Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jedwabne, where they killed their neighbors.

I finished Jan Gross's "Neighbors" this morning on the ride in and then while in the office. It's an incredibly quick read and doesn't strike me as harrowing as the short version that appeared in a magazine, which is what I read while taking an Ethnic Conflict course in college. What is striking, though, is the bounty of testimony from individuals about what went on and the words written in pleas for clemency by those who perpetrated the murder of (the estimated) 1,600 Jews of Jedwabne in Poland. It was not the Germans who committed the killing and torture, but the neighbors of the Jews, their Polish neighbors and -- at one time -- friends. The tragedy of the event, though, is that so few survived to tell the story and because of the tense nature of Jewish/Polish relations (even to this day), few speak about it or cite the truth of the incident as opposed to citing myths or false explanations/excuses for the death of nearly all of the hamlet's Jews.

As I finished up the book, I began to wonder about the Polish/Russian relationship, as so many of the excuses cited regard the Russians as the faulters, mostly because the Jews "supported" the Russians and the Polish were at complete odds with the Russians during the occupation. It was a question of the lesser of two evils, but part of me wonders whether the Polish still hold resentment against the Russians for the pain and anguish during the war. But this is for another time.

A few websites worth examining if you know nothing or are curious about the Jedwabne massacre, or the others like it in Poland during the occupation:

-- Articles about the controversy surrounding Gross's book and the massacre here. The controversy surrounding the book comes largely from deniers and unbelievers.
-- The Jedwabne memory book online is here.
-- And of course, there's always good ole Wikipedia clickin' here.

Next on the list is a book, "Solinca," about the disappeared Jews of Greece. I'm not on a Holocaust kick by any means, but the vanished presence of Jews in the tiny and great places in the world is fascinating. What's more so, is the idea of neighbors breaking down the doors of those they shared water wells and dreams with, only to strike them down because of ages-old myths and legends, jealousy, spite or for the sake of conformity. Explain that to me, neighbor.