Neighbors : The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, Hardback Book

Neighbors : The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland Hardback

3 out of 5 (3 ratings)


One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town's Jews.

Neighbors tells their story. This is a shocking, brutal story that has never before been told.

It is the most important study of Polish-Jewish relations to be published in decades and should become a classic of Holocaust literature.

Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into an engulfing reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history.

His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism.

It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne's Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations.

After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne's surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area.

The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it. Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne's Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street.

As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why.

In many ways, this is a simple book. It is easy to read in a single sitting, and hard not to.

But its simplicity is deceptive. Gross's new and persuasive answers to vexed questions rewrite the history of twentieth-century Poland.

This book proves, finally, that the fates of Poles and Jews during World War II can be comprehended only together.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 216 pages, 27 halftones, 3 maps
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9780691086675

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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

Sets the record straight (for non-Poles, at least) about who massacred the Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, in 1941. Gross tries to make an historiographical case study out of it but fails.Brief story briefer: 98+% of Jedwabne's Jewish residents were murdered in early July 1941. <b>H</b>istory held that it was the work of German special forces, and the community allowed (perhaps even encouraged) that story. However, trials held in Poland in 1949 revealed publicly that Jedwabne residents played the critical roles in the murders, and oral historical evidence accumulated over the subsequent half century indicated that the community knew all along that it was they, and not the Germans, who committed the murders.There really isn't much to be said about the murders: they happened in the course of a very few days, with the vast majority occurring on a single day. Nor is there much to be said about why Christians killed their Jewish neighbors. There is more to be said (though not much of it is) about why the community allowed a false history to be told for so long, and what that may suggest about the domestic whos, whys, and hows of Poland's alliance with the Soviets.So my first big criticism is that this book is even shorter than it appears (even with its narrow pages, wide margins, and copious photos and notes). It's like a <i>précis</i> of a longer, more academic book. The simple fact of the matter is that the story of the event itself is not that long; yet it occupies the bulk of the text. The more interesting historical and historiographical questions are dispensed with in a very few pages each, basically by presenting an hypothesis and discussing how it might be examined historically, without actually engaging in such examination.My second big criticism is that the book is too abstruse for what it is. The style is more appropriate to the professional academic historian than the casual reader. For a non-Pole, the catalogue of unfamiliar personal and place-names is difficult to keep straight, and Gross assumes that once a name has been identified the reader will remember it throughout the book (a gazetteer at the end would have been helpful in this regard, and no great burden to include given the extensive photos and notes.) Then, because this book is less about History than the study and telling of it, the story isn't presented in narrative form until halfway through; prior to that chapter, the story's various historical contexts that interest Gross are examined. The upshot is that the reader picks up the story in disordered bits and pieces before the narrative version is given. While Gross may have historiographical reasons for that, I think it would have been just as effective, and much simpler, to present transcripts of official documents and oral histories, perhaps with annotations. The second half of the book (the hypotheses half) falls victim to high-syllable-count academic-speak that, given the brevity with which its subjects are treated, is not worth the effort of decipherment.None of this is to dismiss the importance of the events or how they have been portrayed since: just that this book attempts far too much for its size (and, given that, a good portion of its audience), and consequently doesn't really succeed in any respect.

Review by

A powerful book relating the story of Jedwabne, Poland where the Polish population is responsible for the murder of the town's Jewish population in 1941. I have long lived with the myth that all Poles were sympathetic to the Jews, but historically this wasn't the case - as anti-semitism continued after the war and into the communist take over of Poland. Most telling is how this anti-semitism was fed by the Catholic clergy. This book has important lessons for us today - as hatred is preached from pulpits and temples and mosques. It was Abraham Heschel who said that the Holocaust did not begin with the gas chambers - it began with evil words.

Review by

After the German military took over the Polish town of Jedwabne, the Polish townspeople got together, rounded up the Jews, and started killing them. They had the town surrounded with some folks on horseback so that anyone who tried to run away thru the fields would be caught. There were so many people beating them to death with rocks and tools was not going to kill them all so they herded a great many of them into a barn just off the square and burned them alive. <br/><br/>The Germans were taken aback at the savagery of the attack and slaughter. The Germans gave permission but from witness accounts did not appear to have guided or participated. In fact, some of the few survivors survived because they were working for the Germans in their custody. One other family hid some of the Jews. <br/><br/>A quote: "So it was not only the sight of the massacre of Jews that was unbearable. Also, the screams of the tormented people were numbing, as was the smell of their burning bodies. The slaughter of Jedwabne Jews lasted an entire day, and it was confined to a space no bigger than a sports stadium. Sleszynski’s barn, where the majority of the pogrom victims were burned in the afternoon, was but a stone’s throw from the square in the center of town. The Jewish cemetery, where many of the victims were knifed, clubbed, and stoned to death, is just across the road. And so everybody who was in town on this day and in possession of a sense of sight, smell, or hearing either participated in or witnessed the tormented deaths of the Jews of Jedwabne." <br/><br/>Several townspeople near the barn played musical instruments to drown out the screams of the burning people in side. <br/><br/>This book analyzes the event and history of the area to provide some understanding of what happened. It's a sad and horrible history that should not be forgotten so we can guard our culture from creating narratives of belief where anything like this could be excused or accepted again. <br/><br/><br/><br/>The hardcover version of the this book is almost pocket sized. So it's shorter than you would think based on page count. Not sure why they decided on the small size but still easily readable.

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