The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont

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The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: The Crime and the Silence is, by anyone's standards, a weighty tome, both in terms of the sheer size of the book and the size of the issues it explores. The author shares her own experiences of anti-Semitism experienced whilst writing this book and it is clear that this legacy of hatred has left lasting scars both on Poland as a country and the people who live in the aftermath of some of the most shocking violence, abuse and destruction in our history. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it; everyone should read this book.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Windmill Books
ISBN: 978-0099592525

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Where was your father? Where was your brother, your mother, your uncle? These are the questions Anna Bikont struggles to ask during her investigation into a shocking act of violence committed against the Jewish community in Jedwabne during the summer of 1941. The Crime and the Silence weaves together journals, interviews and pictures to share the story of a community torn apart by hatred and intolerance. It is also a moving testament to the dedication of Bikont, who documents her struggle to find the truth with grace and dignity in the face of silence, rationalisation, and even anger, from members of the Polish community who would rather not stir up the crimes of the past.

As a recent visitor to Poland, this book has a particular resonance for me. It is easy to see the legacy the Holocaust has left behind and the attempts to identify Poland as somewhere other than a place of such violence and horror. It is hard not to enter into a political, spiritual and moral debate about the actions of all those involved in the Holocaust; however the aim of The Crime and the Silence, in my opinion, is not an attempt to point the finger but rather to understand how this could have happened. What could have driven people to violence, persecution and murder? What is heartbreakingly clear from Bikont's investigation into Jedwabne is that this was by no means an isolated incident and the feelings of those involved are still shared by people today, even those in positions of power.

In terms of structure, Bikont has interwoven her own journal, written during her investigation, with stories from survivors and witnesses to the atrocity. This makes for a dreamy narrative which slips effortlessly from past to present and allows the voices of those who were there to shine. No one could accuse Bikont of being judgemental, although there are those who tried, and if those involved in perpetrating acts of anti-Semitism and violence come across as bigoted, violent, intolerant individuals then that is through their own interpretation of their actions and beliefs rather than Bikont's. It is clear that she has done her best to remain objective and to challenge these long held beliefs in thought provoking, rather than antagonistic, ways.

The stories from survivors are beautifully expressed narratives of horror; tales of friends and neighbours turned to strangers and murderers, families betrayed and stolen from, and the desperation of those striving to survive in a country which became their enemy. One quote in particular stood out for me: I feel for Poland, she hurts me and yet I long for her. That those displaced still feel the ache of their homeland is one of the legacies of this despicable time in our history, that those who were persecuted could still be villainised and those who were guilty lauded as heroes is the true shocking message of this book. The Crime and the Silence reminds us that hatred and tyranny is never far away, in these uncertain times it can appear closer than ever. The release of this book in English at this time of political and economic uncertainty should serve as a reminder to us all; we are all capable of persecution and being persecuted, what is important is that the memory of events like the Holocaust are kept alive and our history is not forgotten.

For those interested in learning more about the Holocaust you might try The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle, an account of Heinrich Himmler and the science behind the Final Solution, or Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, a moving masterpiece about the treatment of indigenous people in the American West.

Buy The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Crime and the Silence by Anna Bikont at Amazon.com.

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