March 22nd, 2011
02:25 PM ET

Time: Did Poles profit off Jews during the Holocaust?

At first glance, it seems like an ordinary, innocent photograph: a group of Polish peasants holding shovels in a field on a sunny day. But look closer and you see the skulls and bones scattered at their feet.

According to some historians, the photo was taken at the site of the Treblinka death camp in eastern Poland shortly after World War II and shows the peasants digging up Jewish remains in search of gold or other valuables. When it ran alongside a 2008 newspaper feature about Poland's postwar era, most readers didn't take much notice.

But when historian Jan Tomasz Gross saw the photo, he was moved to write Golden Harvest, a controversial new book in which he argues that many Poles enriched themselves during the war by exploiting Jews, from plundering mass graves to ferreting out Jews in hiding for reward. In the book's introduction, Gross recalls how the photo made a big impression on him. "I could not understand why it passed without echo among the [newspaper's] readers," he writes.

Read the full story on TIME.com
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Holocaust • Judaism • Poland

soundoff (169 Responses)
  1. Raghav

    Jim, Wayne Davidson's an interesting guy, he posts on Real Climate quite frneueqtly. He's of the opinion that arctic conditions are deteriorating more quickly than the scientific community at large believes. His dataset's interesting, but I'm not competent to judge whether his results are good or not. But given his track record at Real Climate, I'd say that a polite e-mail to him would lead to a response and an opportunity for correspondence, if you want to give it a shot. He seems very approachable.

    May 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
  2. CRAIG


    Religion does not kil people, people kill people, somtimes very mislead people. If people use religion as the reason or excuse, it does not mean the religion is at fault. the people pull the triggers.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  3. Mag

    Gross's book is a sign of a current trend of “dispersing” German blame for Holocaust. Germans would preferably lay their blame on other nations, especially the Poles. When discussing Holocaust, media tend to use the word “Nazi” as if it had not been Germans who created and implemented the idea of extermination – extermination of Jews and all Slavic nations. Germans should not be allowed to escape their history and hide behind “the Nazi” terminology and manipulation of historical truth.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  4. Leonard Kniffel

    Jan Tomasz Gross's observations are a simplificatiion that reveals his lack of knowledge and research. The notion that "many Poles enriched themselves during the war by exploiting Jews" is completely outside any historical context. Self-enrichment was probably less a factor in Poland during World War II than it was in, say, Switzerland. This idea of placing blame for the Holocaust on its victims is as absurd as blaming Jews for bringing it upon themselves.

    April 5, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  5. Leonard Kniffel

    Jan Tomasz Gross's observations are a simplificatiion that reveals his lack of knowledge and research. The notion that "many Poles enriched themselves during the war by exploiting Jews" is completely outside any historical context. Self-enrichment was probably less a factor in Poland during World War II than it was in, say, Switzerland. This ides of placing blame for the Holocaust on its victims is as absurd as blaming Jews for bringing it upon themselves.

    April 5, 2011 at 5:32 am |
  6. Fred

    Dr. Gross used to write about Polish suffering during the war before he discovered that Holocaust topics are more profitable. I wonder if the profits for his latest books go to Holocaust victims or for his own Harvest. Just remember, if Poland was not invated by the German, how many Jews would be alive. MR Gross please donate all profits to the VICTIMS.

    March 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  7. John

    Wow. I think hundred of thousands of Poles who lot their lives for the Jews mut be turning over in their graves right now after reading this article. There is a good reason why majority of Jews lived in Poland prior to WWII, because it was one of the few countires in Europe that did not disciminate. Poles today must feel like they are walking around with several knives stabbed in their back after reading something like this. Poland would have been much better off today if it had sided with the Germans, instead of protecting Jews. What did they get in return; entire country was ruined during WWII plus 50 years of communist occupation thereafter. Take a stroll throguh the valley of the righteus today, to see nationalities of people who risked their lives, or often paid with their lives to save the Jews in WWII. Your're welcome

    March 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  8. Andy B

    There were thousands of sites in Poland where people were killed by, lets not call them as often they are called nazi but straight -Germans who attacked Poland in 1939 (September, 1st). During 5.5 years of the German occupation 6 000 000 Polish citizens were killed. Rougly 3 000 000 Polish Jews and 3 000 000 others -mostly ethnic Poles.

    Mr. Gross is wrong. This photo doesn't show any Polish peasants digging for Jewish gold near Treblinka. After war, the civilians often were used by the government for the exhumation of the human remains. On that photography we can see such group of the civilians along with the soldiers.
    Learn real history people. Poland isn't a powerfull state so, this the only chance that Poles will not be shown as the Hitler's helpers in the world's media. Couple weeks ago NYT wrote "Polish Concentration Camps..."


