Gross, Jan T. 1947- (Jan Tomasz Gross)

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Gross, Jan T. 1947- (Jan Tomasz Gross)

PERSONAL:

Born August 1, 1947, in Poland; immigrated to the United States, 1969. Education: Yale University, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th St., 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10012-1119. Agent—The Wylie Agency, 250 West 57th St., New York, NY 10107. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

New York University, New York, NY, professor of politics and history, associate chair of the Center for European Studies.

AWARDS, HONORS:

National Book Award, for Neighbors: Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland.

WRITINGS:

Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939-1944, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1979.

(Editor, with Irena Grudzi'nska-Gross) War through Children's Eyes: The Soviet Occupation of Poland and the Deportations, 1939-41, translation by Ronald Strom and Dan Rivers, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University (Stanford, CA), 1981.

(Editor) Jadwiga Staniszkis, Poland's Self-Limiting Revolution, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1984.

Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1988, expanded edition with new preface, 2002.

(Editor, with István Deák and Tony Judt) The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2000.

Neighbors: Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.

Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation, Random House (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Jan T. Gross's writings reflect his teaching interests, Russian and Eastern European politics. In Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939-1944, he uses the Poles as an example in explaining why people behave as they do under enemy occupation. C.M. Woodhouse wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that in this regard, Gross "is a sociologist rather than a historian…. His thesis is that the structure of a society cannot be literally destroyed even by the harshest of foreign tyrannies." A Choice reviewer felt Gross's approach "creates a fresh perspective on an exhaustively researched subject."

In Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Gross examines documents, including interviews, col- lected by Polish authorities following the Soviet occupation of 1939 to 1941. Using this data, he looks at the way in which the Soviets gained power and analyzes topics that include elections, conquest, deportations, imprisonment, and socialization. Choice's G.D. Nicoll commented that this volume "covers an important episode in WW II that served as a prelude to subsequent Soviet expansion." Library Journal contributor Rena Fowler called it "a well-written and carefully documented study."

Gross is coeditor of The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, a collection of comparative studies of how, following World War II, Western and Central Europe handled the experience of Nazi occupation. "The outcome is a book of consistently high analytical quality," wrote Derek W. Urwin in English Historical Review, "which possesses a degree of cohesion that is normally difficult to achieve in an edited collection." Trevor Burridge noted in History that most of the twelve essays are about specific countries, but added that the editors "have also added some sparkling essays of a more detached nature. Taken as a whole, the volume glows with penetrating scholarship, brilliant essays, and fascinating generalizations." The countries discussed include Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Greece, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, and the Balkans are not examined, but as Paul Buteux pointed out in Perspectives on Political Science, "it is easy to believe that parallels exist in the postwar experience of all European countries suffering occupation between 1939 and 1945. The main issues raised in the book are how collaborators were treated in the aftermath of liberation, how collaboration was defined, and who was chosen for retribution."

"It is not surprising to read how the justice meted out at the end of World War II was often flawed," wrote Richard Crampton in Europe-Asia Studies. "In Hungary, as Laszlo Karsai shows, the judges were frequently ill-informed and almost always biased; he also points out that a number of clearly guilty people were not tried because of age or infirmity…. Nor did the trials always fulfil their intended function of discrediting the wartime authorities and therefore giving legitimacy to their successors." Alan S. Milward noted in the Times Literary Supplement that the collection demonstrates that "the role of memory was influential in retribution, through altering or overriding the law as it had existed at the time the alleged criminal acts were committed. It gave most of the executions, imprisonments and deprivations of rights a retrospective legal quality, which made them less than pure justice."

Neighbors: Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland is Gross's history of the atrocities committed in this small town on July 10, 1941. During one day, the Polish residents of Jedwabne slaughtered the 1,600 men, women, and children who had been their Jewish neighbors. Victims were dragged from their homes early in the day by men wielding knives, axes, and nail-studded clubs. People were mutilated, their tongues and eyes cut out, their throats cut, and were killed or left to bleed to death. Babies were torn from their mother's arms and trampled, and children were tossed onto a bonfire with pitchforks. The victims were made to commit unspeakable acts and dig their own graves. Mothers drowned their children, then themselves, in order to be spared from the torture and pain. Finally, the remaining Jews were herded into a barn that was doused with kerosene and set ablaze. When the day was over, only seven had escaped.

Although the slaughter was encouraged by the Germans who occupied the town, it was the Poles who planned it and carried it out. Evidence to this effect surfaced during trials in 1949 and 1953 and in a memorial book published in 1980, which contains several eyewitness accounts. "An investigation into the Jedwabne horror led to the acquittal of ten defendants, to the release of another dozen well before the end of their sentences, and to the reprieve of the one and only accused actually sentenced to death," commented George Steiner in the London Observer. "Soon Jedwabne and numerous other names steeped in blood disappeared from the map of permissible remembrance. Professor Gross himself emigrated from Poland in 1969 to escape the vicious anti-Semitic campaigns orchestrated by the government."

