by Richard C. Lukas
Nowhere is the politicization of history and its practitioners more evident than in the recent writings of a number of historians of the Holocaust era. The temptations of glitz, glamour and money seem to have influenced some historians to sensationalize their subjects to get noticed by the media.
Instead of writing history as it really is—filled with complexity and nuance—these historians offer us morality plays. They consist of monocausal interpretations of complicated subjects with the lines of good and evil sharply etched. Too often they allow their biases, prejudices and personal histories to blemish the integrity of their craft.
Today it is intellectually acceptable to target certain individuals and groups for the death of five to six million Jews. Pope Pius XII, once widely praised by Jewish leaders and communities, has now become the most conspicuous target of a number of pope bashers, who have created a quasi-historical genre of their own. The writings of John Cornwell and David Kertzer are distinguished by their obsession to depict the Papacy in the worst possible light. In his highly publicized tome, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Goldhagen wants us to believe that ever since the nineteenth century, the German nation wanted to eliminate the Jews. According to this bizarre interpretation, Hitler was almost an incidental chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Is it now historically acceptable to place collective responsibility on the entire German people that was once employed by anti-Semites against the Jews? It is the same Goldhagen who was allowed by the editors of the New Republic to write an article that suggests there is a moral equivalence between the Roman Catholic Church and the Nazi party. Theologian Michael Novak perceptively observed:
“The reason Goldhagen is quite guilty of the charge of anti-Catholicism lies in the breadth and passion of the smears he spreads across a broad history, the distortion and hysteria of his tone, the extremity of his rage and the lack of proportion in his judgments.”
No people have been more viciously stereotyped than the Poles. Forgetting that the Poles were Hitler’s first victims and that the Nazi-established killing laboratory in Poland would later be used against the Jews and other groups, writers have sought to stereotype the Poles as a nation of willing collaborators with the Nazis in the genocide of the Jews. Despite the fact that Poland ranks first among the nations of the world which rendered help to the Jews during the Holocaust, the Polish role in aiding Jews has been largely ignored or denigrated.
A highly-touted book, Neighbors, by Jan T. Gross, claims that Polish Catholics in the village of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland were entirely responsible for killing their Jewish neighbors while the Germans allegedly remained passive bystanders. Even though relations between the two groups had been good before the war, Gross presents a tableau of hundreds of Catholic Poles mindlessly slaughtering Jews because now, quite suddenly, they despised them and lusted after their property.
Gross, who is a Jewish sociologist, never proves his claim. He prefers to rely on questionable evidence and fails to investigate German archives to substantiate his grave allegation. Despite the fact that Neighbors raised more questions than it answered, it is testimony to the enduring power of the stereotype that the National Book Foundation nominated the book for an award.
There is strong evidence, which Gross denies, that the Germans, not the Poles, were the organizers and major executors of the massacre. Only a few Poles, a small criminal element, were involved in the crime. In an interview published in Inside the Vatican, Dr. Tomasz Strzembosz, Poland’s leading authority on the history of eastern Poland, described Gross’s book as “a journalistic work, written without