Event

"Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady żydowskiego miasteczka" Jan Tomasz Gross

Cmentarz żydowski w Jedwabnem, fot. K. Bielawski

According to my calculations, the documents available to us contain 92 names (most of them accompanied by addresses) of people who took part in the pogrom of the Jews of Jedwabne. I do not believe all of them should be labelled as murderers – after all, at least nine of them were acquitted of all charges by the court.

Some of the people who were spotted keeping Jews in the market might not have herded them into the barn later on. On the other hand, we also know that the people included in the list are only a part of the participants, a small part, I’m afraid, since, as Władysław Miciura, another accused in the Ramotowski trial, assures: “there were lots of people surrounding the herded Jews, not only from Jedwabne, but also from nearby areas.” “There were many people there, people whose names I cannot remember right now,” says Laudański pere, who, along with his two sons, truly distinguished himself that day. “I will give you the names once I remember them,” he adds agreeably. The crowd of perpetrators was the thickest around the barn where Jews were burned. As described by Bolesław Ramotowski, “when we were rushing them into the barn I did not see anything, because it was very crowded.”

Another reason why the accused, all of whom probably lived in Jedwabne during in occupation, do not recognise many of the participants of the pogrom is because there were peasants among them; we know they were arriving to the town from nearby areas throughout the day. “There were also many peasants from villages I didn’t know” – once again I’m quoting Władysław Misiura. “They were mostly young men who enjoyed this roundup and tortured the Jewish people.”

(…)

How did those events unfold? People of Jedwabne have always been aware aware of the exceptional cruelty with which Jews were murdered. A local pharmacist, whose conversation with Agnieszka Arnold I have already cited, repeated Lipiński’s words, which we already know very well, almost verbatim: “And I was told this by this gentleman. A certain Mr Kozłowski, he has since passed. He was a butcher. A very decent man. His son-in-law was a prosecutor before the war. From a very upright family. And he told me it was impossible to look at what was happening.”

Years later, underlining that “she did not see everything,” Halina Popiołek talked to a journalist of Gazeta Pomorska and described 10 July in Jedwabne as follows: “I was not there when they were cutting heads off or stabbing Jews with sharp poles. I know this from my neighbours. Neither did I witness our people ordering young Jewish girls to drown in the lake. My mum’s sister saw that. Tears were flooding her face when she came to tell us about it. What I saw myself were Jewish boys ordered to lift the statue of Lenin, carry it around and shout ‘the war was our fault!’. I saw how they were beaten with rubber straps. I saw how Jews were tortured in the synagogue and how mutilated Lewaniuk, who was still breathing, was buried alive… People herded them all to the barn. They soaked all four sides of the building in paraffin. It all lasted two minutes, but this scream… It’s still ringing in my ears.”

But not only the sight of what Jews were put through was terrifying. It was also the scream of tortured people and later the reek filling the air when they were burned alive, it was insupportable. The week-long murder of Jews took place in an area the size of a sports stadium. You could throw a stone from the barn where most victims were eventually burned and it would reach the market square. The Jewish cemetery is right nearby. So everyone who was in the town at the time and whose senses of smell and vision were more or less intact was either a witness or a participant of this crime.

Jan Tomasz Gross, Sąsiedzi. Historia zagłady żydowskiego miasteczka, Sejny 2000, pp. 62-64

09.07.2016