Confronting the Past in Jedwabne

Sept. 17 2015

In the Polish town of Jedwabne, it has long been common knowledge that in July 1941 a Catholic mob burned the local Jews alive in a barn. But the publication of this information by Jan Gross in 2001 led to vociferous, and often anti-Semitic, denials throughout Poland. Anna Bikont made extensive efforts to document the massacre, resulting in a book now translated into English as The Crime and the Silence. Konstanty Gebert writes in his review:

[Bikont’s book] is indispensable reading for historians both of the Shoah and of contemporary Poland. Bikont is not a historian, but nonetheless she verifies, develops, and deepens (and occasionally corrects) [scholarly works on the subject]. . . . Bikont . . . tirelessly finds source after source, witness after witness, collects, parses and confronts their testimony—and confronts herself doing this.

The Crime and the Silence is a multilayered book. Organized in the form of a diary, it shows the author in her dogged effort to find out what happened in Jedwabne on that terrible July day. What had happened to people before that to make them behave the way they did, and after, to make them remember or forget. What happens to them now, once they are confronted with the truth about what happened. And what happens to the author, as she is confronted with that reality.

Bikont is no dispassionate observer, nor does she pretend to be one. She feels genuine admiration and sympathy for Stanisław Ramotowski, a local boy who saved a Jewish girl he had loved from the pogrom, hid her, married her, and spent the next 60 years with her—still living in Jedwabne, with murderers as neighbors. Bikont does not edit her feelings about them from her book, as a historian might have felt obliged to do. . . .

Bikont does manage to speak to two brothers who say they have nothing to hide. A few years after the war, Jerzy Laudanski was sentenced to jail for participation in the pogrom; his brother Czesław testified that he himself had been part of the mob. Today Jerzy claims they were framed by Stalinist prosecutors, and they not only had not been murderers of Jews, but fell victim themselves to “Jewish Communism.” In their words, the pogrom was conducted by Germans, with marginal Polish participation. Apparently, as the great Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski sarcastically said in 1968, “the Jews had burned themselves to spite the Poles.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Poland, Polish Jewry

Now’s the Time to Increase Economic Pressure on Iran

Jan. 27 2020

According to Richard Goldberg, the oft-heard claim that the U.S. faces a binary choice—between capitulation to the demands of the Islamic Republic regarding its nuclear program and war—is false. Washington emerged from the recent round of fighting in Iraq with a strengthened position, and Goldberg urges the Trump administration to tighten sanctions even further:

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More about: Iran nuclear program, Iran sanctions, U.S. Foreign policy