Joanna Beata Michlic
Inversion of the Historical Truth about Jedwabne
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Massacre in Jedwabne, July 10, 1941: Before, During, and After. East European Monographs, Boulder, CO, 2005. Distributed by Columbia University Press, New York 2005. pp. 277.
Books with little merit, which present intellectually and morally unacceptable interpretations, are usually not reviewed but are ignored and forgotten. Massacre in Jedwabne, July 10, 1941: Before, During, and After would be such a book. Why, then, is it the subject of my review? The main reason is that Chodakiewicz’s monograph illustrates a certain trend in historical discourse on the massacre in Jedwabne: a trend in Polish post-communist and ethno-nationalist historiography. It does not accept the complicated history of Poland and the complex image of (ethnic) Poles, which depicts them not only as heroes and victims but also as evildoers committing crimes against Polish Jews and representatives of other ethnic and cultural minorities living in Poland. This historiography often accepts a pre-existing set of antisemitic stereotypes and preconceptions in promoting an image of Poland as only heroic, suffering, noble, and innocent. Moreover, even though it defines itself as strongly anti-communist, when discussing Polish–Jewish relations it often borrows concepts and interpretations about Jews from communist historiography. If we examine the publications of right-wing, nationalist publishers such as Fronda, and even some recent publications of Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Institute of National Remembrance; IPN), it becomes obvious that such historiography is not marginal and that it influences the shaping of historical awareness and public opinion. Chodakiewicz as an author is one of its main advocates.
The journalist Agata Kłopotowska has already characterized Chodakiewicz’s book as the most valuable resource in the debate over the massacre of the Jewish population of Jedwabne on 10 July 1941. Her article, ‘Zbrodnia wyreżyserowana’ (‘Staged Crime’), was published in Gazeta Polska on 10 July 2002, three years before Massacre in Jedwabne appeared on the American market. In his introduction to Massacre in Jedwabne, Chodakiewicz stresses the unique character of his own book and also declares that his monograph, unlike Jan Tomasz Gross’s Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady żydowskiego miasteczka (Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland; Sejny, 2000), is a reliable academic piece written in accordance with the strict principles of historical research (3–4). The author claims that his book is free of factual errors, a moralizing tone, and an ideological approach. Chodakiewicz even emphasizes that is it his book that rectifies factual errors and clarifies mistakes and inaccurate interpretations that are present in other writings on the topic. He also maintains that his work places the murder in Jedwabne in a wider historical context and that he offers a synthesis of knowledge about the event. The author says that his inspiration for writing came from conversations with his American professor Istvan Deák, an expert on modern Hungarian history, and that Chodakiewicz had three objectives in the book. The first two were to reconstruct the entire truth about the events in Jedwabne on 10 July 1941 and to present it to an American readership whose knowledge about Jedwabne and Polish–Jewish relations was, according to him, generally based on anti-Polish prejudice and stereotypes popularized by American intellectuals. Finally, the third objective was to resume Polish–Jewish reconciliation which, in Chodakiewicz’s opinion, had come to a standstill since the discussion about Gross’s book, Neighbors.
At first glance, these aims may seem worthy of the attention of readers unaware of the scholarly research and recent literature on Jedwabne. However, to a more informed reader, the initial description of the objectives of Massacre in Jedwabne will be striking because of its didactic tone, false presentation, and excessive self-confidence of the author. Chodakiewicz seems to want to convince the reader that he is the most informed expert on Jedwabne, and that other works on the topic pale in comparison with his. To achieve this goal, he distorts the reaction of American Jewish organizations and American scholars to the ‘drawing out from under the surface’ of the historical truth about Jedwabne by Gross. Contrary to Chodakiewicz’s claims, these reactions were mostly positive and have led to many educational initiatives, a deeper interest in Polish history, as well further debates about the difficult and painful history of Polish–Jewish relations over the past two hundred years.
