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The Jedwabne pogrom (pronounced [jɛdˈvabnɛ]) of July 1941 during German occupation of Poland, was a massacre (pogrom) of at least 340 Polish Jews of all ages. These are the official findings of the Institute of National Remembrance, "confirmed by the number of victims in the two graves, according to the estimate of the archeological and anthropological team participating in the exhumation," wrote prosecutor Radosław J. Ignatiew, who headed an investigation in 2000-2003 ordered by the Polish government.
A treason and murder trial was launched by Poland's communist regime in 1949, which was later condemned as a miscarriage of justice. After a fresh investigation concluded in 2003, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance stated the crime was committed by Polish inhabitants of the town, with the complicity of Nazi German Ordnungspolizei. The involvement of German paramilitary forces of the SS and Gestapo remains the subject of debate, especially the role of Nazi German Einsatzgruppe Zichenau-Schroettersburg. According to some later commentators, many people were shocked by the findings, which contrast with the rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust.
The Jewish community in Jedwabne was established in the 18th century. According to the 1921 census, the town had a Jewish community consisting of 757 people, or 61.9 percent of its total population It was a typical shtetl, a small town with a very significant Jewish community, one of many such towns in prewar Poland.
The start of World War II in Europe began with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. Likewise, on September 17, 1939, the Soviet Red Army invaded the eastern regions of Poland while in secret agreement with Germany. The area of Jedwabne was originally occupied by the Germans who crushed Polish resistance being offered by local Polish cadets. Jedwabne was then transferred to the Soviets in accordance with the September 28, 1939, German–Soviet Boundary Treaty. As soon as the Soviets entered Jedwabne, the local Polish government was dismantled. At first, many Polish Jews were relieved to learn that the Soviets, rather than the Nazis, were to occupy their town, and unlike gentile Poles, publicly welcomed the Red Army as their protector. Some people from other ethnic groups in Kresy, particularly Belarusians, also openly welcomed the Soviets. Administrative jobs were offered to Jews who declared Soviet allegiance. Some Jews joined a Soviet militia overseeing deportations organized by the NKVD. At least one witness testimony says that during round-ups, armed Jewish militiamen were seen to be guarding those prepared for deportation to Siberia. A total of 22,353 Poles (entire families) were deported from the vicinity. Red Army troops requisitioned food and other goods, undercutting nearly everyone's material needs. The Soviet secret police accompanying the Red Army routinely arrested and deported Polish citizens - both gentile and Jewish - spreading terror throughout the region. Waves of arrests, expulsions and prison executions continued until June 20–21, 1941.
Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the German forces quickly overran the territory of Poland which had been occupied by the Soviets since 1939. The small town of Wizna near Jedwabne saw several dozen Jewish men shot by the invading Germans under Hauptsturmführer Hermann Schaper, as did other neighboring towns. The Nazis distributed propaganda in the area, revealing crimes committed by the Soviets in Eastern Poland and saying that Jews might have supported them. In parallel, the SS organized special Einsatzgruppen ("task forces") to murder Jews in these areas and a few massacres were carried out. The guidelines for such massacres were formulated by Reinhard Heydrich, who ordered his officers to induce anti-Jewish incidents on territories newly occupied by the German forces. Local communities were encouraged to commit anti-Jewish pogroms and robberies with total impunity.
On the morning of July 10, 1941, by the order of mayor Marian Karolak and the town's German gendarmerie, a group of Polish men from around Jedwabne and neighboring settlements was assembled, which then rounded up the local Jews as well as those seeking refuge from nearby towns and villages such as Wizna and Kolno. The Jews were taken to the square in the centre of Jedwabne, where they were ordered to pluck grass, attacked and beaten. A group of Jewish men were forced by the Nazis to demolish a statue of Lenin that had been put up earlier by the Soviets (as in Kolno), and then carry it out of town while singing Soviet songs. The local rabbi was forced to lead this procession of about 40 people. The group was taken to a pre-emptied barn, killed and buried along with fragments of the monument, while most of the remaining Jews, estimated at around 250 to 300 (IPN final findings), including many women and children, were led to the same barn later that day, locked inside and burned alive using kerosene from the former Soviet supplies (or German gasoline, by different accounts) in the presence of eight German gendarmes, who shot those who tried to escape. The remains of both groups were buried in two mass graves in the barn. Exhumations led to the discovery not only of the charred bodies of the victims in two mass graves, but also of the bust of Lenin (previously assumed to be buried at a Jewish cemetery) as well as bullets that according to a 2000 statement by Leon Kieres, the chief of the IPN, could have been fired from 1941 Walther P38 type pistols.
