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Sunday, 20 May, 2001, 15:44 GMT 16:44 UK
Polish U-turn on mass grave
Inmates of Auschwitz death camp, 1945
Poland's Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust
The Polish Government has suspended a decision to exhume the remains of hundreds of Jews massacred by their Polish neighbours during World War II.

The original decision to allow the exhumation in Jedwabne, a village about 100km (60 miles) north-east of the capital Warsaw, was made by a regional official.

But the Polish Justice Minister, Lech Kaczynski, said on Sunday that the official, Krystyna Lukaszuk, had exceeded her authority.

Poland's small Jewish community had objected to the exhumation on religious grounds.

The mass grave at Jedwabne is believed to contain the remains of as many as 1,600 Jews killed in July 1941.

Investigation

The Institute of National Memory (IPN) had requested permission to investigate the grave after it emerged that the Jews were killed not by Nazis, but Poles.

Author Jan Tomasz Gross (left) with readers in Warsaw
The Jedwabne book by Jan Tomasz Gross caused a big stir in Poland

The IPN wants to establish exactly how many people died in the massacre.

The revelation that local villagers - and not the German Gestapo, as was long believed - were responsible for the killings came as a shock to ordinary Poles.

The Jews were burned to death in a barn in Jedwabne.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has accepted that it was the Jews' fellow-villagers who were to blame, and he and Polish bishops have apologised.

New monument

Officials say a cemetery and monument will be set up in time for the 60th anniversary of the atrocity.

The mass grave, 7.5m (25 feet) long, was found using old air force photographs and specialist equipment.


A stone monument blaming Nazi and Gestapo soldiers for around 1,600 deaths in the area has already been removed.

It is to be replaced with a new memorial listing the names of the victims, but there is intense debate about how far the monument will go in placing blame on Poles for the killings.

There has already been a strong public reaction to the government's acceptance of the guilt of its own citizens.

National debate

A national debate over the Jedwabne killings was sparked when historian Jan Tomasz Gross wrote a book, Neighbours, which provided detailed accounts of how Polish people carried out the murders with German approval.

Mr Kwasniewski faced a storm of protest when he announced in March that he was planning to apologise to Jews for the massacre.

"It was an act of genocide which Poles from Jedwabne carried out against their Jewish neighbours," he said in an interview with an Israeli newspaper.

"It was an exceptionally bestial killing of innocent people."

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See also:

29 Mar 01 | Media reports
Jewish mass grave found in Poland
07 Mar 01 | Media reports
Fury over massacre apology plan
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