In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath
  • Antony Polonsky
Joshua Zimmerman , ed., Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002. 324 pp. $35.00.

Few issues have divided Poles and Jews more deeply than the assessment of the Nazi genocide in Poland. The tragic death of almost 90 percent of Polish Jewry during World War II has provoked bitter arguments over the degree of responsibility borne by Polish society. These polemics were renewed by the publication of Jan Gross's book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), which described how the Polish residents of this small town in eastern Poland, with some German incitement but no actual German participation, brutally massacred their Polish neighbors. (The arguments of the book are summarized by Gross in an article in Contested Memories.) Many Jewish historians have claimed that by attempting to undermine the economic viability of the Jewish community in Poland after the death of Marshal Józef Pilsudski in 1935, the Polish government made Adolf Hitler's task easier. The great increase in anti-Semitism in Poland in the late 1930s, the persistence of the economic depression in Europe, the example of Nazi Germany, and the attempt by some members of the Polish government to widen their support by gaining the adherence of the young anti-Semitic zealots of the nationalist opposition helped to create a climate of opinion in which most Poles were unwilling to see the Jews as fellow citizens under Nazi occupation. This connection between the prewar and wartime situation is denied by many Polish historians, whose view on the matter is similar to the assertion by Norman Davies—in his God's Playground: A History of Poland, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), Vol. 2, p. 263—that "the destruction of Polish Jewry during the Second World War was . . . in no way connected to their earlier tribulations."

Similarly, many Jewish historians have claimed that under Nazi occupation the Poles, far from aiding Jews, at best displayed indifference and at worst were willing accomplices of the Nazi policy of extermination. Polish historians have responded by stressing the harshness of the Nazi occupation, the difficulty of assisting Jews who were confined by the Germans to ghettos, and the threat of death Poles faced if they were caught providing assistance to Jews. There has also been considerable dispute about the anti-Jewish violence that ensued after the Nazis were driven back. Nearly 1,000 Jews lost their lives in this way. Jewish historians have seen these deaths as the consequence primarily of the desire of those who had profited from the confiscation of Jewish property to avoid having to return the property to its rightful owners. They also have cited the persistence of prewar anti-Semitic beliefs intensified by the brutalizing effect of six years of Nazi rule. Polish historians, by contrast, have argued that many of these deaths have to be seen as part of the much larger number of casualties caused by the internecine conflict in postwar Poland stemming from the Soviet Union's attempt to impose an unpopular Communist regime.

These are the main themes explored in this well-researched and gripping collection [End Page 176] of essays. The book deals with six main topics: (1) aspects of the prewar relationship of Poles and Jews that shed light on Polish behavior during the war; (2) the impact of the first two years of the war, before the Nazis adopted a policy of outright genocide, (3) official Polish responses to the Nazis' Final Solution; (4) the way Jews saw Poles during the Holocaust; (5) the reaction of ordinary Poles to the annihilation of the Jews; and (6) the impact of the Holocaust on postwar Poland. The contributors include many of the leading Polish and Jewish historians involved in rethinking these difficult and complex problems.

All the authors have something new to say, and to single any out is invidious. However, I was particularly impressed by the essays of Barbara Engelking-Boni, Dariusz Stola, and Gunnar Paulsson. Engelking-Boni gives a moving account...