A Book for All Seasons: Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?

By Juliana Geran Pilon

Publication Date: January 17, 2013

The following article is a review of Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?  Studies on the Wartime Fate of Poles and Jews by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (Author), Wojciech Jerzy Muszynski (Editor), and Pawel Styrna (Editor).

Not all of Thucydides’ academic heirs have devoted themselves to the pursuit of truth, searching for every nugget of data they manage to dig out from oblivion, then revise their speculation in deference to the facts; indeed, the political correctness that currently infects public discourse is anathema to such practice.

A notable exception is this splendid anthology, Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Wartime Fate of Poles and Jews, which offers the patient reader a sterling example of history at its best. The essays included here take on the deeply divisive topic of Polish-Jewish relations during the Second World War and thoroughly succeed in presenting a far more nuanced picture than the caricatures currently en vogue.

The editors name the two contrasting versions of that tragic historical moment: “the black legend” on the one hand, and “the heroic mythology” on the other. The sinister black legend, dominant in the West, portrays the anti-Semitic Poles as collectively complicit with the Nazis in the crimes of the Holocaust, mainly for material gain; by contrast, the so-called heroic version, prevalent in Poland to this day, has the Polish population standing staunchly by their Jewish neighbors committed to the Golden Rule of brotherly love. Neither is remotely true.

Though at pains to demonstrate the flaws that plague both of the grotesquely simplistic mythologies of that tragic time, the editors go one step further to explore the origins of each. The legend of the Polish anti-Semite, for example, owes its historical and philosophical foundations to the Stalinist propaganda machine. The Pole-Fascist narrative had offered at least a modicum of moral legitimacy to the Communist take-over of that long-coveted piece of real estate and reduced Western pangs of conscience over Yalta. The heroic version, obviously preferred by staunch nationalists, is in part the result of insufficient data available to Polish historians during the Soviet era.

In his introductory essay, the principal author and well-known scholar in this field, Professor Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, emphasizes the imperative to precede all conclusions with “multifaceted, thorough, and exhaustive archival research and in-depth local case studies,” which the exceptional seriousness of the subject matter demands with particular urgency. This imperative he and the other essayists faithfully observe. The result is not only highly informative but a chilling reminder of the shoddiness of some mainstream American pseudo-scholarship.

Juliana Geran Pilon
Director, Center for Culture and Security
Professor of Politics and Culture

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‘Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold’ is now available on Amazon

Amazon now carries our latest work, Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold?: Studies on the Wartime Fate of Poles and Jews.

The 370-page study, which appeared under our label in March, is a collection of historical research and analyses based on forensic evidence, primary sources and documents, and testimonials. Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? challenges the neo-stalinist line on Polish-Jewish relations during the Nazi occupation, which makes the absurd claim of widespread and willful Polish collaboration with the Nazis who occupied their country, and of purposeful mass complicity in the Holocaust.

Editors: Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Wojciech Jerzy Muszynski and Pawel Styrna.
370 pages, including indices. Softbound. $24.95

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The 1944 Koniuchy massacre: History raises inconvenient facts

On a frigid day in January 1944, the village of Koniuchy awoke to a vicious attack by Soviet partisans. Communist forces massacred forty civilians, including women and children, as they razed the homes and slaughtered even the animals.

The story of Koniuchy, now called Kaniūkai and in present-day Lithuania, thanks to occupation-era border changes, remained largely forgotten. Dr. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, Leopolis publisher and a professor of history at the Institute of World Politics, made the story known again in his series of presentations on the Intermarium on March 21.

After the return of the Bolsheviks, Chodakiewicz recalled, the survivors Koniuchy would be shipped to the Gulag. The objective of the punitive raid was to send a clear message to the denizens of the area: a similar fate will befall any other village whose denizens dare to resist the Soviets.

Soviet propaganda justifies the massacre

To maximize the propaganda effect and further justify their actions, the communists claimed that Koniuchy had been a nest of “fascist collaborators” containing a German garrison. Thus, the victims completely deserved their fate. In official Soviet historiography the massacre of Koniuchy would be portrayed merely as a typical guerrilla operation to destroy the alleged Nazi garrison. The testimonies of Jewish Holocaust survivors would also parallel closely the Soviet propaganda while adding the charge of “anti-Semitism” to the list of accusations against the inhabitants of Koniuchy.