German photographers, seen by many witnesses, photographed the pogrom. Some sources claim that a movie made by Germans during the massacre was shown in cinemas in Warsaw to document the alleged spontaneous hatred of local people towards the Jews. No trace of such a movie has been found.
Soon after the war ended, in 1949 and 1950, the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland arrested and interrogated a number of suspects from or around the town of Jedwabne, accused of collaboration with the Nazis in committing the crime and put them on trial. Of 22 defendants, 12 were convicted of treason against Poland and one person was condemned to death.
Records show that the use of extreme physical torture during pre-trial interrogations conducted by the Security Office (UB) resulted in some individuals admitting to made-up crimes, which were later renounced by them before the courts. Among those who (at trial) retracted their earlier statements given during prolonged beatings by the security service were Józef Chrzanowski, Marian Żyluk, Czesław Laudański, Wincenty Gościcki, Roman and Jan Zawadzki, Aleksander and Franciszek Łojewski, Eugeniusz Śliwecki, Stanisław Sielawa and several other local men pronounced innocent and released by the courts without recompense. Out of 22 indicted for the crime at the time, almost half were wrongfully accused.
The unlawful interrogation methods were confirmed by the minister of Public Security Stanisław Radkiewicz, who admitted in an internal memo that the "fixing" of the investigation included beatings, the complete omission of circumstances and evidence, and the rephrasing of testimonies to aid prosecution in a way that did not reflect reality. None of the Polish people who rescued Jews in Jedwabne was contacted, and no attempts were made to establish the names of the victims. There was no police search for the mayor, Marian Karolak, who had vanished, and no effort to name the German units present at the time. The courts however confirmed that the defendants' participation had been prompted by threats and acts of physical violence by the German police.
Upon the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR, Reinhard Heydrich ordered his security forces to "cleanse" the border areas of Jews which led to formation of additional Einsatzkommandos. He instructed Nebe to organize pogroms (i.e. "self-cleansing") in the Bezirk Bialystok district, inspired by the warm welcome received from the Poles, when they chased out the Soviets along with their NKVD collaborators. Nebe oriented his commanders including Birkner on their new duty on July 2 and 3, but cautioned that the SS should leave "no trace" of its involvement in the pogroms.
Wolfgang Birkner was investigated by the West German prosecutors in 1960, suspected in the 1941 massacres of Jews in Jedwabne, Radziłów, and Wąsosz nearby. The charges were based on research of Szymon Datner, head of the Białystok branch of the Central Committee of Polish Jews (CŻKH). The German prosecutors found no hard evidence implicating Birkner, but in the course of their investigation discovered the German witness who named the Gestapo paramilitary Einsatzgruppe B under SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper deployed in the area. The methods used by Schaper's death squad in the Radziłów massacre were identical to those employed in Jedwabne only three days later suggesting their specific involvement in that pogrom also.
"The evidence collected by the West Germans, including the positive identification of Schaper by witnesses from Łomża, Tykocin, and Radziłów, suggested that it was indeed Schaper's men who carried out the killings in those locations. Investigators also suspected, based on the similarity of the methods used to destroy the Jewish communities of Radziłów, Tykocin, Rutki, Zambrów, Jedwabne, Piątnica and Wizna between July and September 1941 that Schaper's men were the perpetrators." — Alexander B. Rossino
During the subsequent German investigation at Ludwigsburg in 1964, Hermann Schaper lied to interrogators that in 1941 he had been a truck driver. Legal proceedings against the accused were terminated on September 2, 1965. However, Schaper's case was reopened in 1974. During the second investigation, Count van der Groeben testified that it was indeed Schaper who conducted mass executions of Jews in his district. In 1976 a German court in Giessen (Hessen), pronounced Schaper guilty of executions of Poles and Jews by the kommando SS Zichenau-Schröttersburg. Schaper was sentenced to six-years imprisonment, but was soon released for medical reasons. According to German prosecution, the documentation of his investigation is no longer available and, it has most likely been destroyed.