Massacre in Jedwabneis a peculiar book due to the author’s incompetence and the complete ideologization of the subject, as well as his striking lack of distance in relation to his own ideological point of view, or perhaps just an insufficient awareness of this lack of distance. As with his earlier books, in Massacre in Jedwabne Chodakiewicz forgets about the principal rule of historical research, which defines the task of the historian as to reduce false depictions, distorted, deceitful interpretations, and not to propagate certain ‘absolute’ truths about the past. What is more, his erroneous interpretation of Gross’s Neighbours as a book promoting the theory of Polish responsibility for the Holocaust (158) shows that Chodakiewicz is incapable of reading texts without ascribing false hypotheses and interpretations to them. It may also attest to the fact that the author has not acquired the very important and basic ability to read texts professionally, one of the most crucial principles of historical research, which history students learn in their first lessons.
Massacre in Jedwabneis divided into two parts, ‘Context’ and ‘Massacre’, each containing four chapters, and a conclusion. The book abounds with incoherent reasoning, presentation of contradictory ideas, and a consequent lack of logical argumentation. The layout itself reflects this incoherence. While Chodakiewicz emphasizes the academic nature of his book and the originality of his own theories, reflections, and conclusions, Massacre in Jedwabne constantly resembles the journalistic speculations and opinions found in Nasz Dziennik or Życie, popularized for almost two years during the Jedwabne debate. It is shocking to encounter the didactic tone, false reasoning, and unrestrained emotional attitude of the author towards many of the personages in his book. As in the above-mentioned newspapers, Chodakiewicz’s starts his reflections on the massacre with an ideological, indeed Manichean and not scholarly, division of characters into ‘good’—conservatives, Christians, and nationalists defending Poland and its honour—and ‘bad’—liberals and communists acting to the detriment of the country. He sometimes lumps liberals and communists together. For instance, he claims in the introduction that the liberal Polish intelligentsia accepted Gross’s version of the crime in Jedwabne because of Gross’s dissident origin and status as an American scholar, as well as because of that group's pro-Jewish attitude, factors that made them consider Poles as accomplices to the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews (3). The author therefore suggests that the liberal intelligentsia supports Polish–Jewish reconciliation for the price of the truth. In Chapter 8, Chodakiewicz writes that present-day academia in Poland is still dominated by communist ‘apparatchiks’ who ‘dressed communist propaganda in liberal clothes’ after 1989, and who omitted and neglected the subject of the Holocaust and other topics relating to anti-German and anti-Soviet activities of the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne) (159). Moreover, Chodakiewicz’s final reflections about the lack of knowledge and on propagating false statements about Poland and Polish–Jewish relations among American academics quote almost directly from an interview with Bogdan Musiał, ‘Nie wolno się bać. O książce Jana Grossa i stosunkach polsko-żydowskich z Bogdanem Musiałem rozmawia Paweł Paliwoda’ (‘One Must Not Fear. Paweł Paliwoda Talks to Bogdan Musiał about Jan Gross’s Book and Polish–Jewish relations’). The interview was published in Życie on 2 February 2001 and is found at http://www.naszawitryna.pl/jedwabne_61.html. Like Musiał, and without providing specific examples, Chodakiewicz characterizes American academia specializing in research about the Holocaust in Poland as intellectually poor and lacking serious academic achievements. This judgement seems to be a rather wide and untrue simplification, considering the significant developments in research on Polish–Jewish relations over the past two decades thanks to the co-operation of American, Israeli, and Polish academics. The viewpoint merely points to the author’s arrogance, rarely found to such an extent in publications aspiring to be regarded as academic. It also shows Chodakiewicz’s obsessive tendency to divide the world into allies and enemies.
The Main Hypothesis: Inversion of Historical Truth
The main hypothesis, upon which Chodakiewicz elaborates only in the conclusion, is nothing but another version of his own theories professed during the debate about Neighbours. These theories were also emphasized by Musiał, Tomasz Strzembosz, and other historians who share Chodakiewicz’s (ethno-) nationalist views. This hypothesis takes contrary, inconsistent arguments, and has just one aim—to burnish the image of ethnically Polish residents of Jedwabne who participated in the crime against their Jewish neighbours on 10 July 1941. There is no doubt that Chodakiewicz’s theory inverts recent research findings about the massacre. Even though these findings suggest different points of view about certain aspects of the incident--aspects which are especially difficult to establish (such as determining the exact number of victims and providing a detailed description of the way in which the Germans consented to the massacre), they agree that local ethnic Poles were responsible for the murder and that the Germans did not play a significant role in committing the crime. The account as presented by Chodakiewicz opposes both Gross’s interpretation and those of a group of historians from the IPN, contained in eight articles of the first volume of Wokół Jedwabnego, edited by Paweł Machcewicz and Krzystof Persak (Warsaw, 2002). It also contradicts Andrzej Żbikowski’s latest synthetic study of sixty-seven massacres of Jews in the Łomża region (U genezy Jedwabnego, Warsaw, 2006), as well as findings of the investigation conducted by the IPN upon the request of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek. These findings were announced by Public Prosecutor Radosław J. Ignatiew on 9 July 2002. Chodakiewicz’s theory is also not supported by the journalistic investigation into memory of the crime among current residents of Jedwabne, meticulously carried out by Anna Bikont (My z Jedwabnego [We of Jedwabne], Warsaw, 2004).