After the war, the town erected a monument to the massacre that they attributed to the Nazis. Gross writes that the atrocities extended to the nearby towns of Radzilow and Wasosz, where 1,500 and 1,200 Jews were killed, respectively, just days before the Jedwabne massacre.

New Leader contributor Alvin H. Rosenfeld wrote: "Inevitably, Gross asks: What were the motives of those who humiliated, tortured, and murdered their fellow citizens? How did so many not only live so long with the knowledge of what happened but support the fraudulent postwar history that attributed the atrocities to others? How can Poland, a nation brutally victimized by the Germans during World War II, reconcile itself to the disturbing realization that a segment of its population was actively in league with the Nazis, and in some ways even outdid them in cruelty and destruction?"

"Of course, the memory of the horrible incident persisted in Jedwabne—among eyewitnesses, and their children, and even their grandchildren," noted Jaroslaw Anders in the New Republic. "Several Polish historians who took part in the passionate and often vitriolic debate that surrounded the publication of Gross's book in Poland displayed a surprising familiarity with the details of the crime. And yet for all those years, not only under communism but also after its fall, an event of this magnitude was never considered worthy of scholarly inquiry. It remained buried deep within the ‘silent zone’ of the Polish mind."

Anders continued, saying that "even the notion of anti-Semitism occupies a curious blind spot in the Poles' otherwise sharp historical vision. Poland had powerful political parties that openly preached the hatred of Jews; and the Catholic Church in Poland perpetuated anti-Jewish prejudices; and the anti-Jewish rants sometimes reached even the highest strata of Polish culture; and during the interwar period of independence there existed written and unwritten anti-Jewish laws; and violence against Jews was practiced brazenly and often with impunity: all this may be admissible. But there was no anti-Semitism! The very mention of the term still provokes indignant denials."

"Gross's scrupulously documented study challenges another cherished myth: the noble attempts of most Poles to save Jews," wrote Abraham Brumberg in the Times Literary Supplement. "In point of fact, saving Jews was, by and large, held in contempt, and valiant Poles who did so feared their neighbours more than the Germans. Thus an extraordinarily courageous couple in Jedwabne who sheltered several Jews until the end of the war were so despised and hounded by their neighbours that they and their children had to move from one place to another, in every new place encountering the same hatred, finally leaving the area altogether."

Robert S. Wistrich, who reviewed the volume in Commentary, noted that "among educated and liberal-minded Poles, the book generated a wave of agonized soul-searching.… The nationalist and Catholic Right denounced Gross's book as little more than an effort to defame the country." Wistrich said that some scholarly critics, although they accepted the "raw facts … accused Gross of exaggerating the role of anti-Semitism and failing to see the full historical context of the townsmen's bloody rampage. According to Tomaz Strzembosc, a prominent historian at the Catholic University of Lublin, the atrocity at Jedwabne could not be understood apart from the brutal Soviet occupation that immediately preceded it, an occupation enthusiastically welcomed by the region's Jews, who then took part en masse in establishing the new Communist order."

"According to this view of the war—a view still widely shared in Poland," wrote Wistrich, "the murders at Jedwabne, however regrettable in retrospect, were an act of retribution. As the town's current priest observed, what took place sixty years ago was ‘a battle against Communists and not the Jews.’ Thus, ‘we cannot apologize for what happened until the Jews apologize first for turning their Polish neighbors over to the Soviets before the German occupation.’"

"But the accumulation of evidence persuaded the country's president, the conference of bishops, and significant sections of the media to issue statements acknowledging Polish responsibility for the massacre and expressing remorse," wrote Bernard Wasserstein in English Historical Review. "Gross discusses the reaction to his work and argues for a greater openness by historians to nontraditional sources, such as photographs and survivors' testimonies, ‘lonely voices reaching us from the abyss.’"

A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that Neighbors "isn't as terrifying as one might expect, since Gross, a Polish emigre himself, guides the reader along an analytical path." Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Steven Erlanger felt that Gross "has written more an essay than a history, a thoughtful, sometimes oblique meditation on the Jedwabne affair. From time to time, he stretches for meaning, but in general he is cautious and fair to the facts." Erlanger concluded that it would be useful, "given the theme of Neighbors, to know how many communities there were in Poland where Jews were murdered by local inhabitants during the war. If Polish responsibility during the Holocaust is the issue, then surely that is the question, and this fine, careful book about the awful massacre in Jedwabne is only the beginning of an answer."

