Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Golden Harvest: Events at the Periphery of the Holocaust by Jan Tomasz Gross and Irena Grudzinska Gross

Jan Gross has a somewhat controversial history when it comes to the Holocaust and Poland.  Many view his book on the Jedwabne 'massacre' as something groundbreaking and very much thought-provoking when it comes to both the Holocaust and Poland.  Unfortunately, many others who would prefer to continue viewing Poland as the innocent first victim of Nazi Germany continually close their eyes to the debates that have begun in the wake of Gross's findings.  While his book(s) might not be perfect, they are provocative and engage the reader on the emotional level more than some other histories.  Mainly, this is due to Gross's reliance and trust in eye-witness accounts (not to say that they shouldn't be trusted, but many historians would and do have a problem with 'blind trust') that continue to offer new ideas about the actions of the local population during the Holocaust.

Within the pages of 'Golden Harvest' the reader is greeted with various accounts from Poland that deal with the economic aspects of the Holocaust.  Those familiar with the development of the Holocaust within Nazi Germany know about the numerous laws enacted against Jews that enabled a forfeiture of goods, money, property, and businesses.  This did not happen in the areas east of Germany.  There, what has been dubbed the 'Holocaust by bullets', unfolded. The local population readily turned on their Jewish neighbors and while some took their lives, others continually and consistently robbed them of their possessions. Oft was heard the idea that Jews going to their deaths should give up their clothing and valuables to their neighbors so that those doing the killing, the Germans, wouldn't receive additional benefit from Jewish deaths.  While it is true that Poles are the first Righteous Among the Nations, many who received the selfless title wound up having to hide it so that their neighbors wouldn't find out.  Finally, one of the more interesting disclosures that Gross makes is that the repeated notion that Poles who hide Jews were liable to be killed immediately if found out is untrue.  Many of those who discovered Jews in hiding within Poland were other Poles who chased, beat, raped, or murdered them but did nothing to those who hid them.

'Golden Harvest', for all of its weaknesses and limitations, once more initiates a conversation that many want repressed.  Nation states are rarely an innocent entity.  Their very existence and survival depends on death and destruction as they are created and baptized through the fires of war, be it revolutionary, civil, or otherwise.  To hold oneself up as nothing but a selfless victim is to invite controversy.  Poland has too often been victim, but her hands are far from clean when it comes to the twentieth century.  Accepting that history is complex and multifaceted, filled with not only a Manichean duality of hero and villain, will go a long way in helping us understand the twentieth century better, including Poland's role in the Second World War and the Holocaust.

No comments: