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Collected Essays on War, Holocaust and the Crisis of Communism

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Jan Tomasz Gross

The author undertakes an intellectual journey into the hidden past of the Polish history after 1939. He deals with Holocaust, collaboration, totalitarian rule, crisis of communism in Eastern Europe as well as Polish-Jewish relations during the war. The author is a founding father of a new approach in Holocaust research in Poland in which he has taken it from out of its intellectual ghetto as a strictly Jewish subject and repositioned it at the center of Poland’s wartime history. Among other topics, the collection of essays deals with Jewish community in the Soviet annexed territories on the eve of the Holocaust, opportunistic killings and plunder of Jews by their neighbors and Poland’s development from a civil society to a political nation.
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5. Opportunistic Killings and Plunder of Jews by their Neighbors – a Norm or an Exception in German Occupied Europe?

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5.  Opportunistic Killings and Plunder of Jews by their Neighbors – a Norm or an Exception in German Occupied Europe?

{An earlier version of this essay was published in “Years of Persecution, Years of Extermination. Saul Friedlander and the Future of Holocaust Studies,” Christian Wiese and Paul Betts, eds., Continuum, New York and London, 2010, pp. 269–286.}

I would like to shed light in this essay on the phenomenon of killings and plunder of Jews by local people in German occupied Poland – crimes that occurred on the periphery of the Holocaust. In terms of numbers of Jewish victims, this was only a small fraction of the total killed by the Nazis. The loot that remained in local hands – not equally insignificant, primarily because of the housing stock, which was taken over by local residents – was also only a tiny part of the Jewish wealth that had been plundered during World War Two. But as mysteries pertaining to the Holocaust abound, these marginal phenomena – adversarial interaction between Jews and their fellow citizens in occupied societies – have been catapulted decades later into the center of preoccupation for national historiographies. They have attracted extraordinary public interest both in eastern and in western Europe. So a marginal issue in the historiography of the Shoah turned into a “sticky” one, judging by public and professional attention, not let go of easily as far as European societies under occupation are concerned.

To address this subject one needs to contend with...

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