Fear – Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz

Fear – Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz
An Essay in Historical Interpretation
By Jan T. Gross
Princeton University Press – £19.95

‘’We hypothesized that the frightening tragedy of the Polish Jews would cure the Poles of anti-Semitism. It cannot be any other way, we thought, but that the sight of massacred children and old people must evoke a response of compassion and help. The common fate suffered under the occupation must somehow reconcile them. But we didn’t know about human nature… It turned out that our notions about mankind were naïve. The country surprised us.’’

To be sure, the reading of Fear – Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz – An Essay in Historical Interpretation, for perhaps want of a far less clinical description, was as surprising to read, as it was in parts, truly sickening.

That’s not to say Jan T. Gross has written a bad book – far, far from it. In fact, this book is to be resoundingly applauded from a plurality of standpoints. Its depth of research, quality of writing and effervescent telling(s) of numerous harsh truth(s), alone, warrant blatant literary praise. But the reading of the latter makes for both disturbing and cataclysmic reading.

How could a country, which had suffered so terribly at the hands of the despicable Nazis, continue to unleash unspeakable cruelty, among its nigh depleted Jewish populace?

Quoting Jerzy Andrzejewski – one of the most eminent of epic writers in post-war Poland – in the chapter ‘The Kielce Pogrom: Reactions’ (which also includes the opening quote), the author writes: ‘’Anti-Semitism is no longer an economic issue, it is no longer a political issue either… it is a moral problem pure and simple. Today it is not a question of saving the Jews from misery and death, it is a problem of saving the Poles from moral misery and spiritual death.’’

Whether or not Poland, or indeed humanity in general, has been spared of moral misery, is something of an elongated, frightening and thorny issue. One need only remind oneself of the horribly indoctrinated cruelty and myopic madness that lurks amid the psyche of the suicide bomber, to fully comprehend the need and the quintessentially scientific desire to blame. For it seems blame, is as essential a part of our psychological complexity, as is the need to love and be loved.

It’s such a shame that (certain) sections of society, continue to get it so inconceivably wrong, on an inconceivably regular basis.

Have we not learnt anything?

Writing in the book’s conclusion, Gross reminds us that the aforementioned desire to blame, was as rampant in the forties, as it is today: ‘’Opportunistic complicity with anti-Jewish Nazi policies was a universal phenomenon in occupied Europe – as much an experience of Jews and their neighbours in Paris, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Salonika as it was in Warsaw, Wilno, Riga, Minsk, Tarnopil, and Lwow. However, there were more Jews in Poland before the war than anywhere else; they were dispersed, and a multitude was killed in situ. As a result, many people became complicit in their exploitation and, as it transpired, in their death.’’

Fear – Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz may not the jolliest of book’s to read; but it is, from a sociological perspective at least, more than comprehensively enlightening.

So much so, that it ought to be made compulsory reading among Polish schools.

David Marx


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