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Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland Paperback – October 29, 2002

116 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0142002407 ISBN-10: 0142002402 Edition: 0th

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Amazon.com Review

"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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (October 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142002402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142002407
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Frank Bellizzi on March 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
In Neighbors, Jan Gross tells the story of a summer day when "half the population of a small East European town murdered the other half" (7). The author, a Polish Jew who now teaches at Princeton, gives special attention to the question of "who did what in the town of Jedwabne [Poland] on July 10, 1941, and at whose behest" (10).

As the subtitle intimates, the evidence points to a shocking conclusion. Those who tortured and slaughtered nearly all of the 1,600 Jews of Jedwabne were not the soldiers of the recently-arrived German army. They were, instead, the Polish residents of the town, the long-time neighbors of the victims.

The report of the trial of 22 people accused in 1949 as perpetrators has every appearance of being perfunctory and hastily done. By contrast, the 1945 testimony of Szmul Wasersztajn--one of only seven Jewish survivors of the massacre--provides many details of the hellish events that took place in Jadwebne in late June and early July of 1941. Gross insists that the first-person accounts of Waserztajn and others must be taken seriously. The speakers, he points out, have few if any reasons to lie. Their stories corroborate one another and match up well with what the people of the region still say about that time.

Of course, the specific events described in the book took place within a set of contexts. The author is careful to mention and discuss them as well. The totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Hitler made every effort to exploit any sort of division or resentment.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By James R. Starkey on July 16, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's a bit awkward clicking the five star button to say, "I LOVE IT" when rating this book. It deserves five stars but you can't 'love' a book that relates such horrors you 'learn' from it. It is an accurate account of a horrible tragedy that should shock those who want to believe that such monstrous acts were only carried out by 'elite' units of the SS during WWII. Having once lived in Poland for several years, as a 'non-Jewish looking Jew', in the early 90's I was shocked to see how prevalent antisemitism remained there and to even a to larger degree in the former Soviet Union. I have studied the holocaust for over 40 years and as a result, few tales of man's inhumanity, strike me with much emotion anymore. This one struck me to my very soul. Having lived among these people (Poles) and raised my infant daughter not a great distance from the region where this event took place has left an indelible stain on my soul. This is an important account that people of all religions and cultures should be aware of. The author has written this account objectively. The most troublesome part of this event is how few people today are even aware of it. Well written and a must read for those who want to know how depraved ordinary people can be driven as a result of centuries of religious & social prejudice, ignorance and myth.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Steven Swartz on April 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Compared to the industrialized killing machine the Nazis (almost) perfected, this is a small incident. However, it shows that hatred for Jews in mid-20th century exploded when all restraint was removed. How people who lived next to each other for centuries could simply one day murder 1,600 neighbors is almost beyond comprehension. From a 21st century viewpoint,equally hard to understand is the lack of any resistance to what obviously was going to happen.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Crank2Lover on September 14, 2012
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The book "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland" was a very insightful book about the tragedy where Polish residents attacked and killed hundreds of their Jewish neighbors. While there may be a huge debate on the accuracy and the influence that this book carries, I found it to be very informative and well-written. Some may be disturbed, some may be bored, and others may be skeptical, but one thing is for sure: all of you will definitely be intrigued.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Marty on April 20, 2015
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This is clearly a major contribution to holocaust literature. Its insights are generative in that they lead to possible pathways to mitigation of future atrocities like the one that occurred in Jedwabna. The major “realization” is that it wasn’t the Nazi’s or the communists that committed this unspeakable act. Almost half the native population got up and killed the other half. And they not just killed them; they horribly killed them with knives, pitchforks clubs, and fire.

So the question is, why did this happen? The book sets aside the notion that it was politics or personnel vendetta that set the whole thing in motion. Of course, the murderers were the personification of evil. But their motives were - as Arendt once described – banal. The mayor and other petty officials wanted to control the “left over” property left behind by the dead Jews. Others, of a more sycophantic nature, wanted to curry favor with the “powers that be” – the Nazis. The various controlling powers did not intervene and gave approval without major participation. And finally, the murderers had been raised on a religious diet that depicted the Jews as Christ killers, easy scapegoats and deserving of violent ends.

What can be done? If we assume a situation in which the governmental structure of the country is not totally perverted, strong guidance can be provided to discourage preaching hatred in the churches and other religious institutions. We can hope for this in the Middle East right now! Public officials should be punished for profiting from those punished by the state (rightly or wrongly.) Finally, public school education can hopefully “raise” the consciousness kids to steer away from such violence and cruelty.
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