Jewish cemetary AP
A Jewish cemetery in Germany (Illustrative). Photo by AP
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A Polish publishing house defended its decision Tuesday to publish a book that has sparked controversy with its argument that Poles actively profited from Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

Golden Harvest, by Jan Gross and Irena Grudzinska Gross, argues that Poles plundered Jewish wealth from graves and profited in other ways from their suffering. The book's cover shows a photograph purportedly of Polish peasants digging up human remains at the Treblinka death camp just after the war in a search for gold or other treasures Nazi executioners might have overlooked. Scattered in front of the group are skulls and bones.

The thesis challenges a widespread view among Poles that their nation, which was occupied by Nazi Germany throughout World War II, by and large behaved honorably during that time. Six million Polish citizens - half of them Jews - were killed during the war and memories remain strong of Polish suffering and sacrifice. Heroic Polish deeds - like the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 against Nazi rule - are a foundation of the national identity, while the state regularly bestows honors on Christian Poles who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Nazis.

Henryk Wozniakowski, the head of publishing house Znak, said the book aims to
make the public aware of cruel and often difficult facts.

Wozniakowski said at a news conference in Krakow that the book challenges our collective memory and is an attempt to seek some justice for Holocaust
victims.

The book is scheduled for release on March 10 in Poland and will be released in English at a later date.

Znak director Danuta Skora, who acknowledged that the book is both controversial and even biased, said the publishers had been receiving complaints for weeks. But she described the release as important in sparking debate, adding that she hopes it will inspire more research on the subject.

To all those people who feel affected by this book, or annoyed or upset, I want to say that I apologize deeply, said Skora, whose publishing house is best known for publishing conservative Catholic works.

Jan Gross is no stranger to controversy in Poland. He has a history of igniting emotional debate through books that examine the sometimes fraught relationship between Christian and Jewish Poles during the war era.

Ten years ago, he sparked furor with the book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, which examines the 1941 massacre of about 1,600 Jewish villagers by their Polish neighbors.

Though the book outraged many Poles, it also led to soul-searching. A government commission investigated the matter and determined that Poles - and not Nazi Germans - were indeed to blame for the killings. Poland's then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski went on to apologize for Poland's role in the crime.

More recently, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz, sparked debate with its argument that after the war Poles persecuted and murdered some of the few Jews who managed to survive Hitler's genocide.

Gross was born in Poland shortly after the war to a Jewish father, but fled in 1968 during an anti-Semitic campaign waged by communist authorities. He is now a professor in the history department at Princeton University in the United States.

Irena Grudzinska, a researcher in the department of Slavic languages at Princeton, was active in the political opposition in Poland and left her homeland at the same time. The two were married in the U.S.