More doubt cast on the Holocaust death toll

A holocaust after Auschwitz

Jan T. Gross’ new book is a searing indictment of Poland’s murder of its Jewish residents in the years after World War II.

FEAR: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz — An Essay in Historical Interpretation, by Jan T. Gross. Random House, 304 pp., $25.95.


[…] Within two years of the liberation of Auschwitz, whatever tiny remnants of Polish Jewry that had managed to survive were either killed or forced to flee. These finishing touches on the Final Solution were not perpetrated by Nazis. Instead, they came at the brutal hands of former Polish neighbors.

Gross is quick to identify the moral implications of this Polish phenomenon. As a nation, the Poles suffered tremendous losses during the Nazi occupation. Several million Polish Christians were killed, separate from the country’s 3.2 million Jewish dead in the Holocaust (although the Poles were predominantly casualties of war, not victims of genocide). Poland was not a collaborationist nation in any conventional sense. Indeed, Poles heroically resisted the Germans, and, although statistically unimpressive, some did righteously save the lives of Jews. Yet, as “Fear” alleges, there was great collusion and shared interests between Nazis and Poles when it came to Jews. Poles actively and exuberantly applauded what the Germans had in mind for the local Jewish population.


Jews were chased, murdered and robbed by their neighbors, tossed off trains and looted, clubbed over the head with iron bars. Polish boy scouts were recruited to find Jews, whereupon Poland became a shooting gallery with Holocaust survivors as targets. Jewish children who had been given to Poles for safekeeping were not returned to their parents or relatives. Jewish property claims were denied. Their neighbors were no longer neighbors; they had moved in and taken over.

Ground zero for this menacing display of Polish vigilantism was the Kielce pogrom, in July 1946. A Christian boy who went off to pick cherries was reported as being kidnapped by Jews and stashed away in a synagogue basement. The fact that the boy recanted his story and that the synagogue had no basement was immaterial. The mere rumor of an attempted ritual murder was enough. A Polish mob, assisted by local police and the occupying Soviet army, dragged the town’s Jews out onto the streets, killed them and then plundered their possessions.

There is bone-chilling normality to Gross’ account of the Kielce pogrom. It erupted as a spontaneous crime spree and shakedown, and yet it happened in broad daylight, with great acquiescence and unanimity, as if Poland had been in rehearsal for centuries. The events of that day hover over the book like a black cloud of emotional and moral detachment. The killing and looting of Jewish neighbors was done openly, deliberately and without regret; as Gross points out, even today, the Poles who witnessed what happened in Kielce are stunningly unrepentant.



July 16, 2006