Phantoms of the Past: Jedwabne and Kielce—Struggles with Memory

Andrzej Paczkowski1


One might have expected that from the mid-1970s with the widening of free speech in Poland, people would embrace different fragments of the ‘absent past’ which were missing from the official version, as well as those aspects of the past which had been subject to more-or-less rigid social taboos. It appears that a large part, perhaps even a majority, of society expected that the process of doing away with historical falsehoods would consist of a transformation of values and evaluations: ‘bandits from the underground’ would become ‘fighters for independent Poland,’ while ‘fighters for the preservation of People’s Power’ would now be known as ‘thugs paid by a foreign power’. It was also expected that Soviet and communist crimes would be exposed in detail, including the names of the perpetrators of those crimes and murders, while the names ofthose murdered or condemned to oblivion would find their place in school text-books. This process was sometimes described as documenting (or liquidating) ‘blank spaces.’ Indeed the process proceeded in this manner and gained momentum thanks to the work of historians as well as opposition (or non-conforming) journalists, who became that much more influential because, in the fight against the system (Polish People’s Republic) or ‘the commune’ and its subservience to the Soviet Union, their efforts became an important ingredient of the de-falsification strategy. This work started from the very beginning of the formation of the ‘second circulation’ (as the underground press was known) and continued during the ‘Solidarity carnival’. Following 13 December 1981 and the introduction of martial law, the wave of de-falsification of past events by the underground press came to resemble a tsunami.

At the same time, the process opened a trail leading to one of the forgotten aspects of the national past: the relationship of Poles toward other minorities living in Poland or— before the creation of an independent Polish state—on Polish soil. Although several ethnic minorities lived in this area, we do not need a lengthy justification as to why Polish-Jewish (and Jewish-Polish) relations were at the centre of this discussion. One reason was the negative attitude toward Jews existing for many decades in the minds of a large part of the political elite and in the stereotypes saturating popular thought. Another was an ongoing antisemitic campaign which was an important instrument in pacifying the protests of the 1960s—culminating in the spring of 1968—which ‘reminded’ people of the existence of antisemitism and demonstrated the possibilities of its exploitation. After 1968—according to Michael C. Steinlauf—‘deep and almost total silence descended.’ 2

The Communist regime stopped the persecution of the opposition, probably thinking thatit had achieved its goal. The opposition did not have means to disseminate its views and even emigré circles rarely published material on this thorny issue. The situation began to change with the creation of a new democratic opposition. It is important to note that in 1977 one of the first issues of Spotkanie, a journal created by a group students connected to KUL (Catholic University of Lublin) and one of the most influential publications of the ‘second circuit’ printed an article on Polish-Jewish relations. Two years later the underground Polish Independence Accord (Polski Porozumienie Niepodległoścowe) produced a pamphlet entitled ‘Poles-Jews.’ All these activities reached a rather narrow audience of insiders. Only after August 1980, when the censorship became less severe and Solidarity provided a certain umbrella of protection, did a mass-publication of books, journals and brochures become possible along with a real opportunity to reach wide audiences. For example, in November 1980 Biuletyn Dolnośląski published a supplement entitled ‘Jews and Poles,’ which discussed the need to end the ‘knot of silence surrounding this subject’. In a similar vein, Władysław Bartoszewski and Jan J. Lipski wrote in a December 1980 letter to the publisher of Polityka: ‘The truth, no matter how bitter, always comes to light.’

Most significant however was the 1981 commemoration of the ‘March events’,’ which almost ended in direct physical confrontation. On this anniversary Warsaw University acknowledged that the student strike had been a new form of rebellion against the government (alongside the 1956 revolt in Poznań and the strikes of December 1970) and simultaneously condemned the antisemitic witch-hunt. At the same time the ‘National Bolsheviks’ of the Patriotic Union ‘Grunwald’ rallied at the site of the building which in the past had housed the Ministry of the Public Security. They (along with others) believed that the Ministry had acted to advance Jewish interests which were ipso facto anti-Polish interests. This action was an extension, or rather a resumption, of the antisemitic campaign of 1968 in which the ‘ringleaders’ of the student revolt were treated as the heirs of those Jewish communists who had participated in the crimes of the Stalinist period. As a counterpoint to the published materials from a few University sessions, an antisemitic brochure entitled ‘March 1968: an unsuccessful attempt at a coup’ was published by the nationalists beyond the realm of censorship and under an alias (‘Ida Martova’). Thus on this topic everybody could utilize the arena of free speech.

In the bibliography of the publications of the ‘second circuit’ devoted to the past, out of eighteen classified under the keywords ‘Jews in Poland’ which were published from 1980 to 1987, fourteen could be classified as antisemitic.3 They included not only the notorious ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ but also the texts of Stanisław Staszic, a leading figure in Polish politics at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries which criticized Jews. Regardless of the fact that some of those antisemitic texts were published under the auspices of the Secret Police or Central Committee of the Polish Workers Party (KC PZPR) (for example ‘Ida Martova’s brochure), they exposed sharply the conflict which until then had been hidden or camouflaged. Its scope reached beyond the Jewish-Polish relationship, which became apparent in the famous 1981 essay by Jan J. Lipski. ‘Dwie ojczyzny – dwa patriotyzmy: uwagi o megalomanii narodowej i ksenofobii Polaków’ (Two fatherlands – two patriotisms: remarks about the national megalomania and xenophobia of Poles).’