In May 2000 the Polish-American historian Jan Gross published Sąsiedzi (Neighbors), a Polish-language account of the Jedwabne pogrom. In 2001 the book was published in an American edition, titled Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. German, French and Hebrew translations were also published.
In ‘Neighbors’ Gross gave a gripping account, containing horrifying scenes of Jews being assaulted, rounded up and killed, describing how on "one day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small East European town murdered the other half - some 1,600 men, women and children." Gross concluded that the Jews in Jedwabne had been rounded up and killed not by the Germans as had previously been assumed, but by a mob of their own Polish neighbors.
Gross recognized that German forces were in Jedwabne during the massacre: "There was an outpost of German gendarmerie in Jedwabne, staffed by eleven men. We can also infer from various sources that a group of Gestapo men arrived in town by taxi either on that day or the previous one." And Gross recognized that German occupying forces had control of the town:
“At the time, the undisputed bosses over life and death in Jedwabne were the Germans. No sustained organized activity could take place there without their consent. They were the only ones who could decide the fate of the Jews. It was within their power also to stop the murderous pogrom at any time....”
Nevertheless, Gross concluded that the massacre was carried out entirely by Poles from Jedwabne and the surrounding area. As for the German role, he wrote, “the only direct German involvement was........taking pictures”
Gross asserted emphatically that Polish perpetrators were not coerced by the Germans: “the ‘’Einsatzgruppen,’’ German police detachments and various functionaries who implemented the ‘final solution’ did not compel the local population to participate directly in the murder of Jews.......the so-called local population involved in killings of Jews did so of their own free will.” (p.133)
Gross’ principal sources were first, an account which Szmul Wasersztajn, a Jewish survivor from Jedwabne, had filed in 1945 with the Jewish Historical Institute (żydowski instytut historyczny, ZIH) in Poland; and secondly, the investigation depositions and trial records of the 1949-1950 trials. But Wasersztajn was not an eyewitness of many of the events he described, since he had spent the day of the pogrom in a hiding-place near Jedwabne. And in the 1949-1950 trials a number of witnesses gave testimony during the investigation which they recanted at the trial, leaving conflicting testimonies.
‘Neighbors’ sparked a controversy in Poland. Some readers refused to accept it as a factual account of the Jedwabne pogrom. While Polish historians praised Gross for drawing attention to a topic which had received insufficient attention for a half-century, several historians criticized ‘Neighbors’ on the grounds that it included accounts which were uncorroborated, and that where conflicting testimonies existed, Gross had chosen that account which presented the Poles in the worst possible light.
‘Neighbors’ was enormously successful in provoking an intensive two-year debate in Poland on Polish-Jewish relations. In response to ‘Neighbors,’ the Polish Parliament ordered an investigation of the Jedwabne pogrom, the IPN investigation which is described below. From May 2000 onwards, the Jedwabne pogrom became a frequent topic of discussion in Polish media. A list compiled by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita listed over 130 articles in Polish on the Jedwabne pogrom. The Catholic periodical ‘Wiez’ published a collection of 34 articles on Jedwabne pogrom, ‘Thou shalt not kill: Poles on Jedwabne’ available in English. In 2003 an extensive collection of articles from the Polish debate, in English translation, was compiled by Joanna Michlic and Professor Antony Polonsky of Brandeis University and published under the title ‘The Neighbors Respond.’
In July 2000, prompted by the publication of ‘Neighbors,’ the Polish Institute of National Remembrance (Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, IPN), then a recently created independent successor to the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Poland, commenced an investigation of the Jedwabne pogrom, as its first project. A major task assigned to IPN was the promotion of historical research on topics on which discussion was not permitted during the 1945-1989 period of Communist rule, and anti-Semitic pogroms were such a topic.
