Golden Harvest

From March 10th, the book entitled ‘Golden Harvest’ by Jan Tomasz Gross and Irena Grudzińska-Gross was available in bookstores. It has been sparking stormy discussions in the press and on television for many weeks. This book, published by the Znak publishing house, touches on the history of Polish-Jewish relations. Once again Gross enters a no-go area, this time by dealing with the issue of Poles taking over Jewish property.

The photo used for this post is just one of many points of controversy surrounding “Golden Harvest”, a book that is claimed to be “forcing Poland to take a new look at its past”.

Amid the anger Gross’s book has provoked, his inclusion of the photograph purporting to show Polish peasants searching for valuables among the dead has been especially provocative. The photograph, of which the origins are uncertain, first appeared in the January 8, 2008, edition of Gazeta Wyborcza.

Konstanty Gebert, a columnist for the newspaper, told the Forward in an e-mail: “There is a controversy about that photo and Gross acknowledges it. The photo either represents diggers, or people who were collecting human remains for future disposal.”

Rusniak-Karwat raised similar doubts. “Jan Gross used the picture as his primary evidence,” she said. “And we know little about its origin.”

Gross said he first saw the picture in Gazeta Wyborcza and learned that it had been given to a museum at Treblinka in the 1960s by an employee of a local railroad station. The photograph was the starting point for his book.

“On the surface, it appears to be a very banal photograph,” he said. “But when you realize that the crops in front of [the peasants] are not beets or potatoes but skulls and bones, that is a very freaky experience,” he observed.

The book has been the subject of much analysis and comment ranging the scale from very positive to very negative. Certainly, opinion is divided on whether he is angel or devil and these opinions are not always divided in as simple a way as you might expect, although occasionally the comments are rather obvious.

I’ve not read the book but I’m hoping one of our merry band of Polandians is reading it or has least ordered it from Amazon with a view to reading it and publishing an in-depth review at a later date?

The thrust of the book, as portrayed by the media, is that Poles tried to profit from the Holocaust by digging amongst the dead at Treblinka (and one assumes other places too?) hunting for gold, diamonds or anything of value and in general terms, not just at Treblinka, profiting from the misfortune of the Jews at that time. It is not Gross’ first book to cast Poles during this time in an unpleasant light.

Gross has published two other books whose negative images of Poles provoked anger in the country of his birth. “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” published in 2001, investigated the 1941 massacre of about 1,600 Jewish villagers by their Polish neighbors. Poles were outraged when a government commission confirmed Gross’s findings. A later book, “Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz,” published in 2006, asserted that Poles persecuted and murdered Jewish survivors.

Gross was born in Poland shortly after World War II to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, he fled his native country in 1968 because of an anti-Semitic campaign conducted by the Communist Party. His interest in the subject is therefore understandable but questions remain about his accuracy and his I suppose therefore about his motivation.

Much of the material used in his books was discovered and/or confirmed by Polish scholars so a lot of what he says is not exactly original or groundbreaking news but his books do play a large part in bringing these matters to a much wider audience not only because it is the first time a lot of the material has been published in English.

The book ‘Golden Harvest’ no doubt deals with a significant issue of Polish-Jewish relations. This publication is needed since it has brought up the controversial topic, opened eyes of the general public and evoked discussions. The author can be criticized for a mediocre professional approach, stretching historical factors, generalization and overinterpretation. However, his book deals with what actually happened in the past, which is proven by much evidence such as, accounts of Jewish survivors and witnesses, and testimonies of villagers of the settlements who were at the scene of the crimes.

On the day after 13 more Poles attained the status of “Righteous Gentiles”, the question is whether Gross’ books are a positive contribution to the understanding of Polish history or a slander against the entire Polish nation?

What do you think?

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30 thoughts on “Golden Harvest

  1. Lex says:

    I regret that Germany had not invaded Poland before 1939 – then Schindler and the company could save more Jews from the Polish vampires.

  2. Kuba says:

    Just don’t buy the book. Let them get dusty in the stores.

  3. VLF says:

    I shall restrain from replying to Lex, despite the fact that my fingers are itching to. Admin, are you happy with this pure and insane hate-speak?

