Anti-Semitism and Poland

In signandsight, a look at the impact of Jan Tomasz Gross’s new book “Fear”:

In recent days a new chapter in the emotional debate over Polish anti-Semitism has opened in Poland. The occasion is the Polish edition of a new book by the Princeton historian of Polish origin Jan Tomasz Gross. The book with the punchy title “Fear. Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz” (New York 2006) revolves around a central question: “How was Polish anti-Semitism possible after Auschwitz?” According to the reports by Holocaust survivors cited by the author, rather than being welcomed with open arms, Polish Holocaust survivors were met in their hometowns by the cynical question “Are you still alive?!”

The Holocaust victims were confronted with more or less open hostility on the part of the Polish population, which ultimately ended in pogroms. Gross’ book examines three of these in detail, in Rzeszow (1945), Krakow (1945) and the most notorious pogrom in Kielce (1946) in which 37 Jews were murdered.

For Gross, neither the allegedly widespread participation of Polish Jews in the slowly consolidating Communist regime nor the horror stories circulating about the ritual murder of Christian children were the real reasons for these occurrences. Ultimately, economic interests were behind the events. Many Poles had taken possession of Jewish property after the German occupiers fled, and the Holocaust survivors’ return was perceived as a real threat. Regardless of the pretexts for the pogroms, Gross writes, their real purpose was to get rid of the inconvenient victims.