Winner of the National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust category
A monumental work of nonfiction on a wartime atrocity, its sixty-year denial, and the impact of its truth
Jan Gross's hugely controversial Neighbors was a historian's disclosure of the events in the small Polish town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, when the citizens rounded up the Jewish population and burned them alive in a barn. The massacre was a shocking secret that had been suppressed for more than sixty years, and it provoked the most important public debate in Poland since 1989. From the outset, Anna Bikont reported on the town, combing through archives and interviewing residents who survived the war period. Her writing became a crucial part of the debate and she herself an actor in a national drama.
Part history, part memoir, The Crime and the Silence is the journalist's account of these events: both the story of the massacre told through oral histories of survivors and witnesses, and a portrait of a Polish town coming to terms with its dark past. Including the perspectives of both heroes and perpetrators, Bikont chronicles the sources of the hatred that exploded against Jews and asks what myths grow on hidden memories, what destruction they cause, and what happens to a society that refuses to accept a horrific truth.
A profoundly moving exploration of being Jewish in modern Poland that Julian Barnes called "one of the most chilling books," The Crime and the Silence is a vital contribution to Holocaust history and a fascinating story of a town coming to terms with its dark past.
Polish journalist Bikont undertakes a thorough follow-up to Polish-American historian Jan Gross's 2001 book Neighbors, about the July 1941 pogrom in the rural eastern Polish town of Jedwabne. Bikont spent several years tracking down and interviewing the few eyewitnesses to the event as well as their children and other relevant parties in Poland, Costa Rica, Israel, and the U.S. She goes well beyond Gross in marshaling information to counter persistent claims that the Jewish massacre was perpetrated by Germans: overwhelming historical evidence incriminates Poles. In the process of investigating, she learned that the July pogrom in Jedwabne wasn't an isolated act; killings of Jews by Poles took place "in several dozen towns in the area." Bikont also notes the near-ubiquity of anti-Semitism in the area at the time such that protecting Jews was an unpopular, even dangerous act and the persistence of anti-Semitism throughout Poland to the present day. The narrative is disrupted at times by digressions into relatively tangential matters, especially in more personal sections called "Journal." Still, Bikont has performed an extraordinary journalistic feat in documenting this terrible, historically contested atrocity. Illus.