    I did not read the book but did read the hoo-ha around it.
    I believe that every dark chapter of the history should be uncovered and discussed, acknowledged and righted if possible.
    All nations have the propensity to glam up their histories.
    On the other hand is it right to base a book (non fiction) on a photograph of an unresolved provenience, not really methinks.
    Poland and Polish people are constantly accused of anti-Semitism, but I’ve never seen it myself. In fact I see a lot of fascination with Jewish culture and history. See the attendance at the Jewish festival in Krakow.
    The Jewish jokes are the same everywhere I go, and so are the Irish, Italian not to mention Polish ones.
    I sometimes wonder if Poland is just a soft target. It would be much harder to write a book about the fascist movement in the USA, or the complete inaction of the western countries during the first few years of WWII and before when the “Jewish problem” and “final solution” were openly discussed in German newspapers (I assume read daily by embassies’ staffers).
    I don’t know, I’m not a historian.
    It will be very interesting to see what others (hopefully sane) have to say here.
    Good one Scatts (for a change) ;-)
    _______________________________
    PS.
    Yes Scatts, it’s a smiley. It indicates that despite the fact that I often disagree with your assertions, I enjoy the read and the following discussion.
    PPS.
    The PS is there to avoid having my head screwed off like the last time I used a smiley.
    :-)
    Shalom.

  4. guest says:

    Here is a nice comment by dr. Adam Sandauer abdout the Gross BS.

    h ttp://lubczasopismo.salon24.pl/gross/post/290986,dr-adam-sandauer-na-marginesie-zlotych-zniw

    Dr. Adams Sandauer is the son of

    h ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erna_Rosenstein
    and
    h ttp://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artur_Sandauer

    One of the few Polish Jews who survived the war.

  5. tandrasz says:

    To VLF: Lex’s post may be an attempt at humor.

    People like me who were brought up in communist Poland in the 1970s and 1980s knew nothing about Polish Jews.

    We were told at school again and again that 6 million Poles died in WWII. We didn’t know that 50% of them were Polish Jews. We knew nothing about Jewish culture, about Yiddish, or about who lived in our towns before the war.

    I have not read “Golden Harvest” so I am not going to comment on that, but if you are interested in learning about Polish-Jewish relations it’s best to learn from multiple sources, and especially from people who were there. Marek Edelman was one such person:

    http://tandrasz.blogspot.com/2011/03/marek-edelman-zycie-po-prostu-by-witold.html

    Shalom.

  6. VLF says:

    Humour… hmm… maybe.
    Let me try:
    I regret Lex’s grandmother wasn’t burned in a furnace, it would save us from his humour.
    Funny?

  7. Lex says:

    According to Spielberg’s movie, all Poles are anti-Semites, only Germans helped Jews! Do not misrepresent history.

  8. Kuba says:

    That is one wrong opinion, unfortunately he has a big pulpet to transmit that message and that is by his movies.

  9. VLF says:

    “According to Spielberg’s movie…” WOOHA! There’s a respectable source.
    According to Spielberg’s movie giant sharks attack often and in a very cruel way.
    According to Spielberg’s movie ET had a glowing finger and bicycles can fly.

    And yes, I do get your sarcasm, but maybe there are better ways to employ your IQ, stand up maybe? This, out of all the subjects here, is the last one I would think calls for outbursts of wit.

  10. kukul says:

    Let’s assume that they looted the corpses.

    So what?

    If I was a starving, homeless and severly traumatized war survivor I’d loot the shit out of Moses himself without hesitation.

  11. wildphelps says:

    I have not read the book yet, but I think the uneasiness that it brings to contemporary Poland as it looks to establish its relations further within the EU and the wider world and dealing with it is a necessary, albeit trying, process.

    Every nation has its less than savory long-term dilemma: In the U.S. we are still dealing with our double original sins of treatment of Native Americans and slavery; England has its complicated legacy in Ireland; Korea has to reconcile its history of being between China and Japan, etc.

    In reading such provocative books, one starts considering history and questioning previously held assumptions. Before the war, Poland was a very diverse country. After the war, it appears as if that diversity was erased or at least minimized by the powers that were for their own ends.

