Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan T. Gross
Weight: Amazon says 7.2 ounces, but it is far more heavy than that for so many reasons.
Method of Disposal: I am really not sure. Any suggestions? It might be donated.

I have been dreading writing this for days. Every time I think about it I fall asleep instead. It seems almost impossible to “review” a book like this because the history is so deplorable how would you ever be able to focus on the quality of the writing, or even the research? I was slightly critical when I first started reading it, but that faded away as my horror grew.

This book details the mass murder of 1,600 Jewish people by their own neighbors—in one day. These people were not ordered to do so, instead they acted on their own. Sure, there were leaders, cheerleaders, and those who were particularly brutal. The country had been groped and grappled by the USSR and Germany. But what does any of that mean? We, as people, are terrifying creatures.

There was one family who hid some of their neighbors. There were only a handful of survivors, and they still had to deal with life after the Germans established control. Mass murder was no longer allowed, but the camps were the alternative.
Sometimes, it is hard to understand the reason for reading so much gruesome detail. Is it just so that we always remember? Will it really make us act different? Do we enjoy the horror we feel? What is wrong with us? In this case, one thing this book succeeded in doing was confronting what the writer stated was a hidden history that the people of Poland were ashamed of. It went against the proposal that the Germans had been the villains, not any Poles.
The author writes the following:
…the history of a society can be conceived as a collective biography. And just as in a biography—which is also composed of discrete episodes—everything in the history of a society is in rapport with everything else. And if at some point in this collective biography a big lie is situated, then everything that comes afterward will be devoid of authenticity and laced with fear of discovery. And instead of living their own lives, members of such a community will be suspiciously glancing over their shoulders, trying to guess what others think about what they are doing(113).

I guess images, words, our environment changes us. I suppose we continue to remember the worst conceivable things, by reading about them or watching them, so that we can imprint them into our brain. This is wrong, this is right, this is what a hero looks like. We are all children trying to train ourselves how to be humane. Perhaps, if we study it hard enough, attempt to feel pain deep enough, we can put to rest the community and self-doubts the Stanford Prison Experiment raised. The truths that books like this expose, “regular” people can and will turn on their neighbors if they need a scapegoat bad enough. Look around the world now, look at the other mass-exterminations of people, look at all the violence. Where are we going? What are we doing? Where is justice and what does it look like? It is easy to feel like a child, to curl up in a fetal position, and fall asleep rather than deal with it all. Complacency.

All of that being said, I still feel like I am doing the memory and the people an injustice.

And that being said, if you go on Amazon 23 people gave the book 1 star and 29 people gave it 5 stars. The accuracy of the research comes under fire quite often, as research often does in these situations. I cannot claim to be an expert on Poland during World War II. I do know that far too many people died and were tortured, and that there is no good reason. Some people dispute 1,600 vs 200-300 people. 200-300 people. 200-300 people.

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