Jan Tomasz Gross interview, PolAm Dems, John Guzlowski on NPR, The Defense
Waldemar Piasecki interview with Jan Tomasz Gross, the author of Fear
An Appeal by Polish American democratic leaders. Ambassador Nicholas Rey and Marilyn Piurek co-chair of DNC ethnic committee
Therapy with "Fear" [from Tygodnik Przegląd]
Associate me with thinking of Jan Karski, whose truths also aroused
pseudo-patriotic fury among many know-it-alls about Poland, observes Jan
Tomasz Gross in an interview with Waldemar Piasecki.
"So you tell me, Mr. Controller please
Butt smoke steaming indifferently through your teeth
That I shouldn't bother to count myself
Among those who trouble over Poland"
Jan Pietrzak's song from 1968, when you left Poland. Still you persist to
trouble yourself over Poland. Why? Do you identify yourself as a Pole?
Jan Tomasz Gross: I am a Pole, whether someone likes it or not. I can feel
differently but for other reasons. I am also unquestionably an American. Of
course I am acutely aware that my ancestors were Jewish, but basically I did
not emerge from a Jewish cultural milieu. Nonetheless I feel that all
oppressed people are my kin. I1m not sure if my response satisfies your
You know the Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel also regards you as a Pole.
When "Fear" first appeared at the end of May 2006, he wrote that you are
very brave to appeal to your kinsmen in Poland to face up to their
In my opinion the historical process of the confrontation, to which Wiesel
refers, has already began and is unstoppable. It began with 3Neighbors2
breaking certain taboos by opening some minds and speaking to conscience
that Polish neighbors could murder their Jewish neighbors, and that a person
who shows it is not just some nut. What1s more, the groundbreaking burst of
studies about Polish-Jewish relations is coming from young historians
without predispositions or taboos. They examine documents and publish their
work. Of course the social impact is not great because their work reaches
small readership but the quality is surprisingly high and speaks well of the
You referred to this burst as "the Mount Everest" of Polish historiography?
Because it is. On the one hand, anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the
Holocaust is already a certain peak but also marked by research. One can
only imagine the courage it takes for young historians to own up to native
anti-Semitism at this time. When they decide to expose facts resorting to
historical methods and research
that monstrous poison of the anti-Semitic worldview underlying the
collective Polish psyche. How disarming and seductive was the devil1s
temptation that Hitler offered the world. This doesn1t please and can spawn
emotional reactions to objective facts. My hat off to these historians
Undoubtedly remaining their teacher in this enterprise "Can your "Fear" be
compared to Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago"?
In a broad sense, both books expose something unanticipated and
inconvenient. The parallel acquires scale if the network of camps
concentration camps--becomes an aspect of accepted reality, in which part of
society is liquidated, while society at large keeps its eyes shut--because
it is, for example, possessed by fear or anesthetized; and it becomes
necessary to shake up loudly the conscience to force change. Similarly, when
a society raises its hand against its "foreign" element that was not
completely eliminated by the invader
exposed. Of course the scale of the drama described by Solzhenitsyn and his
personal dangers as a result are an entirely different story.
I really wouldn't appreciate if now I was taken to task for comparing myself
to a great writer and historian like Solzhenitsyn. If I draw certain
parallels, it is only by analogy: In both situations the collective psyche
of a nation was injected with evil that marked not only the victims but also
Jan Kurtyka, head of Institute of National Remembrance, referred to you as
a "historical vampire." Do you wish to suck from Poles admission of guilt
for a crime, which in the eyes of the world will consume them? What is the
I really like this description and plan to include it in my CV. Janusz
Kurtyka is a government official with very explicit and well known
nationalist-patriotic views, which he expresses thus providing me, albeit
unintentionally, with an international appeal.
Another employee of that institution, Piotr Gontarczyk, concluded on TV that
academic debate of your points presented in "Fear" is impossible. He draws
analogies, the debate in which you defend the view that the world is not
round but flat like a disk carried on the back of four crocodiles, but you
refuse to discuss the qualities of the disk, only the crocodiles. How would
As for Mr. Gontarczyk, who gain fame by his published thesis that Jacek
Kuron tried to compromise with the communist secret services based on poking
about in their secret "masterpieces" let me, if you don't mind refrain from
any response, and leave it at that.
What is your reaction to the actions of the Public Prosecutor that 3Fear2
denigrates the Polish nation? The Office is basing itself on legislation
before the Polish Constitutional Tribunal.
My first reaction was to question if what I was hearing was factual or
fantasy. Since it is a factual I think it is terrible if the prosecutor
turns into a book critic with the potential legal penalties of three years
in prison decided by a court. Wherever books are judged or burned evil is
being done. Since I am an optimist by nature, I expect the Constitutional
Tribunal to rescind the law and the case will be resolved.
If not? If the Public Prosecutor proceeds beyond clarification to a routine
It1s really not difficult to imagine the international fallout.
Western press has suggested you plan to present witnesses whose testimonies
will confirm pre-war anti-Semitism.
Such people have already contacted me expressing their willingness to
testify even without my call.
Do you see analogies between your situation and Nobel Prize winner Orhan
Pamuk accused by the Turkish Public Prosecutor of denigration of the Turkish
people when he wrote about the Armenian genocide.
Yes, but I firmly believe it is impossible in Poland.
You expressed disapointment at Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz1s letter to Znak
publishers expressing his regret at publication of "Fear," a book "arousing
demons of anti-Polish feelings." Was it an anticipated reaction?