Two other events occurred that year which remind us of one of the ‘phantoms’ haunting Polish memory, although at the time, for a variety of reasons, they did not make a major impact on public opinion. In July, through the initiative of some regional activists from Solidarity, a church service took place commemorating the victims of the 1946 Kielce pogrom. One of these activists told me that the idea of commemorating the murdered Jews provoked sharp controversies among the regional board and a special mission was dispatched to the town of his birth in order to check if his baptismal certificate was entered in the church register! The commemoration did take place but its regional nature prevented wider publicity. Five months later Tygodnik Solidarność, an official publication controlled by the censors, published a long article by Krystyna Kersten about the same pogrom under a neutral title (‘Kielce—4 July 1946’). For those times, it was a scientifically documented and well-balanced article. It did not generate much emotion or response because it was published on 4 December in the next-to-last issue prior to theimposition of martial law. Ten years later the author wrote that her article was interpreted ‘as cathartic for Poles and accepted—depending on the reader’s viewpoint—positively or negatively’.5 However, the author probably had in mind personal communications directed to her, as opposed to public opinions—which were lacking. The reason for this was clear: beginning on 13 December 1981 and for many months afterwards, everyone had other matters on their minds. Whether due to the regional character of the Kielce pogrom protest, or to the unfortunate publication date of Kersten’s article, the Kielce pogrom did not arouse widespread discussion but gradually the issue of ‘Polish guilt’ (or, the guilt of Poles toward their Jewish neighbours who were also Polish citizens) began to be raised. This was guilt in the literal sense of the word because Kielce was a mass murder. During the next few years the issues of the Kielce pogrom and crimes committed directly or indirectly here remained marginalized. The only larger publication on the matter was a book by the historian and officer of the Polish Ministry of Internal Affairs (SB MSW) Józef Orlicki, who in his work on Polish-Jewish relations devoted a 10-page chapter to the Kielce Pogrom. The book was written partially in the fashion of the Polish Communist Party and Comintern. Orlicki proposed a hypothesis which he tried to prove with rather secondary circumstantial evidence— that the pogrom was a provocation organized by the ‘...Zionists, to help kick-start Jewish emigration - which did indee happen - in order to increase the Jewish population of Palestine.’ 6 Orlicki rejectedcompletely both the propaganda thesis from 1946 that the pogrom was organized by the Polish underground and the Kersten argument about Soviet or Polish secret policeinvolvement. He failed entirely to consider the possibility that the pogrom started spontaneously. Orlicki’s arguments concerning the role of ‘influential Jewish plutocracy’ in the Kielce pogrom became one of the antisemitic paradigms used in all polemical discussions. However, neither Orlicki’s book nor other discussions in the pro-regime Przegląd Tygodniowy elicited a wider response.7

The debates followed different paths. One was an effort to revive the memory of several hundred years of Jewish presence in Poland. This idea—only slightly controversial even for some antisemites, because it was used to prove that the enlightened Polish Republic, known for its tolerance, had given shelter to Jews escaping from Western Europe where, for hundreds of years, they had been robbed and persecuted. The publications of the ‘second circuit’ and Catholic presses quite often wrote about the Jews, Judaism, Hasidism, the participation of Jews in Polish culture, the assimilation process and also about manifestations of antisemitism in the second half of the nineteenth century and during the Second Polish Republic.8 In 1983 the monthly Znak published a double issue entitled ‘Żydzi w Polsce i na świecie. Katolicyzm-judaizm’ ( Jews in Poland and in the World. Catholicism–Judaism). In the same year, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the monthly Więż did the same. In 1984 and 1985 the underground publications Puls, Spotkania and Politka Polska wrote about Jewish-Polish relations and Polish antisemitism. In their analysis of antisemitism, as a rule they expressed abhorrence while at the same time trying to rationalize this phenomenon both by indicating its economic and social sources and also by differentiating between contemporary antisemitism and traditional Christian anti-Judaism (and, of course, also sharply distinguishing them from the ‘exterminating’ form of Nazi antisemitism). Discussions took place in different Polish intellectual circles, while abroad conferences and symposia similar in nature to Polish-Jewish ‘roundtables’ were held (first in 1983 in New York, then one year later in Oxford). They were initiated as  counterpoint to the relatively large number of antisemitic publications, which by and large were reprints of classical literature on this subject from before 1939 or publications from the émigré press. The publishing house Unia Nowoczesnego Humanizmu (UNH) specialized in these types of publications. It was connected to a National movement (the revived Endecja) which did not have distinct organizational forms in the ‘underground’ but was connected to assorted parish priests; the antisemitic books were available in some church shops. The output of UNH was prodigious, but as far as I know historians— including those specializing in Polish antisemitism—did not show an interest in the subject. Although some readers of Więż and Znak probably attended mass in the same churches as aficionados of the UNH press, I do not suspect that these two social circles ‘shared’ their publications.