Chodakiewicz claims that the Germans were responsible for the planning, organization, and execution of the crime. To support this argument, he states that Polish thugs and semi-literates who participated in the crime would not have been intellectually capable of effectively separating strong Jewish men from weak elderly Jews, Jewish women, and children (81). He states that neither those who took part in the massacre of their own free will nor those who were forced to do so by the Germans were aware of the fate awaiting the Jews (166). Therefore, the author suggests that they did not intend to kill their Jewish neighbours. He uses other unconvincing arguments to upgrade the image of the real murderers, claiming, for example, that the Poles who perpetrated the crime belonged to a certain small group which became even smaller as the events unfolded (167). Chodakiewicz estimates that fifty Poles acted of their own free will, but shortly afterward in his account, he reduces this number to twenty of the most involved tormentors who directly helped the Germans. He then identifies volksdeutsche and degenerates among the group—two categories of people never considered part of a healthy body of Polish society in post-war popular thinking or in historical thought.
Chodakiewicz’s theories about the ethnic and social origins of the most active perpetrators are inconsistent with the findings of Andrzej Rzepliński, who analyzed court documents. According to Rzepliński, twenty-three men who found themselves on trial in 1949 and 1953 were not very different from others in Jedwabne’s Christian community. They were not the dregs of society but rather ordinary citizens; eleven were married and had children. Four were members of the National Party (Stronnictwo Narodowe; SN) (Wokół Jedwabnego, vol. 1, p. 423). Andrzej Żbikowski comes to the same conclusion: that the perpetrators did not come from a demoralized minority completely detached from the morally ‘healthy’ majority (vol. 1, p. 165). In his description of the killers and their degree of involvement in the massacre, Chodakiewicz does not take into account the analysis of Dariusz Stola, published on 1–2 June 2001 in Rzeczpospolita (‘Pomnik ze słów—A monument in words), in which the author divides the murderers into different categories: the initiators and organizers, and the more active and less active accomplices following the orders of the organizers. Unlike Chodakiewicz, Stola does not try to burnish the actions of the Polish perpetrators, but only to recreate the most likely scenario of the events of 10 July 1941.
Chodakiewicz’s hypothesis about the Germans planning and organizing the massacre also contradicts the findings of Edmund Dmitrów, which he quotes but from which he does not draw conclusions. Dmitrów’s analysis, published in Wokół Jedwabnego (vol. 1, pp. 272–352), is not substantially different from Gross’s conclusions in Neighbours. According to Dmitrów, the operational division of the Security Police and Einsatzkommando, most likely under the command of Hermann Schaper, appeared in Jedwabne around 10 July. Its aim was to initiate the cleansing of the region of Jews by the local people and not, as Chodakiewicz argues, to plan and lead the massacre. Dmitrów estimates that eight people were in the division; his findings as to whether the Germans took part in the crime itself (setting the barn filled with Jewish neighbours on fire) also differ significantly from Chodakiewicz’s statement about twenty German perpetrators. Based on two accounts of what had happened outside Bolesław Śleszyński’s barn just before it was set on fire, Dmitrów states that a few German policemen were in the vicinity. He believes that they belonged to the Einsatzkommando because, in accordance with orders from above, they turned to the Polish organizers of the massacre, asking them not to kill Jews who had professional qualifications. This was not a command but a request, which was not taken into consideration because local criminals responded by saying that there were sufficient numbers of professionally qualified workers in their community who would be useful to the Germans. Dimitrów concludes that the Germans consented to the massacre, but that the Poles were not forced to take part.