Terrorized by Nazis and Soviets

To comprehend the origins of these clearly divergent accounts, it is essential to understand the historical background of the area. As part of interwar Poland’s Eastern Borderlands, the village of Koniuchy was subjected to the terror and brutality of both the Soviet and Nazi occupations. In the wake of Hitler’s attack on his erstwhile ally, Stalin, in the summer of 1941, pockets of Soviet troops cut off from their units remained in the area. The fate of those captured and sent to German POW camps was almost certain death. Hence, many stragglers attempted to survive by working as farmhands, or joining auxiliary police units, the partisans, or criminal gangs. In the case of communist guerrillas and bandits, the two categories often overlapped.

The Soviet partisan movement intentionally terrorized the local population to pave the way for the red comeback. It supplied itself by plundering the natives with no regard for their plight. In fact, the communists adhered to a policy of “the worse, the better” by deliberately provoking German reprisals and terror to swell their own ranks and revolutionize the desperate population.

Quite naturally, the local Poles, Orthodox Ruthenians/Belarusians, and ethnic Lithuanians resisted. It is important to remember that the Germans exacted an onerous and punitive food quota from the peasantry, which meant that precious little remained for consumption and planting. Coerced “contributions” on behalf of other groups – whether partisans or bandits – constituted a great nuisance, especially if the individuals helping themselves to their meager possessions were Soviets. The latter were agents of an enemy power, opposed Polish independence, and often abused and raped the local women. To protect themselves, the locals attempted to form self-defense units or supported their own underground movements, such as the Polish Home Army (AK). We must, however, keep in mind that the possession of firearms was punishable by death under the German occupation. Thus, the residents of Koniuchy were forced to ask for permission to form a small night watch and obtain a few old rifles from the Lithuanian auxiliary police, which functioned as the agent of the Germans in Wilno Land.

Fleeing Jews trapped in the conflict found safety with Soviets

Meanwhile, the Jews attempting to elude the Nazi dragnet found themselves trapped in the context of a Soviet-Polish conflict. To survive, the escapees from the ghetto were forced to beg for or steal food. Sometimes survival also necessitated joining the Soviet partisans, although the communists gang-raped women and accepted only armed young men. There were also instances of communist units killing and robbing Jews. Yet, the natural desire to survive overrode these considerations, although cooperation with the Soviets placed the Jewish escapees on a collision course with the locals. Thus, the participation of Jewish fighters in the Soviet force obliterating Koniuchy and exterminating its inhabitants, whom they would portray as anti-Semites and Nazi collaborators. It would be their narrative which would become the dominant one in the West.

Historians attempting to establish the truth about Koniuchy faced the challenge of conflicting accounts with almost no access to original sources. The regnant post-modernist temptation to circumvent the difficult and tedious work accompanying the search for the truth by simply denying its attainability will not satisfy the serious scholar. In such cases, the duty of the historian is to cross-check and verify all the contending narratives by amassing the largest possible amount of data and carefully sifting through it in an attempt to reconstruct the past. Hence, research on Koniuchy resembled a forensic crime scene investigation. This meant weighing not only Soviet and Jewish testimonies but also German military and Lithuanian police reports as well as Polish survivor accounts. In the case of the latter it was difficult to overcome the decades of imposed silence and terror regarding the massacre. Even the local Poles had been indoctrinated to believe the Soviet propaganda version of events. An even greater challenge was posed by the fact that a few Jews, the victims of the Holocaust, had functioned as victimizers in this case.

Thus, a historian was also forced to respond to the erroneous argument that delving into the Koniuchy massacre was an act of Holocaust revisionism attempting to undermine or relativize the plight of the Jews during the Shoah. Generally, the closer an event is to the historian and his times, the more difficult it is to conduct an objective inquiry. Last but not least, Dr. Chodakiewicz pointed out that cases like Koniuchy elicit emotions, which prevent clear thinking and should not be confused with empathy. Ultimately, the historian’s motto should be the famous Aristotelian “amicus Plato, sed magis amica veritas” (“Plato is a friend, but the truth is a greater friend”).

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New study challenges neo-Stalinist line on World War II Poland

In search of much debated truths about Polish-Jewish relations during World War II, Leopolis Press is publishing a collected work of authors who conducted extensive historical research and analyses based on forensic evidence, primary sources and documents, and testimonials.

The result: Golden Harvest or Hearts of Gold? Studies on the Fate of Wartime Poles and Jews.

Throughout the 370-page anthology, the writers reject as extreme and indefensibly reductive two of the most popular – and contradictory – interpretations of the relations between Poles and Jews. The authors refer to these interpretations as the “black legend” and the “heroic mythology.”

