Polish, Israeli authorities pay homage to Jedwabne pogrom victims

The 78th anniversary of the German-inspired Jedwabne pogrom, which saw at least 340 Jewish inhabitants murdered by the Polish residents of the town, took place on Wednesday in north-east Poland.

The ceremony was attended by, among others, Poland’s presidential minister Wojciech Kolarski, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, the Israeli ambassador to Poland Anna Azari and the chairman of the Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw, Lesław Piszewski.

Ms Azari said that Jedwabne had become a symbol of "evil, hatred and vicious anti-Semitism." She also recalled the situation from the commemorations that took place in 2001, when the then President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, in the name of the whole nation, apologised for the genocide.

"It was cathartic. The State of Israel started to look at Poland with fascination, admiration and friendship, to see how it has courageously been dealing with the difficult problems of its past," Ms Azari said.

She also referred to the exhumation of the victims of the crime in Jedwabne and the possibility of resuming the investigation in this matter.

"After all these years of historical research and verification of documents, do we really know who did this terrible act?”, she said.

However, this step of the then president stirred controversy among some political circles who did not think that Poland should take responsibility for the Jedwabne pogrom as it happened in German-occupied territory.

Historical background

Before the outbreak of WWII, Jedwabne was a small town with the majority of its inhabitants being of Jewish descent. During the prewar period, both Polish and Jewish nationalities coexisted without any major racially-related incidents.

After the fall of Poland, Jedwabne was transferred to the Soviet Union, in line with the German-Soviet Boundary Treaty. The new administration soon began to sow discord among the town’s population. Some Jews, started to help the Soviet secret police (NKVD) preparing lists of Poles who were to be deported to Siberia to do hard labour. On the other hand, the Soviets were implementing their anti-religious policy, e.g. by banning Jewish holy days.

Following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the town was secured by its forces. The propaganda spread by the Third Reich exposed atrocities done by Soviets, and said that many Jews were taking an active part in these crimes.

The tragic events of Jedwabne took place on July 10, 1941. According to the investigation of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), the crimes against several hundred Jewish inhabitants of the town were committed by the Poles inspired by the Germans.

Numerous witnesses interrogated during the investigation indicated that uniformed Germans arrived in Jedwabne on that day. According to the IPN findings, announced in July 2002, at least 40 Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne and the surrounding area were directly involved in killing their Jewish neighbours. After WWII, 12 of them were convicted of treason, one was sentenced to death.

The IPN decided to discontinue the investigation in 2003. It was justified on the basis that no sufficient evidence could be found for the participation of people other than those already judged after WWII for committing the atrocity. Despite this it is still possible to resume the investigation, should new circumstances supporting such a decision arise.