The second path which the rethinking of Polish-Jewish relations followed concerned the attitude toward the Holocaust, or more specifically the attitudes of Poles who had witnessed several years of systematic extermination of millions of Jews by the Germans. The voices on this subject as a rule were responses to criticism of Polish behavior by Jews and did not for the most part contain expressions of remorse. Even Jan J. Lipski, who was accused by a variety of nationalistic Poles of ‘national betrayal’— a man of impeccable righteousness and honesty who, in the previously cited essay, voiced opposition against ‘irresponsible generalization’ concerning the criminal demeanour of Poles against the Jews during the German occupation and added that ‘anti-Polish sentiment expressed by such generalizations is as morally wrong as antisemitism.’9 He assumed a defensive stance, objecting to ‘a Jewish narrative’ which mainly described the negative traits of Poles. Yet at the same time he did not equate this with the ‘anti-Jewish narrative’ in which Jews were portrayed as eternal enemies of Christianity and Polishness. This narrative in its postwar, modern form used the idea of ‘Judaeo-Communism’ (Żydo-komuna) which found strong expression (often in the subtexts and highly metaphoric language) in the propaganda of the ‘March events’. Stanisław Krajewski, under the ambiguous pseudonym ‘Abel Kainer,’ entered the polemic with the antisemites and wrote a long article entitled ‘Żydzi a komunizm’ (Jews and Communism). The influential quarterly Krytyka published the article; however, it did notignite any serious debate. 10

Only after the appearance of Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah was the first onslaught of polemics and heated emotions sparked with the Polish ‘official press’ joining the ranks. After the film’s premiere, which took place in Paris in April 1985, the government of the Polish People’s Republic (PRL) issued an official protest to the French government calling the movie ‘offensive to Poles’ and demanding that the movie not be shown. This was a rare incident in the quite cold diplomatic relations of those times. Official media followed with appropriate comments. Jaruzelski’s government—wanting very badly to warmup the relationship with the West (and with Jews, who according to the eternal stereotype were considered influential)—allowed the showing of the film in November 1985 in an abbreviated version containing Polish fragments, with the full version shown in a few select movie theaters. Steinlauf wrote that the ‘large majority’ of those who voiced their opinion about the film condemned it because its accusations demanded a defense of ‘national honour and moral values.’ He also pointed out that ‘official, Catholic and underground presses issued quite similar opinions,’ though ‘the official press was much noisier’.11 Among the many critics who accused Lanzmann of an anti- Polish stand, the majority took a defensive position stressing that aggression of Poles against Jews did occur but was sporadic and undertaken by people from the margins of society. They stressed the help given by Poles to the escapees from transports and ghettos and the risk of the death sentence for such actions. Due to Lanzmann’s nationality or ‘citizenship’ the French were reminded of their mass collaboration with the Third Reich and participation in deportations of Jews to concentration camps. The heroic deeds performed to help Jews and the deaths of many Poles hiding Jews were regarded as a sufficient, even surplus, counterweight to those who had behaved with malice or indifference. Andrzej Micewski, one of the leading Catholic authors who at that time had close ties with church hierarchy, wrote that ‘in summary we as a nation and as a society have no reason for a guilt complex’.12 Although we cannot find a uniform view either on Lanzmann’s film or on its significance, we do find in all publications a prevailing reluctance (unwillingness? disinclination?) to move beyond a specific defensive reflex.1 This resistance found its expression in not questioning one of the main components of Polish national identity— the belief that Poles were heroic victims of lost uprisings or wars. Contemporary Poles, in accordance with a theory of ‘inherited suffering’ introduced by Zygmunt Bauman,14 considered themselves heroic victims.

At the same time, the emotions accompanying this debate probably created an environment in which it became possible to break the social prohibition and invoke a spontaneous reaction to the occurrence which went beyond the sacrificial victim-hero stereotype. Everybody who knows at least something about the problem under discussion knows that I have in mind the article by the well-known historian of literature and critic Jan Błoński, which was published—as far as I know without interference of censorship—in January 1987 in the Kraków weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, which was undoubtedly the most important independent Polish journal during Communist times. The essay had the title ‘Biedni Polacy patrzą na getto’ (The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto), which was a paraphrase of the 1943 poem by Czesław Miłosz. The changes were significant: the poem by the Nobel winner was entitled ‘Biedni chrześcijanin patrzy na getto’ (A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto’; thus Błoński changed the accent from the universal sphere (‘Christian’) to the local (‘Poles’) and from the individual (singular) to communal (plural).15 Błoński attacked the Polish solar plexus all the harder as he did not mince words: ‘We should first say: “Yes, we are guilty”. …Instead of arguing and defending ourselves, we should first think about ourselves. About our sins or weaknesses. It is imperative that we achieve moral revolution concerning our position toward the Polish-Jewish past.’ 16 Jewish blood, he wrote elsewhere, ‘remains on the walls, it has soaked the soil, no matter if we like it or not. This blood soaked our brains and the whole of us. Therefore we should cleanse ourselves.’ The call for ‘moral revolution’ and ‘self-cleansing’ is the key to an understanding of the immensity and emotional force of the debate which exploded after the publication of this essay.

The editor Jerzy Turowicz said in 1988: ‘In the 42 years during which I have managed this journal, I do not remember any article which provoked such strong reader reaction.’17 Tygodnik Powszechny received over 200 articles and long letters of which he published only a small fraction.18 The texts received revealed the existence of deep-seated—nearly criminal—anti-semitism, or speaking politely— an anti-Jewish bias, even among members of the liberal ‘Vatican II’ Catholic intelligentsia. Above all the communications exposed a profound failure to discard the stereotypical picture of the Pole as victim-hero. Those held up as confirmation of this stereotype were the people who had helped the Jews during WWII (heroes) and then were cruelly punished (victims). Błoński did not mention the famous 1946 essay by Carl Jaspers (available at that time in Polish translation) ‘The problem of guilt’ (‘Die Schuldenfrage’), 19 which describes, along with criminal (executioner) and political (giver of orders) guilt, guilt of a moral and metaphysical nature— simply, the guilt inherent in the denial and indifference of the witness.20 Błoński did not refer to Carl Jasper’s publications and we do not know if this was a conscious or unconscious decision. However, transposition of this problem from the universal sphere onto that of Polish soil increased the potential power of Błoński’s essay and lent credibility to his appeal for a moral transformation. In summary, we may conclude that at the beginning of 1980, the ‘Jewish question’ became a constant subject of Polish political debate, to which Błoński’s essay provided a new rhetorical dimension: an appeal to the moral imponderables which necessitated the use of a language of quantifiers, metaphors and generalizations and a poetic language which by its very nature kills, or radically weakens, the use of heuristic language that is understood as ‘the ability to find and collect historical materials’ (Kopaliński dixit).

