49 pages 1 hour read

Jan Tomasz Gross

Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2000

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Summary and Study Guide


This guide is based on the first edition of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, published in 2001 by Princeton University Press. Written by Jan Tomasz Gross, Neighbors is a critically acclaimed account of Poland’s role in the Holocaust. It inspired the 2012 film Aftermath, directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski.

Content Warning: The source material and this guide include discussions of antisemitism, war, and the Holocaust.

On July 10, 1941, nearly two years after the German invasion of Poland initiated World War II, the non-Jewish citizens of a small Polish village called Jedwabne initiated a murderous attack against their Jewish neighbors, which culminated in the Jews being corralled to a barn and burned. Eight hours after this mass murder, frequently referred to as a “pogrom,” around 1,600 Jews were dead. Only seven Jews remained in town—those who were protected by the few Poles who abstained from the violence and dissented from the collective will. Nazis later seized those remaining Jews. The Jews who survived the war did not return to Poland.

Polish Gentiles committed this pogrom and several others independently. The Nazis consented to the pogrom, but no German soldier ever conducted murder or assisted in killing. The Germans did nothing more than assent to the killings, which were organized by the mayor, and take photographs. They then determined an end to the pogrom and withdrew their consent to kill to those Poles who sought to commit additional murders.

After World War II, the remaining residents of Jedwabne discussed the massacre among themselves, but the event had not become official knowledge. As a result, the facts of the incident were obscured by the Stalinist regime and even misstated. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, formed shortly after the end of the war, retained testimonies from those who witnessed the pogrom, particularly that of Szmul Wasersztajn, which is the most comprehensive within the historical records. The Polish public, however, did not take steps to confront its difficult past until investigative reports and documentaries emerged that explored what happened in Jedwabne. Because of this new information, the Polish public could no longer regard itself as a victim of Nazi rule. The truth was that many of Poland’s non-Jewish citizens had gleefully collaborated with the Nazis’ effort to exterminate all of Europe’s Jews as a part of Adolf Hitler’s “final solution.”