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Ghost Citizens: The Jews who became outcasts after surviving the Holocaust

History: Ghost Citizens

Lukasz Krzyzanowski Harvard University Press, 320 pages, hardback, €31.50; e-book £23.37

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Exodus: Jewish refugee boys on board a train after the end of World War II

Exodus: Jewish refugee boys on board a train after the end of World War II

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Ghost Citizens by Lukasz Krzyzanowski

Ghost Citizens by Lukasz Krzyzanowski

Even-handed: historian Lukasz Krzyzanowski

Even-handed: historian Lukasz Krzyzanowski

Exodus: Jewish refugee boys on board a train after the end of World War II

Polish historian Lukasz Krzyzanowski begins this impeccably well-researched book with a question: how was life for those Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust and returned to their homeland? The short answer is: hellish. These "ghost citizens" returned from ghettos and death camps across Poland to communities they once called home. But they found themselves isolated in a society that was a universe away from Poland pre-September 1939.

An estimated 90pc of Polish Jews were murdered by the Nazis, so there were not many friends or family members left to help survivors. Aid did come, mostly from charitable Jewish organisations that surfaced across Poland immediately after the war. They provided finance and a friendly face to destitute Jews who were confronted with theft, abuse and violence. These threats came mostly from Polish citizens struggling in a country ravaged by war, poverty and political chaos. The police also had clear-cut discriminatory anti-Semitic agendas.

Krzyzanowski treats some of the primary historical sources with a much-needed pinch of salt. Emotions were high after the war and prejudices were abundant. The historian applies an even-handed judgment call or educated guess when the need arrives.