Jedwabne: Genocide Often Occurs By Popular Action

We tend to think of violent genocide as occurring at the hands of jackbooted thugs from one extremist political movement or another. The reality is often more prosaic: goaded by the pains of diversity, locals take it upon themselves to remove the Other, as happened in the formerly Russian-occupied Polish village of Jedwabne:

After being controlled by Russia for two years, Jedwabne, a small town in northeastern Poland, was captured by Germany on June 22, 1941. One of the first questions the Poles asked the Nazis, their new rulers, was if it was permitted to kill the Jews.

According to Jan Gross’s book, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, the Nazis tried to persuade the Poles to keep at least one Jewish family from each profession, but the Poles responded, “We have enough of our own craftsmen, we have to destroy all the Jews, none should stay alive.”

Gross writes that Jedwabne’s mayor agreed to help facilitate a massacre and that Poles from local villages came in to watch and celebrate the event as a holiday. About half the men of Jedwabne’s 1,600 Catholic community participated in torturing Jedwabne’s 1,600 member Jewish community, corralling them into a barn, which was then set ablaze.

In future times, people may see genocide and democide as the complex monsters that they are: driven not so much by political reality but by day-to-day frustrations and the tendency of different groups to behave in different ways, causing resentment. In many Russian-occupied areas, the natives identified Jews with the Communist party, in part because so many Jews were Communists:

While in 1934 38.5% of the top officials in the NKVD were Jews, this number was decreased to 31.9% in July 1937, 3.9% in September 1938 and 3.5% in January 1940.

This may simply reflect cultural differences: for most of the world, Communism is a tempting ideology, although traditional European cultures have resisted it, and so members of foreign groups would be more prone to join those parties. In addition, as minority groups, they cannot identify with the majority and so are drawn to anti-majoritarian politics such as socialism and its parent, egalitarianism.

Poland Struggles With The Reality Of Genocide: It Emerges From Resentment Of Diversity

Although the scientists tell you not to rely on anecdotal data, there is a certain role for stories. These show us the arc of events from distant causes through results and then aftermath. Often they are symbolic, meaning that we can derive a great deal of understanding from seeing one event this way. In fact, history and literature are based on that notion.

This week, Poland is struggling to come to terms with genocide. Specifically, it is trying to accept its own role not as a government, but as a people, in murdering Jews. The most shocking and also most revealing story about this is from a little village that developed its own final solution in a story that could come straight from Hollywood:

By the time the sun set on July 10, 1941, all 1,600 of Jedwabne’s Jews had been killed — shot, bludgeoned, knifed, and drowned, some tortured first — the last 340 of them locked in a barn and burned alive. Similar horrors occurred in other nearby villages, not by German occupiers, although certainly with their approval.

Driving all of the town’s Jews into a barn and burning it seems to be a trope that appears multiple times. It probably reflects how one would deal with a plague of zombies, rats, or alien attackers. It enables a straight clean-up in a symbolic way, since fire is associated with permanence and cleansing. It slams shut one chapter of history and opens another.

This shows us the nature of genocide. It is not caused solely by government action; rather, it arises from resentment. Whether right or wrong, Poles perceived Jews to be associated with nepotism, organized crime, and Communism. That would be consistent with the immigrant group working toward its own supremacy, which is what always happens with diversity.

Diversity naturally causes genocide because each ethnic/religious group acts in its own interests only. This means that it seeks to dominate other before it can be dominated. That in turn causes friction, especially as smaller groups engage in passive aggressive activity because they do not have the numbers for outright conflict. Majority versus minority results.

In the case of Europe, the tragedy of the Holocaust came about because everyone was too oblivious to note that diversity is paradoxical and will result in a massive conflict at some point. Thinking themselves clever, they denied the association between Jews and Communism (quoting (this source), itself associated with organized crime, but the ordinary people did not, and when given an excuse, took their revenge.

In 1934, according to published statistics, 38.5 percent of those holding the most senior posts in the Soviet security apparatuses were of Jewish origin. They too, of course, were gradually eliminated in the next purges. In a fascinating lecture at a Tel Aviv University convention this week, Dr. Halfin described the waves of soviet terror as a “carnival of mass murder,” “fantasy of purges”, and “essianism of evil.” Turns out that Jews too, when they become captivated by messianic ideology, can become great murderers, among the greatest known by modern history.

As those who seek to avoid genocide ever again, our focus targets avoiding the pattern of events that sets up the conditions for genocide more than vainly crusading against genocide itself, like trying to ban any other human impulse. When the conditions are right, genocide appears like fire in a locked room, and humans shrug and seem helpless to stop it, although they easily could have stopped its genesis.