In particular, the authors directly challenge the premise of Princeton University Professor Jan T. Gross, in his poorly documented new book, Golden Harvest (Oxford, 2012).

Alleging widespread and willful looting of Jewish homes, bodies and graves for a harvest of gold teeth, Gross perpetuates the myth of widespread Polish collaboration with the Nazi invaders of their country, including systematic looting of Jewish homes and cemeteries, and deliberate and mass-based participation in the extermination of their Jewish countrymen in Nazi death camps.

In the new Leopolis Press book, the authors respond to Gross’s “golden harvest” thesis with a “hearts of gold” rejoinder. Using exhaustive case studies, statistical data and archival research, they carefully document widespread Polish sympathy for their doomed Jewish neighbors, and acts of heroic resistance to the Nazis’ “final solution.”

At a time when the simple act of sheltering a Jew for a night, sharing some bread or water, or simply not informing the authorities meant a death sentence for oneself and one’s family, countless Polish citizens – especially the peasants in the countryside – risked their very existence to help Jews escape and survive. Much of that heroism has taken mythological proportions to confront the demonization of the Poles. The authors document the fiction of the Golden Harvest and the extent of Poland’s Hearts of Gold.



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Art & architecture, 303 Squadron, and NKVD: Topics of the 4th Annual Kosciuszko Chair Lectures

The Institute of World Politics Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies hosted the Fourth Annual Kościuszko Chair Lecture on November 12, 2011.

This year, the event featured the following speakers:

  • Dr. Carolyn Guile, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History at Colgate University;
  • Ms. Terry Tegnazian, President of Aquila Polonica Publishing; 
  • BGEN Walter Jajko, USAF (Retired), and Professor of Defense Studies at IWP; and
  • Dr. Tomasz Sommer, the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Poland’s primary conservative-libertarian weekly, Najwyższy CZAS! (High Time!), and Vice-President of the Polish-based think-tank, Instytut Globalizacji (the Globalization Institute).

“According to the Polish Sky and Customs” -
Art and Architecture in Early Modern Poland

Prof. Guile’s lecture – “‘According to the Polish Sky and Customs:’ Art and Architecture in Early Modern Poland” – addressed the relationship between architecture and culture. And the architecture of Central and Eastern Europe, much like its culture and history in general, remains relatively obscure. Even art historians all too frequently ignore willingly the vast swath of European territory between Germany and Russia, which may be defined as the Intermarium, i.e. the “lands between the (Baltic, Black, and Adriatic) seas.” Prof. Guile admitted that this often patronizing neglect constituted the chief reason motivating her interest in the region. The lecture focused on only a section of the Intermarium, namely its northwestern part.

As Prof. Guile explained, architecture provides a venue not only to display one’s aesthetic tastes but to demonstrate one’s cultural identity as well. During the early modern period (and, indeed, other epochs as well), the Poles provided ample testimony to their continued allegiance to Western Civilization through their architecture. In fact, as Prof. Guile pointed out, the easternmost penetration of Western architectural designs (save for imported ones in St. Petersburg or Moscow following the reign of Peter the Great) was coterminous with the oriental frontiers of Western Civilization, and particularly the eastern border of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Thus, even Orthodox churches in the Ruthenian lands of the Rzeczpospolita differed significantly in appearance from Muscovite ones.

Yet, the Poles were by no means mere passive emulators of Western architecture. As full-fledged members of the Latinate Occident, Polish architects certainly embraced the emphasis on natural symmetry, harmony, and rationality in every structure. Such requirements were stressed by the famous first-century BC Roman architect Vitruvius, considered the greatest architectural authority until the nineteenth century. Even so, the Poles assimilated and integrated architectural nuances and styles derived from more “exotic,” Eastern cultures, such as the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Persian ones. This approach stemmed from the Polish-Lithuanian worldview known as “Sarmatism,” which underscored the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Commonwealth’s culture vis-à-vis both East and West. However, building in accord with the local “sky” and “customs” – Prof. Guile noted – was certainly not tantamount to a renunciation of a greater Western culture. It was, in fact, a reflection of the quintessentially Western attitude embracing “variety within unity,” which has been translated into en pluribus unum in the United States.

