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

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