    March 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  9. xdt

    And what about killing native americans and make money with afroamerican slavesin your great america.So maybe you should shout up.

    March 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:


      oThe Muslim Conquest of India

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      Rank <<<Death Toll <Cause <<Centuries<<<Religions/Groups involved*

      1 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

      2 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

      40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

      4 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

      5 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

      6 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

      20 million Joseph Stalin 20C

      8 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

      9 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

      10 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

      11 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

      15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

      13 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

      14 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

      10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

      16 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

      17 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs Pagans)

      8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians vs Pagans)

      19 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)
      7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      *:" Is religion responsible for more more violent deaths than any other cause?

      A: No, of course not – unless you define religion so broadly as to be meaningless. Just take the four deadliest events of the 20th Century – Two World Wars, Red China and the Soviet Union – no religious motivation there, unless you consider every belief system to be a religion."

      Q: So, what you're saying is that religion has never killed anyone.

      A: Arrgh... You all-or-nothing people drive me crazy. There are many doc-umented examples where members of one religion try to exterminate the members of another religion. Causation is always complex, but if the only difference between two warring groups is religion, then that certainly sounds like a religious conflict to me. Is it the number one cause of mass homicide in human history? No. Of the 22 worst episodes of mass killing, maybe four were primarily religious. Is that a lot? Well, it's more than the number of wars fought over soccer, or s-ex (The Trojan and Sabine Wars don't even make the list.), but less than the number fought over land, money, glory or prestige.

      In my Index, I list 41 religious conflicts compared with 27 oppressions under "Communism", 24 under Colonialism, 2 under "Railroads" and 2 under "Scapegoats". Make of that what you will."

      March 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      What is cute is that "Reality" is just a copy/paste person. He has been copy/pasting the same drivel with no actual knowledge on many different threads.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Statistics that Reality never collected nor added together. Oh, the generation of liars have no respect for truth.


      March 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  10. sam

    drew you just say that when jews are trying to ripp off whole world as we speak

    March 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      How are they doing that? I ASK FOR ACTUAL PROOF, NOT OPINION.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  11. Drew

    Well wouldn't you dig up a dead body if it was the only way of feeding your family? God knows the war left Poland in pretty bad shape, I'm sure the peasants in the photograph were in pretty dire straits

    March 24, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • HeavenSent

      It's just a photo of people standing around corpses. It doesn't show them stealing. It doesn't show them doing a thing but standing there.


      March 24, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  12. adre

    pierdolenie głupot przez kurewską stację – propaganda i kłamstwo

    March 24, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • HeavenSent



      March 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  13. Reality

    Going to the Saving of Souls Mode and away from the sordid history of WWII:----------

    Saving 1.5 billion lost Muslim souls:
    There never was and never will be any angels i.e. no Gabriel, no Islam

    Saving 2 billion lost Christian souls:
    There was and never will be any bodily resurrections i.e. No Easter, no Christianity

    Saving the souls of 15.5 million Orthodox followers of Judaism:
    Abraham and Moses never existed.

    Added details upon request

    March 24, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      @reality- I think you are on the wrong thread. The oh look at me pompous pseudo-intellectual tree-hugging atheist thread is somewhere else on here.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Oh Reality, you might want to get your stuff right. You do realize that a Muslim is a member of the religion of Islam. There is Islam, duh.

      Easter is a holiday that does exist, so doesn't Christianity, duh.

      And your elementary understanding of history is very lacking. You cannot say that Abraham and Moses did not exist. All you can say is that there is no archaeological evidence that confirms they are a historical fact.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Pathos, just ignore reality. He's bucking to be worm food.


      March 24, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • CRAIG


      April 6, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  14. Frederica

    Many different nationals did evil to the Jews out of greed or cowardice. The Poles went through enough under both Nazis and Soviets. Why this news now? CNN, could you report on what Armenians suffered, please?

    March 24, 2011 at 2:35 am |
    • Pathos with Ethos

      Put the Roma in there too.

      March 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Frederica, they'll get there. It's all the divide and conquer everyone game they are playing on the American people.


      March 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. sam

    how about Ulms family of 8 kids and 9 th on the way , they hide 2 jewish persons and when Nazis find
    out all family gets killed even pregnent mother.

    March 23, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  16. sam

    this article does not prove anything all facts are taken from polish resorces for egz. polish museums , these were revealed long time ago to public, so he rewrites the history for money and propaganda .

    March 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • noras

      This whole uproar is a hucpa. Without historical professionalism. Photo one interprets this, as others collect the remains to the grave. It was in communist Poland, which was located in many Jewish hierarchy. Certainly would not allow such behavior.

      March 25, 2011 at 9:47 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.