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?