A debate is scheduled today (Jan. 24) at Jagiellonian University in Krakow on the controversial book “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz” by Jan Tomasz Gross.
The book claims to be a study of postwar Polish anti-Semitism. The book relates how Poles from all segments of society persecuted Holocaust survivors and accuses Polish Catholic Church leaders and Communist officials of refusing to use their influence to stop the pogroms, massacres and plundering of the Jews.
Author Gross, 60, is a controversial American historian of Polish Jewish origin. He was born in Warsaw and was expelled from Warsaw University after a student protest. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1969 and is now a professor at Princeton University.
Since the release of “Fear” by the publishing house ZNAK, the book has caused an uproar and provoked many conflicting opinions in Poland.
The book has been criticized by Catholic leaders, including the Krakow archbishop, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who said “Fear” has awakened anti-Polish and anti-Semitic demons and doesn’t adhere to historical truth.
The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, says the book doesn’t say anything new and shouldn’t spoil the Christian-Jewish ecumenical dialogue. He emphasized that we live in a free country, so one may publish such books and others may disagree.
“It is a very ticklish subject for me,” Schudrich said. “The only duty we all have is to regret. Many Jews were killed after the war. It is a tragedy. But who did it and why he did it – it is a question to be answered by historians.”
“There is only one judge in our tradition – God. He decides who is guilty and who is not,” Schudrich added.
Jan Zaryn of the Institute of National Remembrance – an organization set up to examine Nazi and Stalinist crimes in Poland – says that Gross’s book regurgitates the view of Poles as anti-Semites. Zaryn adds that the book is not filled with historical fact and analysis, as Gross claims, but is “speculation and stereotypes.”
In an interview on Polish Radio, Zaryn referred to the book, “After the Extermination” by Marek Chodkiewicz, which has a different point of view. Chodkiewicz says the murders of Jews during the postwar period were simply criminal acts and not racially motivated.
Gross himself claims to be objective and following historical truth. He is not surprised by the discussions about his book, but he is astonished by the outrage in some circles of Polish society. The most surprising issue for him is the possibility of being sued by the Prosecutor’s Office in Krakow for insulting the Polish nation.
Gross says that unlike many people in Poland, he wants to see not only the positive aspects of national history, but some difficult moments from the past as well.