We are not concerned in this article with Polish-Jewish relations in general but only with the way they have been discussed in the historiography of the more recent past, so we may omit such events as the lengthy controversy on the ‘Auschwitz Carmelites’ (which began in 1985), although it affected deeply the overall atmosphere. We also do not need to dwell on 1989 and its consequences, such as the abolition of censorship, because they were of no importance in explaining the essence of the views; however, they did have significance for their dissemination. In 1990-1992 new publications about the Kielce pogrom appeared: the monograph of Bożena Szaynok, several books of sources21 and Krystyna Kersten’s Polacy. Żydzi. Komunizm. Anatomia półprawd, 1939-1968 (Warsaw, 1992), in which the author returned to the issues about which she wrote in 1981 and which was discussed at length in Gazeta Wyborcza by Włodzimierz Kalicki.22 In 1996 Andrzej Miłosz and Pieter Weichert produced a documentary on this topic. Several texts were published on the fiftieth anniversary of the pogrom. Although there was a reaction to these works, they did not provoke passionate discussion, perhaps because they were written in a heuristic character, concerned more with a description of events based upon the then-opening archives of the party, secret police and judiciary. They put forth hypotheses and documented attempts at falsification, rather than assigning moral values to the actions and happenings. The documents and descriptions were full of details about the behavior of assailants and the fate of their victims, yet the authors avoided unequivocal conclusions. The same was true of the behavior of public prosecutors both in 1991-1997 and in 2001-2004, when investigations were closed definitively due to a lack of evidence of criminal proceedings on the part of the government or of Polish and Russian institutions.23 Books by Krzysztof Kąkolewski and Father Jan Śledzianowski attempted to respond to these publications by claiming that although the crime was not the result of Polish secret police/Soviet provocation, the participation of the local people was incidental, unintentional and only aided the unknown ‘true offenders’ (provocateurs)— the militia and soldiers.24 The authors did not consider that one of the motives for murder was simply antisemitism, only going so far as to stress a variant of Judeo-Communism.’ Thus, although all of these works have expressed widely differing points of view and some authors did point to spontaneous elements in the pogrom, and to the presence of antisemitism, they did not undermine the fundamental stereotype. 25 Some of these publications resonated with readers, provoking a polemic and critical (or favorable) feedback which took place not only in professional journals, but also in a media constantly publishing new opinions of historians and journalists, many of whom published ‘historical reports.’ In other words there was work in progress and Polish- Jewish issues (as well as the history of Jews) became a fashionable subject.

There were also incidents which suddenly raised polemical voltage, as in the case of Michał Cichy’s article ‘Polacy-Żydzi: czarne karty powstania’ (Poles-Jews: black pages of uprising)26, which described the murder of some tens of Jews by one of the branches of the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising. The polemics and letters lasted several months with a clear predominance of hidden or open antisemitic attacks against the author and the journal which had published the article. Although Adam Michnik, editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, in the introduction to the Cichy article urged readers to consider that the ‘ability to confront the dark episodes of our heritage is for every nation a test of democratic maturity,’ his appeal did not meet with wide approval. Perhaps because in 1994, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, many people held that in such situations one cannot write about ‘dark pages.’ What was at issue was not just an attack on the Uprising, according to Michał Bilewicz, ‘the sanctum sanctorum of Polish cultural identity’,27 but also that this was not a problem of isolated hoodlums and individual murders of Jews-in-hiding, but rather a mass murder that took place in the Polish State, as Warsaw during the Uprising was a part of Independent Poland. And the murder was committed by soldiers. Probably the issues of Polish-Jewish relations and the attitude of Poles toward the Jews would have developed slowly and incrementally with the publication of new books, source materials, articles, historical reports and documentaries.28 Some would have been objective in nature (to the extent that history can be objectivized); others aligned with antisemitism (or anti-Polonism, whatever this means).

However, a new and explosive situation was generated by the publication in May 2000 of a small book by Jan T. Gross, Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady żydowskiego miasteczka (Sejny, 2000) which was preceded by ‘warning signals’ such as polemics about the Kielce pogrom, the arguments provoked by Cichy’s article and Agnieszka Arnold’s film Where is my Older Brother Cain? Three articles by the author of Sąsiedzi had also been published29 but their vehemence and size placed them well beyond ‘the norm’ of current polemics. According to the Centre for Public Opinion Research (CBOS) 83 per cent of respondents in April 2001 had heard about ‘Jedwabne’30 and the vehemence was reflected not only in five books published that year which did not debate Gross’ book, but which were clearly antisemitic and attacked Gross,31 as well as in the formation of the Committee for the Defense of the Good Name of Poland and the Committee for the Defense of the Good Name of Jedwabne. The ‘Jedwabne Issue’ became national, political, and also international. The Polish Prime Minister, President and Primate spoke on this subject, international delegations took part in the celebrations on the sixtieth anniversary of this pogrom and the prosecutor for the Institute of National Memory (IPN) opened a formal investigation (which was concluded in 2002). The frequently-cited work of Piotr Forecki and other analyses32 make it unnecessary for me to discuss the entire debate, so I will make just a few remarks.