    I think one of the most troubling aspects about Gross’s books is what Scatts mentioned – the books are available to a much wider audience. And if “outsiders” get their information from only a few sources like Gross’s books, there is a real fear that Poles will be seen within only one context. But I trust (and hope) that anyone who reads such types of books also reads other things that give a more diverse, robust picture of Poland.

  12. Lex says:

    Kukul

    Why Egyptian treasures were transported to London, Paris or Berlin? Golden Harvest?

  13. R says:

    “Before the war, Poland was a very diverse country. After the war, it appears as if that diversity was erased or at least minimized by the powers that were for their own ends.”

    Yes, by German powers murdering 6 million Polish citizens.

  14. daa says:

    @ Tandrasz

    this might be helpful

    http://www.tesknie.com/

  15. adthelad says:

    ‘Golden Harvest’ – Another pseudo historical book by a pseudo historian.

  16. The uneasiness of Poles comes mainly from being chastised for absolutely everything when it comes to Jews. Even for wanting to buy Madagascar.

    For example: if due to the PRL politics part of Jews involved in the Party were given passports in ’68, that’s antisemitism. If the same happens in Russia in years ’88-’92, that’s OK. I’ve only learned about this today:

    http://wiadomosci.onet.pl/kiosk/tajna-ewakuacja,1,4217634,kiosk-wiadomosc.html

    This article is about operation ‘MOST’, where Russia, USA and Israel agreed to make Jews from Russia relocate to Israel via Poland. Poland was chosen as a way because Polish militia expelled a lot of terrorists by then. Polish secret operation was so successful that Palestinian forces have not been able to do anything about it, even though they’ve already learned about the proceedings.

    That kind of explains good political relationships that we have with Israel, in my opinion. The trick is why we have rubbish relationship with the USA, and especially American Jews.

  17. Leszek says:

    Gross focusses on a particular topic. Would we be so condemnatory of him were he writing about Żegota?

    I agree with Kukul – who among us, brutalised by war, would not search through such rubble, hoping to find a way of buying bread?

    As for Polish anti-Semitism, it was there. Witness both the imposition of the Numerus Claususas well as it’s flouting along with trade banning for Sunday. Not to mention important Polish authors writing about finding the Jews a homeland. Nevertheless, some of these same figures were instrumental in setting up Żegota.

    What a surprise! Poland has a set of contradictory beliefs. Sounds like pretty much every other country on the planet, doesn’t it?

  18. Lex says:

    No it doesn’t. Poles talked about Jews, Germans organized for them genocide. Jews were expelled from Spain. In Poland, when was ruled not by Nazis, or the Soviets, Jews created the largest diaspora in the world.

  19. I’ve read the book and I think that those who haven’t should not comment on its content.
    It’s not about people who were starving and used “jewish gold” to survive. They were greedy, and yes, he gives examples, evidence, the photo was just the trigger.
    It’s not only about the diggers, it’s also about “good” neighbours, people who were supposed to look after Jewish belongings and stole them or offered help for money and after receiving it, killed the owners.
    War is cruel and changes people, Gross writes that similar situations took place in other countries. He is too emotional and sometimes exaggerates but this book forces you to think. It’s much worse than Fear though.

  20. Q. Niessen says:

    @boattownguest

    I think your comment is very sensible. I read the other book by Gross mentioned in Scatt’s article. The message I got from that book is that although it is understandable that generalisations are made about ‘the good ones’ vs ‘the bad ones’, especially given the extreme acts of cruelty and violence committed during WWII we should be careful not to close our eyes to the fact that on the ‘good side’ some perfectly ‘normal’ god-fearing citizens turned out to be capable of acts of barbarity as well. Hannah Arendt spent much of her adult life writing about this topic.
    Much as one may disapprove of Gross’ seemingly sensationalist choice of topic or Arendt’s blind rage, both of them have got a point. As Leszek already mentioned, this seems to be the sad truth about most of mankind..

    On a somewhat happier note, it’s a good thing nowedays such matters can be openly and freely debated.

  21. Q. Niessen says:

    regret spelling and interpunctional error

  22. Sylwia says:

    “I’ve read the book and I think that those who haven’t should not comment on its content.

    “It’s not about people who were starving and used “jewish gold” to survive. They were greedy, and yes, he gives examples, evidence, the photo was just the trigger.”