Absolutely not. This is some sort of misunderstanding, albeit someone could
have suggested such an interpretation to the Archbishop of Krakow. I regard
telling the truth, particularly when it involves history, as a calling.
A significant portion of public opinion is shocked by your suggestion that
then bishop Stefan Wyszynski could have believed in Jewish ritual murders
for blood dripping on the matzo. What is the basis for such suppositions?
When a delegation of the Central Jewish Committee met with bishop Wyszynski
in 1946 startled by the anti-Semitic atmosphere
Kielce pogrom and asked him to deny the Jewish ritual murders and of
drawinge blood for the matzo, the bishop rejected their plea. His rationale
was a trial in Tsarist Russia in 1913 involving this very accusation. The
delegation was shaken. Its account of what transpired in a subsequent book
lacks emotional interpretation. The conclusion is that either the bishop did
or did not have believed in ritual murders but nonetheless he did resorted
to the argument in dismissing the delegation.
After the Kielce pogrom only bishop Teodor Kubina of Czestochowa sharply
condemned the rumors about ritual murders, proclaiming that people cannot
commit crimes not only because of the law but most importantly because
Christian ethics. Several months later Bishops Conference officially
criticized bishop Kubina for taking a position that diverged from that of
the Episcopate and primate Hlond.
Why the Kielce pogrom of June 4, 2946, with your book begins became the
subject of public debate on an international scale? Deceased writer and
journalist Samuel L. Shneiderman, who came from Kazimierz Dolny, told me
that it was made public by the US ambassador on Polish Independence Day. A
number of foreign journalists were invited, among them Shneiderman who
reported for the Jewish and US press. The impact was immediate and the
journalists asked to visit Kielce. Shneiderman claimed that without the
coincidence of time and place, the incident would have gone unreported, as
happened with other pogroms at the time.
The Kielce pogrom was on an unprecedented scale, which would have been
virtually impossible to conceal. The communist authorities tried to
diminish its significance politically through propaganda by portraying it as
an unfortunate incident, an act of evil doing. It didn1t work. Mass social
protest or condemnation of the act did not take place so there was no point
of playing it up.
Some historians claim that the pogrom served the communists as an instrument
of fear used against Jews returning to Poland after the war as well as to
provoke an exodus. Did they play this card?
The pogrom contributed to the exodus in some way but there is no evidence
this was intentionally planned in advance. This is one of the plot legends
that emerged from the Kielce pogrom, probably to justify the societal
Many Americans see your books as a continuation of Jan Karski1s mission to
expose what happened to the Jews in Nazi occupied Poland. It has to do with
Nazi crimes as well as those by their countrymen. In November 1942 Karski
on behalf of the representatives of the government in the homeland and the
central command of the Home Army reported on the anti-Semitic climate and
collaboration including the proposal to make Poles aiding in the
extermination of the Jews a capital crime, irrespective of whether it
involved actual killing or informing the Nazi authorities. If the problem
was marginal, I am certain Karski would not have raised it against his
Karski was quite explicit about Nazi crimes and also how Poles acted. His
report was very balanced. He was very concerned about the plight of the Jews
and did more than could be expected to save them. His meetings with
Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and President Franklin Deleno
Roosevelt are now part of history. The first admitted that he was incapable
of believing the report of the Polish Currier about the Nazi crimes against
the Jews, while the latter seemed lukewarm. These accounts describe the
general reaction to the Jewish question at the time. If someone sees
analogies with what I do, I can only be proud. I completely identify with
the Karski tradition and his line of thought.
Do you think that in arousing such emotions "Fear" can bring Poles and Jews
closer? In which generation?
I sincerely hope it can. Truth ought to be the foundation for any honest
bond. When one acknowledges it, one can refer to it no matter how horrific
it may have been. What I describe in "Fear" happened many decades ago. It
illustrates general human capacity for evil doing, by anybody, not only
Poles, which some blame me for proposing. That capacity should not come as
a surprise, for we know it well. It manifests itself in different societies
and locations around the world. When discussed, it metaphysically dispels
differences between how Poles and Jews see that period. When both sides can
agree that after the war horrible things happened in a society to which Jews
also belonged, the problem disappears as it becomes emotionally deflated.
The fundamental question is whether Jews had any chance to restore their
position as an integral part of Polish society?
Facts indicate they didn't. The last delegate of the government in the
homeland Jerzy Braun contended in a report that as a result of the
Holocaust, Jews from Poland simply 'vanished' and in their place emerged a
new social group consisting of Poles, who took over traditionally Jewish
roles, such as trade, wholesale and small business. The reappearance of Jews
after the war threatened group interests, affecting material existence and
lifestyle. This phenomenon is well studied and has occurred elsewhere. In
Poland the problem became dramatic when in an effort to defend these
interests, a people who experienced the Holocaust, unprecedented suffering
and social dislocation, lost their lives. This is the reason why most of the
Jewish refugees decided to leave Poland and those who remained really
couldn1t establish roots in Polish society. Through no fault of their own.
What do you think will be the finale of the controversy over Fear?
In the first place many people will read the book, hopefully the young, who
know the era that "Fear" describes vaguely from fog-filled tales. The book
will be read in Poland and will slowly contribute to the change of how WWII
and the post-war period are perceived.
A friend from New York Times, who knew I was about to interview you asked me
to raise the question whether you have any fear of being physically
assaulted in Poland? I confess I couldn't have entertained such a thought
I am entirely free of such fears or concerns. It didn1t happen during the
stormy controversies over "Neighbors" when I participated in many
emotionally charged discussions. I don't anticipate the emotional level to