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on March 30, 2010
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. In that world, says Gross, a person living in a place like Jedwabne, completely disoriented by the events of the Second World War, "could simultaneously endear himself to the new rulers, derive material benefits from his actions (it stands to reason that active pogrom participants had first pick in the division of leftover Jewish property), and go along with local peasants' traditional animosity towards the Jews." Gross goes on to say that if "we add to this mix encouragement by the Nazis and an easily whipped-up sense that one was settling scores with the `Judeo-commune' for indignities suffered under the Soviet occupation--then who could resist such a potent, devilish mixture?" (162).

That someone of his background could make such an observation indicates that in this book we have not only the work of a fine historian. We also have the mature and thoughtful reflections of someone who has managed to tell about a crooked world in a remarkably straightforward way.
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on July 16, 2013
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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on July 18, 2016
I would give this book less than one star if it was possible. The information is simply incorrect and the author is not even a historian he is a sociologist who is highly biased against against Poland and Poles and attempts to portray them in the worst light possible. According to Wikipedia "Jedwabne pogrom" "The evidence collected by the West Germans, including the positive identification of Schaper by witnesses from Łomża, Tykocin, and Radziłów, suggested that it was indeed Schaper's men who carried out the killings in those locations. Investigators also suspected, based on the similarity of the methods used to destroy the Jewish communities of Radziłów, Tykocin, Rutki, Zambrów, Jedwabne, Piątnica and Wizna between July and September 1941 that Schaper's men were the perpetrators. — Alexander B. Rossino"
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on April 11, 2016
Below is an article which puts Gross in the proper perspective. One should know there are many Polish historians who have pretty much made mincemeat out of the claims by Jan Gross in regards to Jedwabne. The fact that this book is getting any acknowledgment indicates that there is demand for books that accuse Poles of atrocities they did not commit.
New York (PMN)--New York University Professor Jan T. Gross received less than a friendly reception when he came to the City University of New York Graduate Center on February 6, 2002, to promote his controversial book, "Neighbors." His lecture there left no doubt he was intent on putting the blame for a 1941 wartime atrocity in the small Polish town of Jedwabne on the local Polish population and not on the Germans who were in control there. But a "truth squad" of New York Polish Americans was ready for him when a discussion period followed his presentation.
Charles Chotkowski, Director of Research for the Polish American Congress Holocaust Documentation Committee, charged Gross with factual errors regarding the Catholic Church and Lomza's Bishop Stanislaw Lukomski. Gross' lengthy response appeared to be more an attempt of rationalization than a frank admission of mishandling the historical record.
Jan Moor-Jankowski, M.D., for 30 years a professor of forensic medicine of the New York University School of Medicine, then stunned Gross with a frontal attack on the credibility of "Neighbors." He made a striking comparison of it with another Holocaust bestseller reviewed only a day before in the Wall Street Journal. The book, "Fragments," was written by an imposter who claimed he was a Jewish Holocaust survivor when, in fact, he was not. The Wall Street Journal reviewer called it a "coldly planned fraud" or a work of "a deranged man who actually believes the myths he has constructed for himself." Dr. Moor Jankowski said that he has the same opinion of Dr. Gross and his book "Neighbors."
Dr. Gross did not even attempt to rebut Dr. Moor Jankowski's statement. (It should be noted that Dr. Moor Jankowski was hailed in American and Polish media for helping Jews during WWII in Poland. He was decorated by the President of France for his Resistance activities and also received a medal from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir for helping to organize the teaching of medicine in Israel. He is the only American member of the French Academy of Medicine.)
Gross came in for another surprise when Boleslaw Domitrz spoke up to give his testimony as an eyewitness to the 1941 Jedwabne atrocity by uniformed Germans. However, in his book Gross accused the Poles of putting all the town's 1600 Jewish residents into a barn and burning them alive. Gross's version of events was denied by several witnesses. To have Mr. Domitrz now appear in New York and confront Gross added an explosive sense of drama to the meeting. Domitrz recalled what happened on the day the event in question took place. From afar, he and two of his teenage friends saw smoke rising from the burning barn. Out of boyhood curiosity, Domitrz said they tried to get a closer look at the barn. As they approached the fire they realized that there were no Poles around. Everyone seemed to have gone indoors as if from some dreadful and ominous fear. The only people the boys saw around the barn were Germans in uniform. Nobody else.
"When we realized we were the only Poles out there," said Domitrz, "we were so scared the Germans might see us and throw us into the fire that we turned around and ran right back as fast as we could."
When Mr. Domitrz finished his statement, Dr. Gross was visibly shaken and offered no questions or rebuttal to the eyewitness testimony. Dr. Braham, the moderator, then abruptly adjourned the session.
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on March 12, 2015
Articulate and well-written, the author carefully avoids melodramatizing what was in and of itself a catastrophic event for the Jewish residents of a small Polish village. This book is informative and very readable. Highly recommended!
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on November 20, 2002
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 book.
By his own admission in the chapter titled "New Approach To Sources", Gross offers us the new way of studying history by suggesting that we should accept "...what we read in a particular account as fact, until we find persuasive arguments to the contrary, we would avoid more mistakes than we are likely to commit by adopting the opposite approach, which calls for cautious skepticism toward any testimony until independent confirmation of it's content has been found".
If all "historians" were to follow that approach than our historical texts (which are based on empirical evidence) might be full of false information. I am not suggesting that the events described in the book did not happen at all (to the contrary there is independent confirmation of some of what is written), but I am suggesting that all historical subjects be treated with the same "cautious skepticism". The Holocaust of the WW II era should not be afforded any different treatment, just because it may be politically correct to do so.
Gross has cheated the process by which a historical thesis is made, investigated, proven, and documented, by simply taking a few uncorroborated testimonies at face value. As a respected historian and Professor at New York University, Gross should both know better, and should be ashamed of his behavior as a "historian" in the writing of this book.
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on September 14, 2012
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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on April 27, 2014
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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on May 1, 2016
This is a book that shows what human beings--even those who've been your neighbors for years--are capable of under certain circumstances. A seminal book for students of the Holocaust.
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on February 10, 2013
Gross's book is engaging and readable. Yet, one is nagged by doubts. How could it have happened as Gross describes? The data is there, but connecting them is the problem. There is not a single report of Jewish resistance to the pogrom in that village. Yet, somehow 1/2 of the population managed to implement mass murder against the other half with only improvised tools. Additionally, Gross makes the point that invariably Jews knew when Aktions of any sort were to start, even this early and indirect order for mass murder. Given this knowledge, why didn't the otherwise very organized Jewish tradesmen and farmers arm themselves in defense? It just doesn't compute. Even after the pogrom started, there was opportunity to take aggressive defense and yet there is not a single report of such behavior. This defies reason. And it either calls into question Gross's narrative of the events or the assumptions about the community life of the Jews as separate and distinct from the Poles. One or the other.

I do not doubt that murderous events took place or that elements of the Polish community directed and carried out most of the atrocities. Even so, Gross's narrative impugns the entire Polish population of the village, including the big wigs. As Gross maintains, one half killed the other half. So the Poles killed the Jews. I doubt that this simple formula captures what actually happened that day. I can imagine, without difficulty, a coterie of criminal types among the Poles who were told that they were free to do as they liked with the Jews and they did so. But, even here, a coterie of criminals can be opposed by an entire population at risk as virtually the same weapons were available to them. Was it the presence of the Germans as administrators of the town, the fact that authority offered no protection? There is likely some very sharp selectivity of sources and information in the narrative and that is why it raises such simply questions.
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