The dynamics of events after the publication of Gross’s book resulted not only from the fact that the book broke a social taboo, which by itself was sufficient to arouse emotions , but also from its form of expression. Whereas the starting point (and source material) for Błoński’s essay was poetry, Gross attempted a fact-finding mission in the genre of microhistory (a case study) and one whose writing style was different from the standard paradigm of traditional historical traditions to which Poles were accustomed. The critics did not like the methodological postulation that ‘our evaluation of the statements of those victims of the Holocaust who survived should change from doubtful into affirmative’33 and they found objectionable the failure to stress the context of time and place (e.g., the influence of Soviet occupation on social attitudes). They also opposed making the Holocaust the central focal point not only of the history of the Polish nation but also of that of the Polish people themselves (which required the establishment of a ‘new historiography’) as well as the conclusion, unrelated to the topic, that ‘the core of the communist regime in Poland’ was created not by the Jews (‘Jewish communists’) but by Polish antisemites.34 Many people took as provocation the opinion that the pogrom in Jedwabne was a part of the Holocaust, which consisted not just of a regime (Nazi) and ‘advanced planning’ but, according to Gross, ‘also (and maybe foremost)…unforced reflexes and behaviours from the [Polish] environment.’35 Interpreted as provocation as well was the sentence concluding the book: ‘Society’ [in which Gross was referring to the inscription on monument erected in Jedwabne after 1989] murdered the Jews in Jedwabne. I believe that if Gross had written a ‘brick of a book’ with several hundred pages based on a chronological narrative with more horrific episodes, it would not have evoked much interest beyond the circle of professional historians and antisemites.

However, the vehemence of the debate was not only the result of the book itself and the subsequent statements by Gross, who sharpened his opinions rather than toned them down.36 Additionally, it was the consequence of the debate involving people who by nature did not occupy themselves with the facts and the creation of the book, but who instead treated the book like Jan Błoński’s essay— as a moral challenge and an appeal to moral cleansing. Yet this book did not (as Poor Poles… did) speak about moral or metaphysical guilt, which is much easier to deal with, but about criminal (on the part of the pogrom’s participants) and political guilt—and the main instigator of the crime was the Catholic Church, the eternal sower of antisemitism. It required a confession of guilt and a moral evaluation of conscience: ‘Let historians move the earth and the documents. Let them search archives with the magnifying glass…’—proclaimed one of the appeals— ’…Let them look for the truth. But shall we wait for their final judgment? —Let us bend the knees… Let us beg God for absolution.’37

The main dispute took place between what we can describe as the ‘moralists’ and the ‘factographers’. There is no reason to pay attention to the texts of a legion of paranoid antisemites who saw in Neighbors both attempts to justify ‘Jewish claims’ as well as the impending collapse of the Polish Nation; these texts have however taken on a life of their own. During this debate pronouncements about ‘the end of a myth of innocence’38 and the birth ‘of a new truth about our nation’ were made. Jedwabne became a ‘new name for the Holocaust’ and ‘our genocide,’ the terms ‘Homo Jedvabius’ and ‘national disgrace’ were written about and ‘collective responsibility’ and ‘national responsibility’ were considered as well. Some articles had expressive titles: ‘The Burning Barn and Me,’ ‘The Obsession with Innocence,’ ‘Scars of Evil,’ ‘Our Guilt,’ ‘Christ in the Barn Ashes.’ If the description ‘moral absolutism’ makes any sense, we may use it to describe some voices in this debate. On the other hand, the ‘factographers’ did their work and ‘roamed the archives’. The results were published in 2002 by the Institute of National Memory (IPN) in a huge two-volume publication Around Jedwabne, containing nine large essays and 430 (!) documents.39 Around the same time came the announcement of the results of the investigation by the prosecutor of the Institute of National Memory, Radosław Ignatiew, who had closed the case.

One may conclude that everyone did what he was supposed to do: ‘moralists’ issued calls for amends, ‘factographers’ did the research, the judiciary investigated the case, the defenders of the myth proved that it was based on real attitudes and antisemites raised a clatter. It is difficult to reach a conclusion on the long-term influence of the book and the corresponding debate on social attitudes, because (for obvious reasons) before the explosion of the ‘Jedwabne case’ one cannot research its reception since very few people knew about this pogrom.40 Taking into account the results of the investigation in 2002, months after the celebration in Jedwabne, we may conclude that this huge moral, intellectual and political upheaval did not contribute to an acceptance by the majority of respondents (representative fraction) of the point of view of Gross and the ‘moralists’: 35 per cent agreed with the thesis that the Germans themselves murdered Jews from Jedwabne, 38 per cent were convinced that the Poles were forced by the Germans to commit murder, and 38 per cent were convinced that the murders were committed by ‘criminal hoodlums.’41 Almost one-fourth of respondents repeated the sentence: ‘No proof exists that the Jews in Jedwabne were murdered’. The view of Gross and the ‘moralists’ that murder was committed either ‘under the influence of national ideology’ in order ‘to take over their (Jewish) possessions’ or because the Poles ‘hated them (Jews)’ was supported by only 9 per cent of respondents. Even the thesis that the pogrom was ‘revenge for collaboration of the Jews with the Soviets,’ which had been an important argument in almost all critiques (including the anti-Semites’) of Gross was supported by only 11.5 per cent. What was striking was the fact that many respondents (in several questions almost 40 per cent) chose ‘It is difficult to answer,’ meaning that they distanced themselves from everything, and 34 per cent agreed with the conclusion that the ‘behaviour of people from Jedwabne is impossible to explain.’ This last group may have included people who, as a result of the public debate, had gradually parted with the stereotype of the Polish victim-hero— but this is not certain and we do not know the extent of this phenomenon . Michał Bilewicz seemed to be correct in giving the subtitle ‘Jedwabne: History Rejected,’ to his article, in which he concluded that ‘the media discussion and the description of ceremonies on the sixtieth anniversary of the murders are not prominent today in the minds of Poles.’42 In essence, the majority of respondents (probably the majority of Poles) believed in the importance and credibility of the ‘heroic martyr’ stereotype and any attempt to challenge it was unsuccessful. The reasons for this were layers of anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish bias. It is possible that this failure had to do with touching too deep the most important national imponderables— that it went ‘one myth too far.’ Perhaps the method employed was too radical and caused, as Paweł Śpiewak wrote, ‘instead of feelings of guilt and remorse… feelings of revolt and anger.’43