IPN interviewed 111 witnesses, mainly from Poland but also from Israel and the United States. One third of IPN’s witnesses had been eyewitnesses of some part of the 1941 pogrom. Since the event had occurred 59 years earlier when most of the witnesses still living were children, their recollections varied. IPN searched for and examined documents in Polish archives in Warsaw, Białystok and Łomźa, in German archives, and at Yad Vashem in Israel.
In May–June 2001 IPN conducted a partial exhumation at the site of the barn where the largest group of Jewish victims perished. The scope of the exhumation was strictly limited by religious objections against disturbing the remains of the dead embodied in Jewish religious doctrine. IPN’s forensic examiner, based on a similar exhumation at Katyn where Stalin’s aides had murdered 22,000 Polish prisoners-of-war in 1940, estimated that the burial site in Jedwabne contained between 300 and 400 victims.
Leon Kieres, the President of IPN, also met in New York with Rabbi Jacob Baker (formerly Yaakov Eliezer Piekarz) who had emigrated in 1938 from Jedwabne to the United States.
In January 2001, during a visit to New York, IPN President Leon Kieres made public that IPN had accumulated enough evidence to confirm Gross’ basic thesis that a group of Poles were indeed perpetrators in the Jedwabne massacre. The IPN evidence was presented in reports by IPN to the Polish Parliament and in other public statements. While the IPN investigation continued for two more years, as of early 2001 IPN’s finding of Polish involvement in the Jedwabne massacre was public knowledge in Poland.
In July 2001, on the 60th anniversary of the pogrom, Polish president Aleksander Kwaśniewski attended a ceremony at Jedwabne where he made a speech stating the murderers were Poles whose crime was both against the Jewish nation and against Poland. He said the murderers had been incited by German occupiers, but they alone carried the burden of guilt for their crimes. While ruling out the notion of collective responsibility, he also sought forgiveness "In the name of those who believe that one cannot be proud of the glory of Polish history without feeling, at the same time, pain and shame for the evil done by Poles to others." The ceremony was attended by Catholic and Jewish religious leaders and survivors of the pogrom. Most of the locals of Jedwabne boycotted the ceremony.
Awareness of the Jedwabne massacre among the Polish public was very high. A March 2001 poll conducted by the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita found that one-half of Poles were aware of the Jedwabne massacre; among Poles with a higher education the proportion rose to 81 percent. 40 percent of respondents supported Kwaśniewski's decision to apologize for the crime. A majority condemned the actions of the Poles involved in the Jedwabne massacre.
A monument had been placed in Jedwabne in the 1960s with the inscription: “Site of the Suffering of the Jewish Population. The Gestapo and the Nazi Gendarmerie Burned Alive 1600 People July 10, 1941.” In March 2001 this inscription was removed. A new monument was placed in July 2001, with inscriptions in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish:
"TO THE MEMORY OF THE JEWS OF JEDWABNE AND ITS ENVIRONS, MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, OUR FELLOW CITIZENS OF THIS LAND, WHO WERE MURDERED, BURNED ALIVE AT THIS PLACE ON JULY 10TH, 1941......July 10, 2001"
In Polish the inscription reads: "Pamięci Zydów z Jedwabnego i okolic, męzczyzn, kobiet, i dzieci, współgospodarzy tej ziemi, zamordowanych, żywcem spalonych w tym miejscu 10 lipca 1941...... 10 lipca 2001 R."
--- The perpetrators of the crime sensu stricto were Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne and its environs; responsibility for the crime sensu largo could be ascribed to the Germans. IPN found that Poles played a ‘decisive role’ in the massacre, but the massacre was ‘inspired by the Germans’. The massacre was carried out in full view of the Germans, who were armed and had control of the town, and the Germans refused to intervene and halt the killings. IPN wrote: “The presence of German military policemen.....and other uniformed Germans.....was tantamount to consent to, and tolerance of the crime.”
--- At least 340 Jewish victims were killed in the pogrom, in two groups of which the first contained 40 to 50 people, and the second group contained about 300. The exact number of victims could not be determined. The figure of 1,600 or so victims (cited in ‘Neighbors’) was “highly unlikely, and was not confirmed in the course of the investigation.”
