipulate. He is also trying to support and keep up a myth of polish widespread and strong anti-Semitism. I think it is proper to know some facts which can dispel and impair that untrue myth, and first of all other facts which shows how prof. Gross is tinkering at the true to rack up, at any price, arguments which back up his thesis. First of all professor Gross is a sociologist and not a historian. His investigations cannot be at any rate called suitable and reliable. As an example can stand his postulate that testimonies of Jewish witnesses should not be subjected to source critique, which is a common scientific procedure. In his book `The neighbours:......¿ about the masacre of Jews in Jedwabne he wrote about 1,600 victims, while all others reliable sources say about 400 victims. His is not even mentioning that, this indeed horrible atrocity was probably inspired by Germans (SS squad operating around), which of course do not diminish the blame of Poles. But can you called `objective¿ the book which makes the number of victims four times higher than it factually was, and which completely omits circumstance of intimidation of perpetrators by the occupant. Prof. Gross builds the vast, comprehensive picture on single, incidental events which are not confronted and compared with a great amout of heroic acts by Poles rescuing Jews (which was punished by imidiate execution by shot). He is not also trying to sketch the complicated situation in Eastern Poland which during the II W.W. was occupied initially by Soviets. He left unsaid the fact that some Jews were then betraying their Polish neighbours, which were taken into hands of Soviet butchers and sent to work camps on Siberia or (the intellectuals) executed. It does not justify any hositle acts commited by Poles but if (in all such occasions) such facts are left out it makes impossible to describe properly (and only this makes possible reasonable judgement and real understanding) the whole complex structure of reasons. Thus, to outline as the only reason common hatred of Poles against Jews, not taking into account all other circumstances is certainly a wrongdoing. Nothing can justify and endorse prof. Gross¿ thesis, which we can find in his lates book `Fear: .....¿, that Poles should be ashamed becase of their attitude towards Jews during II W.W. and that it was that shame which forced them to post-war anti-Semitism. It is (?) commonly known that anti-Semitism in communist Poland was mostly studiously planned by communist regime and its secret services and it was arising when there was a political need resulting from struggle between various, respective factions. Of course I do not claim that anti-Semitism did not and does not exist in Poland. There is always and everywhere a considerable group of narrow-minded and primitive people who need someone to hate, who need scapegoats, and anti-Semitism as a phenomenon helps them to justify the need for viciousnes and cruelty, but to acusse Poles of common anti-Semitism is a serious mistake. To the contrary, from XIV century Poland was called BY JEWS `The Jewish Paradise¿. It was the tradition of tolerance which lured Jews from the whole Europe (where they were often persecuted) to that country, and THIS IS WHY half of European Jews lived in Poland when the II W.W. began and THIS IS PROBABLY WHY German Nazis built in Poland their biggest death camps. It was just convenient to them (it is quite a different story with thoughtless using the phrase `Polish death camps¿ -they were as much `Polish¿ as `British¿ were bombs which were dropping on Birmingham, Coventry and London in 1940.) Thus, it is very sad that prof. Gross is among those who still set at variance these severely experinced nations which generally kindly lived together. The book by prof. Gross is writte
Guest More than 1 year ago
I guess in my place Mr Gross would re-word the question I have asked in the headline as 'Why do Poles hate Jews?', as this seems to be the core of his investigation and his personal obsession. What purpose does it serve? To convince even more young Jews that when they go to Poland they actually visit an enemy country where everybody supposedly hates them? There are many people all over the world who have a very vague idea as to where Poland is on the map and know very little about WWII and its consequences for Central and Eastern Europe sold to Stalin by Rooosevelt and Churchill. Nevertheless, it is mostly them who strongly believe Poland is responsible for the Holocaust as the biggest GERMAN death and concentration camps are in Poland. Is it Mr Gross´s objective to brainwash them even more? Most people interested in the history of the Jewish People know about Kielce pogrom. It has been studied and written about many times. Unfortunatelly, the same cannot be said about the endemic hatred towards Poles and Poland felt by a part of the Jewish diaspora all over the world. Why does nobody ever talk about why there were so few assimilated Jews in Central and Eastern Europe before WWII? Why did so few Jews actually speak the language of the country they lived in? And finally, why are Poles presented again as antisemites par excellence while nobody ever mentions e.g. the situation in Spain, where children in Zaragoza are still taught a truly abominable story about Santo Dominguito de Val as a martyr killed by Jews for his blood? Hatred will never be defeated by more hatred. And more hatred is what this book is going to cause, especially among the young generations of Jews all over the world.