Almost eight years after Neighbors, the Kraków publishing house Znak released Gross’ next book in January 2008, Strach. Antysemityzm w Polsce tuż po wojnie. Historia moralnej zapaści. The U.S. edition had been published in the middle of 2006 and right away spotted in Poland. Emotional messages preceded the Polish edition, including hysterical announcements such as ‘Fear – the book which will shake Poland,’ or ‘It will be shame and Fear.’ 44 Differing from the book about Jedwabne, which contained information about a totally unknown incident and had come like a thunderbolt from the sky, the new book by Gross did not have the advantage of novelty.45 After all, the anti- Jewish violence in the years following the war, including the pogrom in Kielce had been covered in many publications and in the mass media. Gross’ new work was written in a similar style (‘Gross writes clearly, ardently and freely’ observed one of the commentators) and carried the same message: ‘In accordance with their tradition, Poles themselves need to describe the history of persecution of Jews in Poland, in such a way that the victim could recognize in such a narrative an image of his own destiny.’ This is how the book ends. Its intellectual axis is reflected in the sentence of Tacitus: ‘It is human nature to hate those whom we have harmed.’ With this opinion, probably not unfounded, Gross characterized Polish post-war antisemitism, which consisted of all the old anti-Jewish biases reinforced by the traumatic events of German occupation with the new addition of ‘hatred toward the victim?’46

The reaction to the publication of Fear was nearly identical to that of Neighbours, down to the personal voices; many participants in the debate in 2000-2001 again took a stand and used similar arguments (or slander). For example, not waiting for the time when historians ‘will roam the archives,’47 and similarly to the authors of the previously-cited appeals, Jerzy Plich—one of the better-known contemporary writers—asked the rhetorical question: ‘[Should] we patiently wait until the historians, better acquainted with the subject than Gross, will count, weigh and not scatter?’48 ‘Moralists’ and ‘factographers’ appeared again, as well as antisemites who believed that the Jews (‘Jew- Communists’ or ‘Jews in the Secret Police’) were themselves at fault for the hatred Poles held toward them, repeating the conviction that, as with Neighbours, this book was part of an anti-Polish conspiracy.

There were, however, some new elements. Accusations against the author of Fear of insulting the Polish Nation, which had surfaced in the previous debate, were now recognized as a crime punishable by the judiciary and a Kraków prosecutor began researching the issue. Nonetheless, on 11 November the case was closed because ‘the subject does not have the signs of a criminal case.’49 Almost immediately upon the book’s publication, Kraków Metropolitan Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz publicly reprimanded Znak (which was Catholic, not institutionally but in spirit) saying that ‘we should more carefully look at the intentions of authors and make more careful decisions about publication, taking responsibility for the good name of a common worth which is called Poland.’50 These were strong words, but he did not excommunicate the publisher.

The response of the Institute of National Memory differed from its previous one. In the case of the murder in Jedwabne, IPN conducted wide source studies, the results of which were published after two years. 51 In this case IPN published quickly the alreadyprepared Polish translation of Marek J. Chodakiewicz’s book After the Holocaust. Polish- Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II, which was published in the U.S. in 2001.52 Bożena Szajnok, author of the first book about the Kielce pogrom, who devoted many years of study to the history of Jews in postwar Poland, concluded ‘that this work was painfully out of touch with current research.’ 53

The scope of the debate was such that three months after the book’s publication, Więź could come out with a 350-page monograph containing selected (!) expositions, interviews and editorial discussions on the subject.54 Joannna Tokarska-Bakir, one of the most active of the ‘moralists,’ was correct in writing at that time, ‘Discussions on the Polish-Jewish subject for many years have taken place on a well-defined playing field. The fight, which appears to be a chaotic exchange of blows, is in fact a ritualized behavioral sequence.’55 It appears that not only was the discussion ‘hopelessly defined’, but that the rhetorical techniques and arguments used were easily predictable as well. Much points to the conclusion that despite high emotional tension and wide exposurethrough mass media, the dialogues and debates did not much influence social awareness. The sociologist from the Centre for Public Opinion Research (OBOP), who at the timeinvestigated public opinion right after the book was published (January 10-14), and also when debate came to an end (April 3-7), concluded that ‘although the debate stimulated the thinking process’ and the number of responses stating ‘it is difficult to answer’ went clearly down (depending on the question from 25 per cent to 16 per cent, from 32 per cent to 23 per cent, and from 34 per cent to 28 per cent), in the summary of their investigation the ‘general effect of Fear was very small.’56 We may say that ‘the sides’—of both the people taking part in the debate and also general public opinion—were entrenched in their positions.Perhaps my argument could have been carried out more systematically and with greater depth. However, the concluding analysis (in the form of a hypothesis) seems to be wellfounded regarding relations of Poles toward Jews. Following publication on this subject, a high degree of either emotional tension or social resonance occurs when the published text is morally explicit, with a clear message, and not when the textual content is heuristic in nature.



