The Towns of Death relies on witness reports from survivors, bystanders, and the murderers themselves as found in court testimonies to describe the pogroms of Jews in Eastern Poland in 1941–1942 perpetrated by their Polish neighbors. The author demonstrates the pivotal role of the Catholic clergy and individual priests, the intellectual classes, and political circles in perpetuating anti-Semitism, often leading to the murder of thousands of Polish Jews.
Mirosław Tryczyk holds a PhD in humanities and is the author of Między imperium a świętą Rosją (Between the Empire and Holy Russia).
Frank Szmulowicz is a theoretical condensed matter physicist and a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and of the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE). He has translated Russian scientific journals into English for the American Institute of Physics and has done freelance Polish-English translations in a wide variety of subjects.
Chapter I: How History Was Written
Chapter II: Nationalism in Interwar Poland – An Ideological Outline
Chapter III: Jedwabne
Chapter IV: Radziłów
Chapter V: Wąsosz
Chapter VI: Szczuczyn and the Vicinity
Chapter VII: Goniądz
Chapter VIII: Rajgród
Chapter IX: Kolno
Chapter X: Suchowola
Chapter XI: Brańsk
Chapter XII: Jasionówka
Chapter XIII: Chajim Nachman Bialik The City of Slaughter (excerpt)
Chapter XIV: Conclusions
From the Editor
List of Archival and Investigative Materials Used in the Research
About the Translator
About the Author
Mirosław Tryczyk has created a great oeuvre that has waited in vain several decades for a historian talented and eager to undertake the task. Its greatness owes to the importance of restoring knowledge of the past to the national consciousness, the lack of which weighs heavily on the present and, worse yet, its prolonged absence bodes ill for the future. As the author himself aptly describes it, “one must fight not only with the passage of time which shrouds, erases, and destroys everything but also with man who wants to forget the sad events. One must also struggle with our civilization’s preoccupation with the present and its avoidance of the problems of the past and the future.” Tryczyk has issued an appeal, calling on us to postpone no longer the still patriotic and moral duty to fill the glaring gaps in the collective memory and to examine “now, immediately, if possible. Much time has been irrevocably lost since the end of World War II, which is hard to justify today. One may only try to understand.” Here, he answers this appeal without delay, through action.
The author has succeeded in recreating the (hopefully unrepeatable) atmosphere, an atmosphere that was unleashed, unbridled, allied with the desire for easy gains and a hate emboldened by impunity in its full monstrous form that is unimaginable to our contemporaries because, luckily for us, not personally experienced. The author has succeeded in achieving the intended effect: indeed, quantity turns here into quality, the stifling odor of human bestiality thickens with every page, and the horror of untamed evil grows stronger with each successive voice from the dark. And the awareness of the ruthlessness of the logic of evil grows: a village after village, a town after town emerge one like the other from the darkness through a numbingly monotonous sequence of events. Only the names in the cast in the ominous drama change from scene to scene; from time to time, the actors of the drama resort to different words to express their emotions, but the emotions revealed through their reports and those evoked in the readers are the same; and the script of the tragedy does not budge one iota.
Among the considerable number of publications devoted to the place of Polish-Jewish relations in the collective memory of Poles and to their importance in forming the Polish national identity, the work of Mirosław Tryczyk plays a special role. The author’s systematic and detailed presentation of the nightmarish picture of the sins committed by Poles against their Jewish neighbors appears as a necessary condition for their redemption and salvation, a liberation from the trap of suppressed and repressed collective feelings of guilt and shame, and a means for preventing the escalation of hostility and conflicts into a widening spiral of violence of revenge and retaliation. The distinguishing feature of Mirosław Tryczyk's contribution lies primarily in the uncommonly detailed documentation and recording of the criminal events and acts which he lists in the introduction in the first place as the aim of his work.
The work The Towns of Death by Mirosław Tryczyk belongs to the genre of works that deal with Polish attempts to address anti-Semitism. It should be emphasized, however, that in addressing such a difficult and painful subject, the author has shown particular care in his selection and critique of sources and has demonstrated knowledge of the methodology of historical research. He has analyzed the records of over seven hundred criminal trials, the so-called “sierpniówka” trials (trials under an August decree) that took place after the end of World War II against the Poles who committed crimes against the people of Jewish origin. The author's research addresses Polish prewar organizations that spread anti-Semitic messages, especially in book and press publications. He made sure to include the materials collected by the Home Army during the war and the findings of the Institute of National Remembrance from recent years. Thanks to the almost titanic work of Mirosław Tryczyk, an extensive work was created that describes the tragic events connected with the extermination of Jews in the Białystok area in 1941. Besides the widely known example of Jedwabne, we find out about other towns where bloody Jewish pogroms took place.
The author performs an interesting analysis, linking these tragic events with the propaganda “work” of anti-Semitic groups and their activists in the inter-war period. Neither does the book neglect certain historical realities such as the Nazi propaganda as well as the pro-Soviet attitude of some Jewish circles that passed into various forms of collaboration between 1939 and 1941. An essential part of the work are the photographs that integrate into the historian’s narrative and complement his arguments.
The use of so many sources, which in cross-reference fashion confirm the accuracy of the described events, has in effect led to a work of high scientific value. The fragment of history described here carries with it a shocking message about human nature, prejudices, stereotypes, and methods of crowd manipulation whose final result are murders.
I support the idea of publishing this book both because of its content as well as of the current interest in the manifold phenomena of the nationalistic exclusivism which in Poland assumes foremost the form of anti-Semitism. Indeed, contemporary forms of Polish anti-Semitism can be fully understood against the background of its previous manifestations and the consequences to which it has led in the past and is leading to at present. In other words, this publication is necessary for historical as well as educational and pedagogical reasons. This is a very thoroughly developed work that honestly and painfully demonstrates the importance of the problem addressed by the author, a work that is the result of an extensive scientific effort that forcefully presents an issue that still has not been fully studied and even less so settled in Poland.