Antony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic collected materials representing the controversy ignited by Neighbors and published them as The Neighbors Respond:The Controversy over the Jedweabne Massacre in Poland, Princeton University Press, 2004. In Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation, Gross counters with what a Publishers Weekly contributor described as "an even more substantial study of postwar Polish anti-Semitism. This book tells a wartime horror story that should force Poles to confront an untold—and profoundly terrifying—aspect of their history." This history relates that the persecution of the Polish Jews did not cease with the end of the war. Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust represented the remaining 10 percent of their community that survived. Now ill and emaciated, they attempted to return to their homes, where they had peacefully coexisted with their neighbors before the war, but continued to be met with violence. The Poles who helped the Jews were targeted when found out, and many of the Polish Jews fled. Police and the military joined in the slaughter until by 1949, no Polish Jews remained.

Gross notes the 1946 massacre of eighty Jews in the town of Kielce, but notes that this scene was duplicated in other towns across Poland. The Catholic Church lay the blame on the Jews themselves, and the Communists refused to prosecute the guilty. "Ultimately, what's far more important than the ‘why’ of this story is the ‘that’ that a civilized nation could have descended so low, and that such behavior must be documented, remembered, discussed," commented David Margolick in the New York Times Book Review. America contributor Doris Donnelly wrote that Fear "could well exceed its shock value if it contributes to jostling mind-sets that accept discrimination and prejudice of any kind and if it helps bind us together as members of one human family. Above all else, that is the strength and promise of this superb book."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

America, October 23, 2006, Doris Donnelly, review of Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation, p. 24.

American Historical Review, February, 1990, Anna M. Cienciala, review of Revolution from Abroad: Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, p. 206; October, 2001, Norman M. Naimark, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and Its Aftermath, p. 1450.

Australian Journal of Politics and History, September, 2001, R.J.B. Bobsworth, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 443.

Booklist, May 1, 2001, George Cohen, review of Neighbors: Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, p. 1659; June 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Fear, p. 10.

Choice, December, 1979, review of Polish Society under German Occupation: The Generalgouvernement, 1939-1944, p. 1357; November, 1988, G.D. Nicoll, review of Revolution from Abroad, pp. 549-550; March, 2002, M.A. Meyer, review of Neighbors, p. 1302.

Commentary, October, 2001, Robert S. Wistrich, review of Neighbors, p. 76.

Commonweal, January 11, 2002, Alexander Charns, review of Neighbors, p. 16.

English Historical Review, June, 2001, Derek W. Urwin, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 763; November, 2001, Bernard Waserstein, review of Neighbors, p. 1303.

Europe-Asia Studies, December, 2000, Richard Crampton, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 1553.

First Things, January, 2007, Andrzej Fister-Stoga, review of Fear, p. 39.

History, summer, 2000, Trevor Burridge, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 162.

Journal of Military History, April, 2002, Hal Elliott Wert, review of Neighbors, p. 603.

Journal of Modern History, March, 2002, Perry Biddiscombe, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 139.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2006, review of Fear, p. 448.

Library Journal, April 15, 1988, Rena Fowler, review of Revolution from Abroad, p. 79; January, 2002, Barbara Hoffert, review of Neighbors, p. 49.

New Leader, May, 2001, Alvin H. Rosenfeld, review of Neighbors, p. 21.

New Republic, April 9, 2001, Jaroslaw Anders, review of Neighbors, p. 36.

New York Review of Books, May 31, 2001, István Deák, review of Neighbors, p. 51.

New York Times Book Review, June 12, 1988, Thomas Swick, review of Revolution from Abroad, p. 23; April 8, 2001, Steven Erlanger, review of Neighbors, p. 17; July 23, 2006, David Margolick, review of Fear, p. 1.

Observer (London, England), April 8, 2001, George Steiner, review of Neighbors.

Perspectives on Political Science, winter, 2001, Paul Buteux, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 54.

Publishers Weekly, May 7, 2001, review of Neighbors, p. 230.

Shofar, summer, 2003, Saul Friedman, review of Neighbors, p. 147.

Slavic Review, fall, 2001, Randolph L. Braham, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, p. 605; May 29, 2006, Deborah E. Lipstadt, review of Fear, p. 48.

Spectator, September 2, 2006, review of Fear.

Times Literary Supplement, December 14, 1979, C.M. Woodhouse, review of Polish Society under German Occupation, pp. 136-137; April 14, 2000, Alan S. Milward, review of The Politics of Retribution in Europe, pp. 7-8; March 2, 2001, Abraham Brumberg, review of Neighbors, pp. 8-9.

Washington Post Book World, March 14, 2001, Peter Finn, review of Neighbors, p. 1.

ONLINE

Hindu,http://www.hinduonnet.com/ (November 11, 2001), review of Neighbors.