1 Debate about Jedwabne has been the subject of several serious analytical works including Piotr Forecki Spór o Jedwabne. Analiza debaty publicznej (Poznań, 2008); Marek Czyżewski ‘Debata na temat Jedwabnego oraz spór o “polityke historyczną” z punktu widzenia analizy dyskursu publicznego’, in S.M.Nowinowski et al (eds.), Pamięć historyczna. Doświadczenie Polski i jej sąsiadów (Łódź, 2008) 117-140, ‘Debate about Jedwabne and the dispute over ‘political history from the point of view of public discourse,’ in Historical Memory. Experience of Poland and its Neighbors, editor S.M. Nowinowski and others, Łòdź, IPN (Institute of National Memory), 2008, 117-140; Paweł Ciołkiewicz, ‘Debata publiczna na temat mordu w Jedwabnem w kontekście przeobrażeń pamięci zbiorowej’ in Przegląd Socjologiczny no.1, 2003, 285-306; Joanna Michlic, ‘Coming to Terms with the “Dark Past”. The Polish debate about the Jedwabne massacre’ in Acta Analysys of Current Trends in Antisemitism.The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nr. 21, 2002; Natalia Aleksiun, ‘Odpowiedź polskich historyków na Jedwabne’, in R. Cherry, A. Orla-Bukowska (eds.), Polacy i Żydzi: kwestia otwarta (Warsawa, 2008)195-212. ‘The Answer of Polish Historians to Jedwabne’ in Poles and Jews: An Open Question, editor, Warsaw, Bond (Wiẹż), 2008, p. 195-212. Research conferences took place on this subject (for example at Remarque Institute NYU, October 5-6, 2001, almost a month after the World Trade Center attack). For this reason, I decided to focus not on analysis of these debates, but rather on the process of uncovering ‘phantoms of the past’. Thequestion I will concentrate on is the problem of why these, and not other, texts concerning Polish-Jewis relations became the subject of genuinely widespread discussions.

2 M. C. Steinlauf Pamięć niepryzswojona. Polska pamięć zagłady (Warsaw, 2001) 111.

3 Krzysztof Łabędź Wydawnictwa historyczne drugiego obiegu w Polsce. Materiały do bibliografiiadnotowanej za lata 1980-1987, (Warsaw, 1989) passim

4 This essay was reprinted eleven times in the underground press prior to 1989.

5 K. Kersten ‘Wstęp’, in Bożena Szaynok Pogrom Żydów w Kielcach 4 lipca 1946 (Warsaw, 1992) 8. In her article of December 1981 the author agreed with the theory that the pogrom was provoked by the Secret Police, possibly with the participation of Soviet special police (KGB).

6 J. Orlicki Szkice z dziejów stosunków polsko-żydowskich, 1918-1949 (Warsaw, 1983). This book wasprinted in a large run of fifty thousand copies.

7 Przegląd Tygodniowy in 1986 published an article by Jerzy Morawski and Piotr Pytlakowski, whose authors did not hypothesize, but demanded, that ‘this tragic event should not be left unspoken.’ The same year Jerzy S. Mac published in the monthly Kontrasty an article ‘Kto to zrobił.’ In 1988 the documentary by Marcel Łoziński Świadkowie was given its premiere.

8 The 80’s saw a rise— one may say, ‘the first bloom’ as this phenomenon grew further and consolidated in subsequent years—in the number of publications on the Jewish subject, until the number reached approximately 200 in 1989 (M. C. Steinlauf, 138). The majority were published by the official (censored) publishing houses, which never published openly anti-Semitic books (the cited book by Orlicki was an exception). One of the key works published by the ‘underground press’ was a small book by Alina CałaWizerunek Żyda w polskiej kulturze ludowej (Warsaw, 1988).

9 J.J. Lipski ‘Dwie Ojczyzny i inne szkice’ (Warsaw, 1985) 114

10 The series of articles titled ‘Żydzi jako polski problem,’ published in 1986 in the émigré quarterly Aneks,which was ideologically close to Krytyka, did not cite the Krajewski article.

11 M. C. Steinlauf, cit.,129

12 A. Micewski ‘Tradycje historyczne katolicyzmu polskiego’, in Znaki Czasu, no. 1, 1986

13 A scholar who analyzed about 150 letters sent to TV stations, concluded that anti-Jewish stereotypes prevailed in those letters(Anna Sawisz ‘Obraz Żydów i stosunków polsko-żydowskich w listach telewidzów po emisji filmu Shoah’ in A. Jasińska-Kania (ed.), Bliscy i dalecy, (Warsaw, 1992) vol. II, 137-165). In official as well as ‘underground’ publications such stereotypes were not as fiercely present.

14 Z. Bauman ‘Świat nawiedzony’ in P. Czapliński, E. Domańska (eds.), Zagłada. Współczesne problemy rozumienia i przedstawiania, (Poznań, 2009) 16.

