After all the millions dead, after the Nazi terror, a good many Poles still found it acceptable to hate the Jews among them. Thus, this somber analytical work by Gross (History/Princeton Univ.).
Though many Poles aided and sheltered Jews during the Holocaust, many others “witnessed up close the extermination of the Jews, and they often availed themselves of the opportunities afforded by their attendant spoliation.” In the short time between the collapse of the Third Reich and Poland’s absorption into the Soviet empire, writes Gross, Jews who had survived the Holocaust began to turn up in Poland’s towns and cities and farms, some looking to reclaim their things, others merely looking for food. During this brief period of civil war, they met fierce resistance; in individual acts of terror and organized pogroms alike, as many as 1,500 Jews were killed. Seeking an answer to how this could have happened, Gross considers the history of anti-Semitism in Poland, where, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir charged, hatred of Jews is taught from birth; yet this wave of violence was so out of place even there that the Polish intelligentsia “was utterly baffled.” In one pogrom in Kielce, in 1946, Polish soldiers entered the Jewish Committee headquarters and herded its occupants outside, where a mob attacked and killed them; nurses even abused the hospitalized survivors. Sometimes, as in Kielce, the murders were marked by howling passion and bloodlust; sometimes Jews were murdered in episodes of “passionless killing,” singled out as easy victims. In most events, Gross concludes, Jews were perceived as dangerous and frightening, “not because of what they had done or could do to the Poles, but because of what Poles had done to the Jews.” The Jews were witnesses, motive enough to silence them.
The sorrows of history multiply: a necessary book.