---“At least forty (Polish) men” were perpetrators of the crime. As for the remainder of Jedwabne’s population, IPN deplored “the passive behavior of the majority of the town’s population in the face of the crime.” However, IPN’s finding of ‘utter passivity’ shown by the majority of Jedwabne’s population is very different from the statement on page 7 of ‘Neighbors’ that “half of the population of the town murdered the other half.” The majority of Jedwabne residents were “utterly passive,” IPN found, and they did not participate in the pogrom.
--- A number of witnesses had testified that the Germans drove the group of Jewish victims from Jedwabne’s town square to the barn where they were killed (these testimonies are found in the expanded 203-page ‘Findings’ published in June 2003). IPN could neither conclusively prove nor disprove these accounts. “Witness testimonies vary considerably on this question.”
---“A certain group of Jewish people survived” the massacre. Several dozen Jews, or according to several sources approximately one hundred Jews, lived in a ghetto in Jedwabne until November 1942, when the Jews were transferred by the Germans to a ghetto in Lomza, and eventually died in Treblinka. The seven Jews hidden by the Wyrzykowski family were not the only survivors.
In 2002 IPN published two volumes of studies and documents concerning the Jedwabne pogrom under the title 'Wokół Jedwabnego,' Vol.1 'Studies' (525 pp.) and Vol.2 'Documents' (1034 pp.). These are available only in Polish.
A greatly expanded version of IPN’s Final Findings, in 203 pages of Polish text, was issued by IPN on June 30, 2003. The July 9, 2002 version appears as the concluding five pages of this document. Pages 60 through 160 contain summaries of the testimonies of numerous witnesses interviewed by IPN. The full 203-page Polish text detailing IPN's investigation was published on IPN’s website. 
On June 30, 2003, prosecutor Radosław J. Ignatiew announced that the investigation of "the mass murder of at least 340 Polish citizens of Jewish nationality in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941" had discovered no living suspected perpetrators in the Jedwabne atrocity who had not already been brought to justice, and hence the IPN investigation was now closed. Jan T. Gross himself praised the conduct of the IPN investigation.
In 2009, Polish politician Michał Kamiński was attacked by the Labour Party (UK), and some British journalists, for having opposed a national apology for the Jedwabne massacre in 2001. The criticism came shortly after Kaminski was made chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament, which includes Labour's opponent, the Conservative Party (UK). Kaminski denied his opposition to the apology was derived from anti-Semitism, and has been defended by the Conservatives and some journalists including the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard.
A 2009 play Our Class by Polish playwright Tadeusz Słobodzianek, performed in Britain. deals with a massacre of Jews by Poles in a small town during the Holocaust and is based on the Jedwabne massacre, though it does not mention Jedwabne by name. A review in The Daily Telegraph argued that the play misrepresented Poles as "just itching for the German invasion as the excuse to give violent vent to their deep-rooted anti-Semitism" and "too often [...] looked like an object lesson in gross simplification."
On July 11, 2011 the President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski asked for forgiveness at a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre. At the time of the event, Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants stated that "Holocaust survivors view Jedwabne as a symbol of the widespread, but little acknowledged, collaboration by the local population in the countries occupied by the Nazis in the slaughter and the plunder of the Jews during World War II." and that "The ceremonies today at Jedwabne is a welcome and important step in the confrontation with the truth by the Polish nation."
It was reported on September 1, 2011 that the memorial to the Jedwabne pogrom had been defaced with a swastika and graffiti that read "They were flammable" and "I don't apologize for Jedwabne." Poland launched an anti-hate crime investigation involving the country's domestic intelligence agency, the ABW. Poland's President Bronisław Komorowski condemned the vandalism. Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski stated: "I utterly condemn these acts of criminality, alien to Polish tradition. There is no room for such behavior in Polish society." Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, said the use of the Nazi swastika by vandals was anti-Polish as well as anti-Semitic, and that "Non-Jewish Poles also suffered horribly under the Nazis... the vast majority of Poles are appalled by what’s just happened."