    I haven’t read the book, so I’m not going to comment on it but on the critique of it which I read.

    The critics (his publisher included) say that Gross failed to properly describe the people’s circumstances, leading readers to believe that they [the people] were greedy rather than poor and hungry, or that it was a common behaviour while, in fact, the claim refers only to a tiny minority.

    Having read other Gross’s books I concur with the view that he chooses his data selectively, to the point of distortion, which is why the number of his readers continues to drop.

    Of course, the topics he describes deserve serious approach, and hopefully other authors will keep writing about them.

    Incidentally, I don’t find ‘looting’ thought provoking. If you’re familiar with European literature, you’ll find looting everywhere. There’s a great chapter on looting in Hugo’s Les Miserables, and in Poland there’s a Żeromski’s novel. People looted both Napoleonic soldiers and Polish freedom fighters. Shakespeare’s Hamlet has grave diggers and a man killing his brother to loot his kingdom from him. Why should it be so surprising that a man can kill his neighbour if quite many people do it to their own family members?

    My favourite looter is in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”. Captain Wentworth, a great romantic hero. From my experience, all the women all over the world madly in love with him, prefer to think how handsome and gentlemanly he is rather than wonder what the “prize money” was. If Gross wrote “Persuasion” Wentworth might lose his following, but in Austen’s rendition he’s great and noble, which shows that looting really used to enjoy a widespread social approval, not to mention state recognition.

    I’m pretty sure that when people returned to the non-existent Warsaw after the war, they picked up everything they found in the ruins. Robbery and banditry were widespread for a long time. You can still find them in the Polish Film School movies made over a decade later.

    You can still die in any European or American city because of a fancy watch on your wrist.

  23. Thank you for your comments.
    I agree that it isn’t a new topic, but it’s not fiction, it’s about real people. His book is more like an essay on one topic, so the evidence had to be somehow selected. I was interested in the topic and I read the book. For some it might be boring, for some insulting, but they should first read it.
    Interestingly, I found many long newspaper articles about Golden Harvest, most written by people who haven’t read the book. Is it a new trend, or what?

  24. daa says:

    off topic: not a mention of this week`s The Guardian`s New Europe articles about Poland?

  25. scatts says:

    daa…….. I shall go seek the Grauniad articles of which you write.

    They be here – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/series/new-europe-poland?INTCMP=SRCH

    Looks like they only got started a couple of days ago so not surprised we didn’t find them yet.

    Old Lech’s looking a bit chubby these days!

    Lots of flowery prose amongst the articles…..

    Outside, in the spring sunshine, BMWs and Mercedes glide past freshly painted facades and smart coffee shops. Young Poles send text messages using neo-Polish words such as trendi, seksi and kul. Half the old friends I want to meet up with are abroad: in the European parliament, in Paris, on the Canary Islands.

    Being in Warsaw these days is like being in Madrid or Rome. It’s normal. Except that for Poland, this normal is profoundly abnormal; the ordinary, extraordinary.

    Not sure I dare read much further without a bucket handy!

    I see largely, if not entirely, written by people who don’t live here but pop over and stay with a family in Nowa Huta for a few days!

  26. Decoy says:

    I was going to do a post towards the end of this week summarising the Guardian’s New Europe pieces on Poland. There are plenty of articles, so I didn’t think it would be worth our time to cover all of them.

    Plus, some of the topics covered by the Guardian have already been highlighted/discussed here on Polandian, such as the giant Jesus in Swiebodzin (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/05/catholic-church-power-in-poland) and driving in Poland (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/05/debunking-stereotypes-poland-road-safety)

  27. daa says:

    @ Scatts: I couldn`t agree more, I too needed a bucket. they were right about the driving though…
    @Decoy: I can`t wait for your post then!

  28. Sylwia says:

    Many Hollywood films are about real people too, and yet one would question them as a faithful depiction of history.

    You’re right that more and more people write about Gross without reading his books (although I don’t know of any serious newspaper that would do that), but I think it’s because the image of Gross changes. Several years ago he was seen as a serious historian speaking of important things, so people read and reviewed his books. Today he became a kind of Paris Hilton of Polish historiography, so many people, our own Scatts included, think he should be mentioned because he gets an appearance in every gossip column. ;)

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