15 A similar transformation was made by Daniel Goldhagen, who changed ‘ordinary people’ (from acriminal battalion of Nazi police) as described by Christopher Browning, to ‘ordinary Germans’ (Bauman focuses on this switch in the essay cited above, p. 18-19)

16 J.Błoński Biedni Polacy patrzą na Getto, (Kraków, 1996—second edition 2008), 28 i 29

17 Citation after M.C. Steinlauf, 131

18 All of those letters and articles became the subject of the Master’s Thesis (not published in its entirety) of Ewa Koźmińska-Frejlak, defended in 1992 at Warsaw University, Department of Sociology

19 This first appeared in Polish in Etyka 1978, Nr. 17

20 One part of the debate was the polemics based on factual graphic descriptions following przez Błoński’s glossing of Miłosz’s poem ‘Campo di Fiori’, in which the poet described the merry-go –round on which happy Polish men (and women) enjoyed themselves under the walls of the burning Warsaw ghetto. Some eye-witnesses affirmed that the merry-go-round was not working at that time, others that it was and that many people used it. After research carried out over many years Szarota established—it seems definitively—that both groups were correct. There were in fact two merry-go-rounds: one which was not working (on Bonifraterska street) and a second on Krasiński square which was. On this see T. Szarota ‘Karuzela na placu Krasińskich. Czy “śmiały się tłumy wesołe”? Spór o postawę warszawiaków wobec powstania w getcie’, in idem, Karuzela na placu Krasińskich. Studia i szkice z lat wojny i okupacji (Warsaw, 2007), 149-169.

21 Among them S. Meducki and Z. Wrona (eds.), Antyżydowskie wydarzenia w kieleckie 4 lipca 1946 r.Dokumenty i materiały, editors Volume I, (Kielce,1992); Vol. II, S. Meducki (ed.) (Kielce,1994)

22 Włodzimierz Kalicki ‘Zabić Żyda’, in Gazeta Wyborcza, 30 June-1 July and 7-8 July,1990.

23 For decisions of prosecutors and some documents uncovered during both investigations, see ‘Aneks’ in Ł. Kamiński, J. Żaryn (eds.), Wokół pogromu kieleckiego, (Warsaw, 2006) 133-483.

24 K. Kąkolewski, Umarły cmentarz (Warsaw, 1996); Jan Śledzianowski Pytania nad pogromem kieleckim (Kielce, 1998).

25 I cite here only a small part of the wider publication (which in the 90s alone counted dozens of books and articles) on the subject of Polish–Jewish relations and antisemitism during and after the first days of WWII. This literature has not been analyzed as a whole.

26 Gazeta Wyborcza, 29-30 I 1994.

27 M. Bilewicz, ‘Wyjaśnianie Jedwabnego: antysemityzm i postrzeganie trudnej przeszłości’ in I.Krzemiński (ed.), Antysemityzm w Polsce i na Ukrainie. Raport z badań (Warsaw,2004) 251.

28 Among them, for example, Anna Cichopek’s Pogrom Żydów w Krakowie 11 sierpnia 1945 r., (Warsaw, 2000).

29 J. T. Gross Upiorna dekada. Trzy eseje o stereotypach na temat Żydów, Polaków, Niemców ikomunistów, 1939-1948 (Kraków, 1998). The editorial board of the monthly Więź organized discussion on this subject (issue 7, 1999) and published in the same issue several opinions about the book, and a glossary.

30 P. Forecki, op. cit., 135

31 For example J. R. Nowak, Sto kłamstw J.T.Grossa; J. Wysocki, Jedwabne kłamstwa; H. Pająk,Jedwabne geszefty

32 See note 1.

33 J. T. Gross Sąsiedzi, 94

34 Ibid., 113

35 Ibid., 85

36 Collected in the volume J. T. Gross Wokół ‘Sąsiadów’. Polemiki i wyjaśnienia (Sejny, 2003).

37 ‘Do Żydów w Jedwabnem’ Gazeta Wyborcza 13.IV.2001

38 I will not cite the sources of each statement and identification. They are cited in the Forecki book (see page 67ff.)

39 P. Machcewicz, K. Persak (eds.), Wokół Jedwanego, vol. I-II, (Warsaw, 2002).

40 Even Gross, in his two monographs, with his in-depth knowledge of the Polish fate during the twooccupations (Polish Society Under German Occupation: The General Government 1939-1944, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1079 and: The Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland’s Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1988) did not mention Jedwabne.

41 See M. Bilewicz, ‘Prezentacja i interpretacja badań’ op. cit., 255-269

42 Ibid, 256

43 P. Śpiewak: ‘Lekcja Strachu’, in M. Gądek ed.), Lekcja ‘Strachu’. Dyskusja o książce Jana T.Grossa(Kraków, 299).

44 See Gazeta Wyborcza, July 5 and Przekroj July 31, 2006

45 Gross himself in June 2006 during the XVI Festival of Jewish Culture, which takes place every year in Krakow, spoke about the 60th anniversary of the Kielce pogrom and published an article in TygodnikPowszechny.

46 Ibid, 298

47 See note 37.

48 J. Pilch ‘Czarna robota’ in Dziennik, 18 January 2008

49 Full text in Wokół ‘Strachu’. Dyskusja o książce Jana T.Grossa 365-368

50 Full text in Ibid, 74-75. The answer of Więź president Henryk Wożniakowski, ibid, p. 76-78.

51 See Forecki, passim.

52 Polish edition – M. J. Chodakiewicz Po Zagładzie. Stosunki polsko-żydowskie 1944-1947 (Warsaw,2008).

53 B. Szaynok ‘Głupia sprawa’, in Tygodnik Powszechny, 3 February 2008

54 See note 50

55 Wokół ‘Strachu’, 176

56 TNS OBOP, Raport K.025/08, ‘Efekt Strachu’, 8.