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Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation [Hardcover]

Jan T. Gross
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Aug 2006

Poland suffered an exceedingly brutal Nazi occupation during the Second World War. Close to five million Poles were killed. Of these, more than half were Jews killed in the Holocaust. Ninety percent of the world's second largest Jewish community was annihilated. But despite the calamity shared by Poland's Jews and non-Jews, anti-Semitic violence did not stop in Poland with the end of the war. Jewish Holocaust survivors returning to their Polish hometowns 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 Kielce, Poland, a year after the war ended. Jan Gross's Fear is a detailed reconstruction of this pogrom and the Polish reactions to it that attempts to answer a perplexing question: How was anti-Semitism possible in Poland after the war?

Gross argues that postwar Polish anti-Semitism 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 filled with people who had participated in the Nazi campaign of murder and plunder, people for whom Jewish survivors were a standing reproach. The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz said that 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 Jewish Holocaust survivors in Poland has been cloaked in guilt and shame. Writing with passion, brilliance, and fierce clarity, Gross at last brings the truth to light.

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Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation + Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland + Golden Harvest
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Writing in Book edition (6 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128788
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 82,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"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

"Ultimately, what's far more important than the 'why' of this story is the 'that': that a civilized nation could have descended so low, and that such behavior must be documented, remembered, discussed. This Gross does, intelligently and exhaustively."--David Margolick, New York Times Book Review

"This book tells a wartime horror story that should force Poles to confront an untold--and profoundly terrifying--aspect of their history. Fear relates, in compelling detail, how Poles from virtually all segments of society persecuted the poor, emaciated and traumatized Holocaust survivors. . . . After reading Fear, the next time I hear someone say the Poles were as bad as the Germans, I will probably still challenge that charge . . . but my challenge will be far less forceful."--
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"This is a brilliantly-written history that combines narrative power with analytical depth. Gross treats his readers with respect, offering every possible interpretation of the evidence before offering his own (often withering) judgment. The word 'genius' is carelessly thrown around these days, but with Fear, Gross genuinely deserves the accolade."--David Cesarani, Jewish Chronicle

"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, Washington Post Book World

"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."--
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)

"This is an extraordinary book which, almost accidentally, demonstrates that in Poland (and, almost certainly, throughout central Europe) there was such a deep anti-Sematism that not even a recognition of the horrors of Auschwitz could modify or expunge it. This book, rather distressingly, demonstrates that racism transcends politics and morality and lives deep in the heart."--Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

"Gross's Fear carries us to post-war Poland, establishing and examining in sedulous depth the plundering slaughter of Jews across 1945 and 1946. . . . Fear's anguishing expos is brilliantly scholarly, analytical, sober, yet compellingly readable."--Jack Hibberd, The Australian

"Competing conceptions of victimhood are thrust into a dynamic that oscillates between denationalization and re-nationalization. . . . Gross's book maneuvers beautifully between those poles while at the same time restoring the lost and last memory of Polish Jewry, who continue to haunt Polish society as ghosts of the past."--Natan Sznaider, H-Genocide

"In addition to Gross' thoughtful and thorough analysis, the reader finds a wealth of information--both historiography and analysis--that makes this book a rich resource for further study of Polish anti-Semitism."--Gabrielle Weinberger, European Legacy

From the Inside Flap

"Jan Gross's newest book, Fear, is a terrific piece of historical scholarship. Its primary focus is on the 1946 pogrom in Kielce, Poland, the worst case of anti-Jewish violence in postwar Europe. I remain shaken to the core by what he has related about Kielce and the violence that radiated out from the pogrom. Among the questions Gross asks are: How could it be that the persecution of the Jews continued after the Nazis were long gone? Why did the Jews need to flee Poland after the war? How was it that after the liberation those Poles who had protected and sheltered Jews were tormented by and afraid of their compatriots? Gross suggests that the answers lie in the nasty behavior of Poles toward the Jews during the war. It has to do with taking Jewish property and betraying Jewish Poles to the Nazis. The fear came from being faced with what they had done during the war; the surviving Jews reminded them of their recent rapacious and immoral past. Gross is a brilliant writer. There is never anything ponderous about his prose. It's clear and engaging, even if the stories he has to tell are terrifying."--Norman Naimark, Hoover Institution

"Jan Gross's Fear is an extraordinary account and analysis of postwar Polish anti-Semitism. In many ways, this book is a sequel to Gross's celebrated Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. While Neighbors described and analyzed the assault by Polish citizens on their Jewish neighbors in the immediate aftermath of the German occupation of East Poland in the summer of 1941, Fear reconstructs and interprets physical and ideological attacks on Jews by Poles after Poland's liberation from the Nazis. But unlike the case of Jedwabne, here no one can argue about the presence or absence of German perpetrators. Anyone who reads this frightening account will realize the intensity and pervasiveness of anti-Jewish sentiments in postwar Polish society. This is a passionate yet well-documented, powerfully argued, and tightly controlled book. It is remarkable."--Omer Bartov, Brown University

