Ariel Center for
Policy Research



NATIV  Volume Sixteen   Number 4-5 (93-94)  ■  Sep. 2003 ■ Elul 5763 ■ Ariel Center for Policy Research





The Destruction of the Jews of Jedwabne

Laurence Weinbaum

At the beginning of the new millennium, an unprecedented national debate raged in Polish society. The controversy was precipitated by the publication of the book Neighbors by Jan Tomasz Gross that chronicled the destruction of the Jews of Jedwabne at the hand of local Poles in July 1941. A Polish government commission charged with investigating the massacre ultimately confirmed that locals, not German forces, were indeed responsible for the slaughter at Jedwabne (and two dozen other hamlets in the same area of Poland). In this article, Laurence Weinbaum claims that the chilling description of what happened to Jews in Jedwabne (which has since become a synonym for killings carried out by locals) is in some sense a vindication of Jabotinsky’s grim prophecy about a looming catastrophe about to befall the Jews of East Central Europe. Although it is inaccurate to claim that Jabotinsky “predicted the Holocaust” (as many of his followers do), he had warned that the deep-rooted hostility of the autochthonous population among whom the Jews had lived for generations posed a mortal threat and that Jews should evacuate the area at once. Jabotinsky’s detractors focus on the Revisionist leader’s undeniable failure to predict the outbreak of the war. They also emphasize that at the end of the day it was the “Nazis” (not Germans) who carried out the murders, not the autochthonous populations. At worst, the “neighbors” were accomplices – not prime perpetrators. However (and without detracting from the guilt of Germans and Austrians), in the last decade, after the collapse of Communism and with newfound access to archives buried beyond the now-rusted Iron Curtain, we find that indigenous people of many nationalities were often more than mere accessories to the destruction of age-old Jewish communities. The extent of active local participation in the destruction of the Jews was far greater than had originally been believed and Jedwabne was but one example of a phenomenon that took place across the length and breadth of East Central Europe. In his work The Jewish War Front, penned shortly before his death in 1940 (and before the Final Solution had been put into motion), Jabotinsky made clear, that even if Jews who have been displaced from their homes and places of work do survive, one could not expect that the people who have replaced them will acquiesce to their return. Governments may be persuaded to uphold the concept of civil equality, but in practice this notion is doomed to ruin. This scenario was played out after the war in Poland and the rest of East Central Europe, where returning Jews were met with antipathy, and often murderous, violence. The author takes pains to explain that the revelations about Jedwabne notwithstanding, history is obviously more nuanced than many of us would like to acknowledge and the question of how Poles behaved during the Holocaust resists simple explanations and sweeping generalizations.


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