Insight Into Tragedy
The National Remembrance Institute's (IPN) investigation into the Jedwabne crime came to a close July 9.
The IPN investigation revealed that at least 340 Jews were killed July 10, 1941 in Jedwabne. About 300 Jedwabne residents of Jewish origin-men, women and children-were burned alive in a barn. Prior to that, the local Jews were herded into the town square where about 40 of them were killed. About 40 Polish residents of Jedwabne took an active part in the pogrom, without doubt inspired by the Nazi authorities. Twelve of the Poles were sentenced in 1949 by courts of the Polish People's Republic. No living perpetrators have been found in addition to those punished at that time.
The issue of the murder in Jedwabne shocked Polish public opinion following the publication in 2000 of the book Neighbors, by historian Jan Tomasz Gross. It described for the first time the circumstances of the tragic events of Jedwabne. The book provoked a heated dispute among the community of historians and the world of politics, as well as the Polish public at large. Some claimed that the murder had been committed by the Nazis, while others acknowledged the guilt of the Poles and accepted the fact that World War II history was a period marked by crimes perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. Some glorified Gross as the author who had finally decided to shed some light on the dark aspects of Polish history, while others branded him a liar and provocateur.
Similar comments were made about the activities of the IPN, whose prosecutors worked for many months to put in order the historical documents and reports, and then objectively clarify what happened in Jedwabne in the summer of 1941 after Germany occupied the area.
Sept. 17, 1939, with Soviet aggression against Poland, Jedwabne found itself on the territory of Western Belarus. According to some historians, the Jews' collaboration with the Soviets was behind the Poles' aggression. The IPN's work has established the course of the tragic events. The thesis that the murder was committed by Nazi soldiers, who committed a similar crime in nearby Radziejów, was regarded as untrue-although a Nazi military unit had a role in inspiring the pogrom. The IPN investigation also proved beyond all doubts that the number of Jews killed was greatly exaggerated by Gross, who repeatedly quoted it as 1,600.
During the 62nd anniversary of the pogrom, July 10, Jewish and Catholic prayers were said at the monument to the victims (see photo). Representatives of Jewish communities from Warsaw and Białystok, guests from Israel, and-for the first time-representatives of local government authorities of Podlasie province participated in the ceremony. As in past years, however, neither residents of Jedwabne nor the commune council representatives appeared.