Chodakiewicz’s twisted theory claiming ‘non-participation’ of Poles in the crime reaches its climax when he discusses the group of fifty people whom, he claims, were forced to participate. As he writes in Massacre in Jedwabne, that group not only decreased in number during the crime, but also turned into a group of passive witnesses, and even of people who rescued Jewish survivors (168–9). This last claim does not differ much from the verdict about the crime, proclaimed by the public prosecutor Monkiewicz during the communist era. It seems to be influenced by a certain long-term and widespread view that Polish antisemites were busy saving Jews during the war. Another significant feature of Chodakiewicz’s brief description of the people who saved Jews is how little attention he devotes to a small group of people selflessly dedicated to rescuing Jews, such as Antonina Wyrzykowska and the Dziedzic family. He does not delve into why these people had to leave their homes in the early post-war period, and also even more recently in the case of the grandchildren’s generation of the Dziedzic family. Those people feared for themselves and their families, and even today their efforts to rescue Jews are not considered heroic deeds that bring pride to the places from which they came.
Chodakiewicz also tries to prove the criminals’ innocence by maintaining that they themselves became victims of the two ‘show trials’ in 1949 and 1953, for which the NKVD and Department of Security (UB) were responsible. The author argues that they were extremely maltreated by the secret police so that they would confess, confirming the version of the crime as described by Szmuel Wasersztajn, a Jewish survivor of the massacre (118). Like Strzembosz during the discussion about Jedwabne in 2001, Chodakiewicz questions the merit of Wasersztajn’s testimony, suggesting that he was to blame for unjustly putting twenty-three men from Jedwabne in the dock. The author’s analysis of the court proceedings only serves to describe the extent of lawlessness of the courts in Stalin’s era. Chodakiewicz’s aim is not to understand the dynamics of the investigations or courts in cases relating to antisemitic incidents and anti-Jewish massacres in which Poles took part during the war. These nuances are discussed in detail by Rzepliński in an extensive article published in Wokół Jedwabnego (vol. 1, pp. 353–460). According to him, many more should have been put in the dock, but the UB did not care to uncover all the circumstances of the crime or to indict all suspects. Their aim was to reduce the size of the case and declare participation of Poles in the crime a forced, passive, and brief presence in the market square, into which the Jewish population was driven during the first phase of the massacre. Efforts were made to present as few facts as possible, and to mention just a few names of people involved in the killing. The suspects’ testimonies, which confirm their minimal involvement in the crime, show that the UB officers achieved their goal. One may want to add here that, ironically, the strategy of the UB for minimizing the role of Poles is echoed in the book of a historian who emphasizes the defence of the traditional, Christian-national ethos.
In his introduction and conclusion, Chodakiewicz also shares his vague general reflections about Poles participating in the massacre: ‘people are capable of committing any crime’ (2), and ‘[h]ypotheses that ethnic Poles were involved in the crime may be true. Eventually war often changes people into beasts, and anything can happen in such a situation’ (178–9). At the same time, Chodakiewicz claims elsewhere that anti-Jewish massacres in the Łomża region were essentially different from the antisemitic incidents in Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus in the summer of 1941 (69), because, unlike the latter, they were not spontaneous, and their main cause was not the antisemitism of the local population, which is why they occurred with a certain delay, after the German army had entered that land on 22 June 1941. These reflections do not contribute to knowledge about the dynamics of anti-Jewish massacres in Poland in the summer of 1941; they do, however, strike with the intellectual shallowness of the author’s argument. Denying the possibility of any similarities between the massacre in Jedwabne and massacres of Jews in other regions of Eastern Europe in the summer of 1941 resembles the traditional approach, which originated in political discussions led by some underground elites during the Second World War. According to this approach, comparing the attitude and behaviour of (ethnic) Poles towards the Jews with that of other societies of Eastern Europe is considered unacceptable due to the special role of Poland in the battle against Nazi Germany, and the need to protect its honour.
