Confronting History and Realizing National Identity: A Critical Analysis of Jan T. Gross's Neighbors.

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Neighbors by Jan T. Gross

Jan T. Gross's Neighbors recalls the 1941 mass murder of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland. For the past sixty years, Pols have failed to address this incident with any real honesty, and until they do so, their national history will never be complete. This is particularly relevant in Poland because its Jewish population constituted a significant portion of its overall population. While Gross does not arrive at any satisfactory conclusions to explain the conduct of the gentiles in Jedwabne, he does raise important questions that are necessary to gain a better understanding of the massacre's causes and implications. To what extent was it facilitated by the Germans? To what extent did the Pols conduct these killings independent of the Germans? What were the motivations? By pondering these questions, the reader has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and gain insight into the human condition.

However, it is unlikely that any of these questions will ever be sufficiently answered. By bringing this atrocity to the attention of Polish citizens, Gross makes his greatest contribution by stimulating a process that will hopefully lead to a catharsis and allow Poland to finally move forward.

In the summer of 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Poland, a country ripe with antisemitism. On July 10 in the small town of Jedwabne this tension reached a climax when its gentile population effectively murdered 1600 of its Jewish neighbors. Unfortunately, this scene is all to familiar in the context of the Holocaust and the tendency is to write it off as "just another Nazi atrocity." Why shouldn't this incident be heaped into the generic Holocaust basket? What does studying this occurrence provide to the modern audience? One possibility is that, by understanding the why it took place, it may be...