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The Crime and the Silence
Cover of The Crime and the Silence
The Crime and the Silence
Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne
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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.

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.

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About the Author-
  • Anna Bikont is a journalist for Gazeta Wyborcza, the main newspaper in Poland which she helped found in 1989. For her articles on the crimes of Jedwabne and Radzilów, she was honored in 2001 with Poland's most prestigious award in journalism, The Press Prize. In 2011 she received the European Book Prize for Le crime et le silence, the French version of The Crime and the Silence. Bikont was a Cullman Fellow of the New York Public Library.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 6, 2015
    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.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from May 15, 2015
    Polish journalist Bikont (editor: And I Still See Their Faces: Images of Polish Jews, 1996) delivers a daring exposure of the crimes of her countrymen in the first week of July 1941. At the time, the deaths of the Jews of Jedwabne and those of Radzilow and Wasosz were glossed over, until a book commemorating them appeared just before the 60th anniversary. Jan Tomasz Gross based her book Neighbors (2001) partly on the Jedwabne Book of Memory, edited by rabbis Julius and Jacob Baker. It was the first time the testimony of eyewitness Szmul Wasersztejn was published, a good first step for Bikont to begin her search for witnesses. Sixty years after hundreds of Jews were herded into a barn that was then burned to the ground, the author found a host of disturbing reactions from the local residents. There are blatant denials that any Poles took part and assurances that it was the Germans who forced locals to participate. Many told Bikont that since it occurred so many years ago, she should just leave it alone. Her persistence in chasing down those who might tell her the facts took her all over Poland and to Israel, the United States, Cuba, and Costa Rica. Her most shocking discovery was the still-virulent anti-Semitism in the area. For years, the Catholic Church had preached against the Jews, so when neighbors were exiled to Siberia during the Russian occupation of 1939-1941, the Jews were the best scapegoats, and it was a good excuse for the beginnings of the pogroms. The elements of competitive suffering that the author uncovered in her interviewees appear to be just more excuses. Bikont's fearless research-she even confronted the brothers known to have led the Jedwabne murders-makes this a fantastic book. It was first published in Poland in 2004, and the European Book Prize it won in 2011 (for the French version) should be only the first of many awards for this significant work.

    COPYRIGHT(2015) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    April 15, 2015

    In 2001, Jan Gross's Neighbors brought attention to long-suppressed events in Jedwabne, Poland: on July 10, 1941, inhabitants rounded up their Jewish neighbors and burned them alive in a barn. Bikont has received Poland's highest journalism award for her coverage of the country's subsequent stuttering soul-searching.

    Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne
Anna Bikont
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