From the perspective of studies of inter-ethnic conflicts, such comparative research is much needed and is very important, as it can show the differences and similarities in the dynamics of anti-Jewish attacks in Eastern Europe in the summer of 1941. It can also deepen our knowledge about the role of anti-Jewish prejudice in the outburst of anti-Jewish massacres and about the scope of grassroots’ collaboration in countries where political elites officially collaborated with the Third Reich on a political level (such as Lithuania, Romania, or Ukraine), and in a country like Poland, where such official political collaboration did not take place. Such research is extremely difficult to carry out because it requires the co-operation of many researchers, due to large numbers of archival sources written in various languages. This is one reason why these studies have been underdeveloped.
Causes of the Crime, according to Chodakiewicz
Chodakiewicz’s analysis of the causes of the crime in Jedwabne is as unconvincing and as full of internal contradictions and inconsistencies as is his account of the crime and the description of its perpetrators. It serves a similar purpose—to prove that ethnic Poles did not play a significant role in the massacre. Unlike Żbikowski and many other researchers, the author does not consider anti-Jewish prejudices and stereotypes to be a major cause of the massacre. Instead, he lists other reasons noted by academics: the Germans’ consent to murder the Jews; the period of an interregnum when one occupant (the Soviets) had just left and the next (Germans) had not yet established its power firmly in the newly invaded territory; the desire to loot and get rich at the expense of others; murderous instincts of individuals; the period of Soviet occupation, during which the antisemitic stereotype of Bolshevik Jew acting to the detriment of Poles and Poland was reinforced; and the general demoralization of the society caused by the war (165). However, this list of the causes (cited by the author only in the conclusion) does not have any relation to his main interpretation of the crime, and, like many other quoted descriptions and arguments, it functions without a logical, coherent connection to the other hypotheses he presents. Of course, Chodakiewicz is also not interested in connections between these various causes and the role of the local perpetrators, which is peculiar when we consider that he promotes himself as a competent expert on the literature about the subject. There is a clear lack of references in the book to the abundant theoretical and analytical literature on inter-ethnic conflicts, which stresses the importance of a variety of causes in the analysis of the nature and dynamics of anti-minority massacres.
One of the most important claims that Chodakiewicz presents to support his theory about German crimes in Jedwabne, and about the inability of Poles to play a significant role in it, is that Polish antisemitism was not of a racist character, and thus that it was never genocidal; in other words—it had nothing to do with the Nazi version of German antisemitism (150). This explanation is not only too simple, but most importantly is wrong in its analysis of the massacre in Jedwabne. First, the author does not take into consideration the fact that there were purely racist elements in pre-war Polish antisemitism in its radical version, represented mostly by some members of the so-called ‘youth’ section in Narodowa Demokracja (National Democracy; ND) and in other radical organizations, as well as by activists of Akcja Katolicka (Catholic Action). Second, Chodakiewicz does not ask essentially important questions about the role of antisemitic prejudice and stereotypes in causing the wave of anti-Jewish pogroms and incidents in the inter-war period, when the Polish government, which advocated the letter of the law, was not able to prevent them. Unlike academics such as Żbikowski, Dariusz Libionka, and Jan Milewski, Chodakiewiecz does not take into account the very important aspect of continuity and the influence of pre-war antisemitic stereotypes on the way of thinking and behaviour towards local Jews during the war, and on radicalization caused by the war and the occupation by two totalitarian regimes.
The author’s theory that Polish pre-war antisemitism, represented by the ND, had a Christian-conservative nature, and therefore did not constitute physical danger to the Jews as a community (150), is his major point in the first chapter as well as in the description of Christian–Jewish relations and anti-Jewish attacks in the area of Jedwabne during the inter-war period. Again we are faced with incoherent and unconvincing arguments. The author tries to prove two reasons for anti-Jewish incidents at the time—a general militant nature of the local peasant community (40–1), and the cultural conflict between Christian and Jewish civilizations (32–3, 38–9). In other words, the culturally unassimilated Jews were largely responsible for attacks on themselves. The second claim is indeed tautological, as it explains the conflict between two communities with another conflict. Such reasoning was popular during the inter-war period and was spread by the antisemitic professor of philosophy Feliks Koneczny and others.