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently well written and fascinating 3 Dec 2011
As an English non-Jew and after living in Poland for six years and being astonished at the strong but mostly hidden under current of anti-Semitism that still pervades in the country from the least educated to the most educated strata of society, and despite the fact that there are hardly Jews still living in Poland because they almost all either left or were killed, I decided to read this book. It is exceptionally well written and in a calm, non emotional and brutally rational manner that is fascinating if one wants to understand Poland and the Polish people. Strongly recommended.
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Historical Garbage 7 Dec 2012
This book is written by a known anti-Pole writer who is trying to milk the Holy Cow of Holocaust from its former victims.The anti-semitism in Poland originates from Jewish terror under Communism , from Jewish collaboration with Germans in extermination of Poles.Mr. Gross probably had Stalinist parents and he left Poland because his priviliged status ended. Angry at the situation and to cover Jewish crimes he vilifies Poles.He forgets the millions of Poles ( 1/3 of families) that Jewish commissars sent to Syberia when the Soviets entered Poland in 1939. He never mentions the Jewish terror after 1945 of Stalin's underlings like Solomon Morel who escaped to Israel and could not be extradited. He is blind to Jakub Berman's crimes as the head of the UB and his bloody hands.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  46 reviews
111 of 158 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Compare "Fear" With An Earlier Book By Gross 22 Aug 2007
By pareto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The invasion of Poland by Germany and Russia in September of 1939 was an unprovoked partition of the country. It is understood that the Poles were not pleased by the Russian occupation, but it may be thought that the Russian occupation was a minor annoyance compared to the occupation by the Germans. In an earlier book Revolution from Abroad written in his pre-postmodern days, when Gross was an associate professor at Emory, Gross carefully and with excellent documentation shows how wrong this notion was. He wrote (Revolution from Abroad, Princeton Univ. Press, 1st ed., p. 229):

"These very conservative estimates show that the Soviets killed or drove to their deaths three or four times as many people as the Nazis from a population half the size of that under German jurisdiction. This comparison holds for the first two years of the Second World War, the period before the Nazis began systematic mass annihilation of the Jewish population."

Gross shows that, for Polish Catholics, the Soviets were even worse, indeed much worse than the brutal Nazis. Essentially all the Polish professional and semiprofessional classes (doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, managers, foremen, farmers with holding beyond a few acres, etc.) were rounded up by the Soviets and then either killed immediately or retained in prisons for shipments to slave labor camps in Siberia and Central Asia. Prison conditions were hellish, worse than those in the Nazi concentration camps. Gross writes (Revolution from Abroad, p. 161): "In Lwów, twenty-eight people living in a 11.5 sq. m cell relied on the geometrical skills of a gifted high school student who fitted them most ingeniously by size into an intricate pattern." Sanitary conditions were appalling, with inmates frequently forced to urinate and defecate on the floors of the cells.

What was the situation with the Jews in the lands occupied by the Soviets and what was their attitude to the occupiers? Gross writes (Revolution from Abroad, p. 32):

"What Poles and Ukrainians report, often with biting irony, the Jews do not deny: 'Jews greeted the Soviet army with joy. The youth was spending days and evenings with the soldiers. . . Jews received incoming Russians enthusiastically, they [the Russians] also trusted them [the Jews].'"

Again, Gross writes (Revolution from Abroad, p. 34, quoting Celina Koninska):

"It is hard to find words to describe the feeling -- this waiting and this happiness. We wondered how to express ourselves -- to throw flowers? To sing? To organize a demonstration? How to show our great joy? I think the Jews awaiting the Messiah will feel, when he finally comes, the way we felt. "

These warm receptions by Jews for the Soviets in eastern Poland were in September of 1939, when there were no Germans in sight. The Jews were rejoicing over the occupation of eastern Poland by the Russians. To Polish Catholics, this was simply treason, analogous to the occasional warm receptions in western Poland of the Germans by some Volksdeutsche.

Now, it is undeniable that in the German-occupied portion of Poland where the situation of the Jews was worse than that of the Catholics, many Polish families hid Jews from the Nazi occupiers. It is a matter of record that Poles are listed at Yad Vashem numerically first amongst the righteous Gentiles for risking their lives and those of their families for sheltering Jews from the Nazis. So, it is fair to ask the question, "When did Jews use their favored position in Soviet occupied eastern Poland to shelter Polish Catholics from the NKVD?" This reviewer regrets to say that he cannot find any instances of such assistance.

Up to the day (June 22, 1941) when Hitler broke his deal with Stalin and invaded Soviet-occupied Poland, Gross (Revolution from Abroad p. 194) estimates that 1.25 million people were transported into the Soviet Union from eastern Poland. The ghastly NKVD prisons in Poland were generally used as holding cells for Poles awaiting execution or prison train space for transportation to the gulags. When the Germans attacked the Soviets on June 22, 1941, the NKVD killed or moved to the east 150,000 prisoners from these holding cells. In the Brygidki prison in Lwów, on June 22, 1941, the NKVD killed almost all of the 13,000 inmates. (Revolution from Abroad, p. 179). This was recorded by Gross as a "massacre" rather than a pogrom.