Extraordinary Heroes, Desperate Times – 303 Squadron: The Legendary Battle of Britain Fighter Squadron

The culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was reflected not only in the beauty of early modern architecture but also in the legendary Polish heroism during the modern period. As a case in point Ms. Terry Tegnazian addressed the 303 Polish Fighter Squadron and its role in the Battle of Britain. Through their battle experience, daring tactics, and patriotic bravery, these superb aces overcame numerous linguistic and cultural barriers to provide an invaluable contribution to the Western Allied victory during the summer/fall of 1940. Unfortunately, Ms. Tegnazian observed, the memory of the heroes of the 303 Squadron was quite lacking in their homeland of Poland itself, not to mention the West. To expunge the legacy of independent Polish statehood in general, and the Second Republic’s role as a Western Ally in particular, the communists employed a two-pronged strategy based on terror and propaganda. The former was utilized to intimidate or liquidate the intransigent, and the former to mold the remaining Polish-speaking population into obedient Homini Sovietici. Nevertheless, the legend of the 303rd was kept alive by patriots both within and without the communist-occupied country.

303 Kosciuszko Fighter Squadron and its part in the Battle of Britain 

Gen. Jajko elaborated further on the Polish pilots’ role in the Battle of Britain, which lasted from 10 July – 31 October 1940. The Polish squadron was the highest-scoring unit in the Battle of Britain and incurred the least damage. As Gen. Jajko pointed out, the Poles scored more hits precisely because they disregarded standard British air tactics, employing ingenious and daring ones of their own.

Gen. Jajko emphasized that the Battle of Britain was a great victory for the British, but unrequited sacrifice for the Poles. The latter, the first Allied nation to resist and consistently fight the Nazis, were eventually handed over to the Stalin at Yalta. Adding insult to injury, the post-Churchillian Labour government of Clement Attlee failed to invite the pilots of the 303rd to the grand 1946 Victory Parade in London. The leftist British government had already recognized the communist puppet regime in Poland, which saw these pilots as enemies, in spite of their contribution to Nazi defeat. The Labour cabinet envisioned a British-Soviet postwar order in Europe and preferred not to antagonize Moscow.

In spite of immense Allied ingratitude, the pilots of the 303rd could live their postwar lives with a clear conscience. “Truly, the 303rd had served as the Antemurale Christianitatis” fighting in the spirit of the battle cry of Polish nineteenth-century insurrectionists: “For Your freedom and Ours!”

The Polish Operation of the NKVD, 1937

Last but not least, Dr. Tomasz Sommer discussed the “Polish Operation” of the NKVD, having authored the very first monograph on the subject. The “Polish Operation” – a Soviet genocide  – claimed up to 250,000 ethnic Poles during the years 1937-1938/1939.

This slaughter of a considerable portion of the Soviet Union’s Polish population occurred mostly in the Belorussian and Ukrainian SSRs (one-third of the executed respectively). The remaining one-third perished throughout the Soviet Empire, including Moscow, Leningrad (the former St. Petersburg/Petrograd), and Siberia. The Poles residing on the western frontier of the USSR had lived in the Ruthenian lands since the days of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Those repressed in other parts of the Bolshevik Empire were the descendants of Poles deported to Siberia in the wake of failed uprisings or evacuated by force to Russia during the First World War. Most of the victims were of peasant or “proletarian” backgrounds, which indicates that the communist genocidaires were not guided by class origins.

Further, as Dr. Sommer pointed out, fully 80 percent of the sentences passed by Soviet kangaroo courts during the “Polish Operation” resulted in death sentences.

Moreover, men in the prime of their lives were intentionally targeted first by the NKVD executioners, who reasoned that their elimination would automatically decapitate and disintegrate Polish families.

In addition, two social groups suffered particularly heavy blows during the operation: Catholic priests and communists of Polish descent. The former represented not only a threatening alternative to the atheist regime’s claim to monopolize the hearts and minds of Soviet citizens, but also a feared eastward extension of “Polonism.” The latter – who had themselves participated in crimes against the Church and their fellow Soviet Poles – were exterminated simply because of their ethnicity, which clearly demonstrates the genocidal nature of the “Polish Operation.”

This communist ethnic cleansing campaign was one of the NKVD operations targeting entire nationalities, which, in turn, constituted an element of the Great Purge. Overall, Soviet Poles emerged as the ethnic group which suffered most during the Great Terror. The causes of the “Polish Operation” no doubt originated in Stalin’s hatred for the Poles, who stopped the Bolshevik effort to export the revolution westward in 1920. Furthermore, the Soviet regime feared the legacy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a competing universalistic political conception. Hence, the Bolsheviks chose to eradicate it by liquidating the human carriers of the “Polish disease,” which is known to us as freedom.

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