It is worth adding that this interpretation has regained popularity in recent years in the Polish ethno-nationalist historiography of the inter-war and war-time periods. The most flagrant example of this approach is found in Ewa Kurek’s Poza granicą solidarności: Stosunki polsko-żydowskie, 1939–1945 (Kielce, 2006), in which she argues that civilizational differences between Christianity and Judaism caused conflicts between Jews and Poles, and that Jews had a foreign, and not a civic, attitude towards the fate of the Polish state, which in the author’s opinion must have strongly influenced Polish–Jewish relations during the Holocaust. Chodakiewicz praises Kurek for this approach in his review of her book: ‘The author has avoided the herd mentality so typical of many. This work is unique precisely because the historian went far beyond the clichés’ (‘Bez wspólnoty’ Glaukopis, nos. 7–8, 2007, 377).
Chodakiewicz relies on anti-Jewish prejudices and stereotypes, which is evident in his use of the theory about the conflict between Jewish and Christian civilizations. Although in Massacre in Jedwabne, which is addressed to an American readership, Chodakiewicz tries to be seemingly correct, his work contains anti-Jewish stereotypes and different assumptions of varied intensity—more often camouflaged than expressed directly. For example, the author identifies Polish antisemitism with the social prejudices of the Jews against the Poles (41), as is typical of ethno-nationalist discourse. He expounds these views without taking into account the extensive literature which indicates that the latter often resulted from negative treatment of the Jewish minority by the ethnically Polish majority. The author also admonishes Rabbi Herschel Baker for his ‘cultural separatism’, which, in the author’s view, is evident in the Jedwabne Memorial Book (Księga Pamięci Jedwabnego), written by Baker. Chodakiewicz accuses the rabbi of not considering the wider context of the life of Jedwabne’s Christian community (27). In doing so, the author demonstrates not only his ambiguous attitude, but also a lack of basic knowledge about the problems of civic assimilation of Polish Jews or about Jewish sources such as yizkor bikher. Memorial books belong to the category of literature that focuses on the internal social and cultural life of Jewish communities, including descriptions of their relations with Christian neighbours.
The twenty-two-month period of Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941 is another vague topic raised in Massacre in Jedwabne. As in other parts of the book, there are numerous inconsistencies and opposing claims. On the one hand, the author does not treat this period, in which anti-Jewish prejudice intensified (the stereotype of żydokomuna [Judaeo-communism] in particular), as a main factor behind the massacre. On the other hand, he claims that the Soviet occupation significantly influenced relations between the Jewish and Christian communities (52). To support his theory that the antisemitic stereotype of żydokomuna did not play an important role in shaping attitudes of ethnic Poles towards Jews, Chodakiewicz claims that most Poles were (intellectually and emotionally) able to understand that the majority of their Jewish neighbours were not communists who collaborated with the new Soviet authorities against the Poles, and that only a few Jews did so (70).
Unlike Gross, Chodakiewicz does not treat the anti-Jewish tensions and first attacks on Jedwabne Jews during the last week of June 1941 as harbingers of an anti-Jewish atmosphere, which reached its peak on 10 July of the same year. He perceives them as completely separate incidents, part of an anti-Soviet revolt carried out by the local Polish underground elite. His theory is supposed to convince the reader that Poles did not play a significant role in the crime itself on 10 July. When we take a closer look at this claim, we once again see contradictions and lack of logic. Chodakiewicz maintains that many of the victims of this anti-Soviet revolt, which was an expression of anger at oppression and the ordeal suffered mainly by ethnic Poles, were also ethnic Poles who had collaborated with the Soviets (67–8). This statement is inconsistent with another claim that very few Poles from Jedwabne and its surroundings collaborated with the Soviet authorities, unlike the active group of collaborators from the Jewish community (52). Chodakiewicz also suggests that Jewish collaborators from Jedwabne, and not foreign representatives of the Soviet authorities, were responsible for the majority of the suffering of their Christian neighbours (56–7).