After the Nazis occupied western Poland in 1939, they encouraged anti-Semitic acts by the Poles, including pogroms. The Germans had only the most minimal success. Polish Catholics were not inclined to participate in Nazi murders. Moreover, the Polish underground punished betrayal of Jews to the Nazis by death. In Fear, Gross eschews the careful data based arguments he gave in his earlier book Revolution from Abroad. What is substituted is the kind of postmodern sermonizing that appeals to Gross's anti-Polish, anti-Catholic choir.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars to understand the depth of human fear (and a must read for Poles who don't know about it) 7 May 2013
By Hanna Jackiewicz - Published on Amazon.com
As a Polish citizen, I have grown up knowing about pogroms (we do learn about them in school).

Nonetheless, this a student of political relations and sociology I found this book extremely engaging. Prof. Gross takes a fair, insightful, and well informed approach.

By bringing in personal stories and facts, Prof. Gross explores why the pogroms happened after a war that devastated the entire nation. Since Poland was not particularly anti-semitic before the war, where did this hatred towards Jews come from? Considering the fierce Polish resistance against the Nazis, he rejects the thesis that it simply "rubbed off" from the Nazis. His answer is the title of the book, fear, and he does a remarkable job exploring the sources and implications of that fear-- fear that is not nation-specific, but really a display of the human condition under extreme circumstances.
98 of 147 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gross's "Historical Interpretation" 3 July 2006
By Charles Chotkowski - Published on Amazon.com
In his new book, "Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz" (Random House), Jan T. Gross advances a novel thesis: "it was widespread collusion in the Nazi-driven plunder, spoliation, and eventual murder of the Jews that generated Polish anti-Semitism after the war." His case in point is the Kielce pogrom of July 4, 1946.

The Kielce pogrom was a horrific massacre; an uncontrolled mob of soldiers, policemen and civilians murdered 42 Jews. Gross devotes two chapters of his book to Kielce, but his narrative of the pogrom does not prove his thesis.

Nowhere does Gross show that the victims were former residents who had returned to Kielce to reclaim their property, or that the perpetrators held formerly Jewish possessions. It's doubtful he could: the victims had arrived from the Soviet Union, and presumably came from the eastern Polish borderlands, not Kielce.

Nor is the allegation of "widespread collusion" in plunder and spoliation substantiated. The over 20 million ethnic Poles in postwar Poland could not, as a whole or in major part, have plundered the limited amount of property the 3.3 million Jews in prewar Poland owned.

The "eventual murder" of Jews was a German crime without Polish participation, except in a few instances like Jedwabne. The Germans did not use Poles as death camp guards or SS-auxiliaries. It is illogical to claim that a postwar pogrom is proof of Polish behavior during the war.

Gross prefaces his theory with "Until someone offers an alternative explanation, we must consider that..." He makes bald assertions, with scant statistical data behind them.

Deborah Lipstadt mistakenly wrote in Publishers Weekly that a government investigation confirmed Gross's book "Neighbors" about the Jedwabne massacre. The investigation found about 400 victims, not 1,600, about 40 perpetrators, not half the town, and two other cities, not "many," with similar size massacres.
76 of 114 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Truth is at the center 16 Aug 2006
By M. Pronczuk - Published on Amazon.com
I have been disturbed to read the acclaim for this book. I'd like to use someone else's words to give different perspective (Mark Kohan review): Calling post-war Poles property-grabbing murderers is racist. Were there Poles who resented Jews for what the Nazis had done to their country? Certainly. Does that make all Poles anti-Semitic? Certainly not. Were there Poles who, at the cost of their own lives, gave Jews food and shelter? Certainly. Does that make all Poles heroes? Certainly not. Why is blame not placed squarely on the occupying communist authorities, who--wishing to establish complete control over Poland--were the instigators of post-war pogroms? Gross and his ilk--writing as if obliged to deface Poland--refuse to see the truth, which is neither black, nor white, but a depressing gray." I have read enough history books to know that a book that villifies a whole nation has a squeued vision of what really happened.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poland is Still an Anti Semitic Nation! 17 May 2013
By ParrotLover - Published on Amazon.com
Here are the facts: Jewish people from all over the World would never return to their Polish Homeland. Most of my family were killed by the Polish people in collaboration with the Nazis. The Poles were willing and efficient murderers. Their reward: seizure of the dead Jews homes. property and possessions. The Polish people still fear that Jews will return and claim what was stolen from them. That's why you see a huge number of Polish denyers. However, no Jew would ever return to Poland as we are aware of the intense hatred that Poles still have for Jews. Want to see modern anti-Semitism? Read some of the reviews on Holocaust Books and see that most of the 1 star ratings and denyers are Polish.
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