In Response to: ‘Moral Provocateur’

As a visitor I respectfully greet the alumni and alumnae of Princeton.

In the matter of Prof. Jan T. Gross, it would be commendable for this “moral provocateur” to correct his persistent claim that 1600 (one thousand six hundred) persons were massacred in Jedwabne. That iconic figure is a cachet in the continuing publicity campaign for his bestseller “Neighbors” (Princeton University Press, 2001). Professor Gross knows that the correct figure is 340.

Whether or not the professor is insulting the nation of Poland, is this ongoing marketing exploitation not insulting the dead?

In the question of Nazi German management of the massacre, what is the truth? Upon discovery of German bullets among the corpses, the forensic investigation was terminated abruptly. At his Colin Miller Memorial Lecture at UC Berkeley in 2003, chaired by John Connelly, Prof. Gross conceded to me: “Had the forensic investigation not been prematurely terminated, then we would really know.”

Qualified discussion in this case cannot disregard the 2005 monograph by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz:

Professor Gross’s September 2015 assertion that “Poles killed more Jews than [they did] Germans” is what philosophers since Russell would call an indefinite description, impossible to count as true or false until the terms are settled. But the attitude of accusation is unambiguous. That is his point.

In an Author’s Note added to his Project Syndicate article, Gross accepts an estimate of 200,000-250,000 who tried to hide, with about 40,000 surviving. “The bulk ... perished either directly, killed by the Poles (or Ukrainians) among whom they were hiding, or by being betrayed and delivered to German police outposts by the local population.” He calls this brisk subtraction “rather straightforward.”

He appeals to authors of studies offering “rigorous documentation.” Are these studies unchallenged? Further, why not calculate how many Poles (or Ukrainians) assisted the 40,000 survivors?

If Prof. Gross wants confidence in his handling of numbers, he could begin by correcting his mythic figure of 1600 victims at Jedwabne.
It would be proper ask the dean of instruction to supervise academic debate in these wartime relations. The reputation of Princeton accompanies this celebrated author wherever he speaks, and is invoked as support for some of his questioned claims.

Gordon Black
Chair, Committee for Education, The Polish American Congress, Northern California Division