Even though the author points out that some members of the Jewish middle class also became victims of Soviet persecution, he claims that ethnic Poles suffered the most during that period, and that very few local Jews were sympathetic to them (57). Therefore, the author’s general view of the period of Soviet occupation can be summarized as traditional and dominating in Polish historiography, written only from the perspective of the suffering of his own ethno-national group. This approach does not draw any wider conclusions about the Soviet policy of establishing a new order, or from the nuances of the relations between various national and ethnic groups created as a result of the Soviet authorities’ manipulation. A broader approach dictated by factual questions and not from affiliation with an ethnic group appears in Gross’s books (Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland’s Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, ed. 1, Princeton, 1988; ed. 2, Princeton, 2004), as well as in the work of Krzysztof Jasiewicz (Pierwsi po diable. Elity sowieckie w okupowanej Polsce; Warsaw, 2002). Chodakiewiecz selectively uses the findings of Jasiewicz’s semantic analysis of accounts of Polish survivors of Soviet deportations, and Soviet archival documents relating to Jedwabne and its surroundings. The study confirms Gross’s theory that Jedwabne’s Jews constituted a small group among collaborators with the Soviets. It also confirms that most of the ethnic Poles who were deported from that region perceived Soviet occupation through the prism of the antisemitic cliché of żydokomuna, which stemmed from the fact that this was the way of seeing Jews, already strengthened in the pre-war period.
Unreliable and even discrediting is the way in which Chodakiewicz quotes and refers to other academics researching not only the murder in Jedwabne and the Soviet occupation in that region, but also the memory of that incident. For example, to support his main theory about German planning, organization, and execution of the crime, with the involvement of a tiny group of a certain type of ethnic Pole, the author completely twists the meaning and significance of the findings of the research of the anthropologist Marta Kurkowska-Budzan (whose article was published in Antony Polonsky and Joanna Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland, Princeton, 2004, pp. 200–6). Kurkowska-Budzan grew up in post-war Jedwabne, and her conclusions resemble those of Bikont in My z Jedwabnego. They indicate that the memory of this terrible incident, which was shameful and therefore not discussed in the town, is still very much alive. It emerges during conversations with the older inhabitants. These conversations are often very dramatic to the interlocutors themselves—some of the more sensitive witnesses relive the crime, hearing the screams and calls for help of the Jews murdered by their Polish neighbours. On the other hand, the perpetrators still do not admit to the crime and either point to German responsibility for the incident, or avoid talking about it altogether. Chodakiewicz selectively quotes only one interview published by Kurkowska-Budzan, and completely ignores her conclusion from the analysis of all the interviews she conducted (138).
Chodakiewicz also distorts the importance of the debate about Jedwabne in contemporary research and in the public discussion of Polish history in the twentieth century. He suggests that the debate was disproportionate to the importance of the incident, and claims that it has hindered public talks about communist crimes committed during the period of 1945–89. Even a cursory review of the press, not to mention a perusal of the Web site of the Institute of National Remembrance, in particular its section on public education, shows how inaccurate and untrue Chodakiewicz’s judgements are. The author also fails to recognize the importance of the debate about Jedwabne in overcoming difficult issues concerning Polish–Ukrainian and Polish–German relations.
Conclusion about the Ethno-nationalist Historiography
To conclude, Massacre in Jedwabne restores the old ahistorical image of Poland and ethnic Poles only as victims and heroes. It is an image inscribed in a certain vision of Polish identity which has room only for Catholic Poles, and in which representatives of Jewish and other minorities are not treated as equal Polish fellow citizens but as inferior or even foreign strangers, whose cultural and economic contribution to the life of the Polish state and all of its citizens does not count. It is also an image inscribed in a certain idea of patriotism. There is no room for openness, integrity, and truth in the discussion of difficult chapters of Polish history, chapters which attest to the depravity, meanness, and criminality of individuals and groups who belong to the Polish ethnic majority, and not only to the group of representatives of neighbouring nations and ethno-national and cultural minorities.
The main argument of Massacre in Jedwabne is an insult to the memories of Jewish victims of the crime in Jedwabne, and generally to the memory of the Holocaust. Remembrance remains the only tangible testimony left to the survivors of ethnic massacres. In this sense, in Massacre in Jedwabne this remembrance distorted by Chodakiewicz has also symbolically become the last victim of that crime. Because of its bias and ideologization, Massacre in Jedwabne may also be regarded as symbolic of the insults to the important achievements of contemporary post-communist Polish historiography. To travesty the words of Istvan Deák, whom the author considers a mentor, one could say that Chodakiewicz forgets that no history book, and particularly one that falsifies the past and conforms to ideological assumptions, has the right to demand to advocate only one absolute truth about the past. The sowing of ambiguity, incoherent ideas, and arrogance does not yield the grain of greatness.
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