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The BBC's Ray Furlong in Warsaw
"Most of the country's bishops turned out for the event"
 real 56k

Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
Church apologises for Jewish massacre
Most of Poland's bishops were present
The Roman Catholic Church in Poland has apologised for the killing of about 1,600 Jews in a massacre during the World War II.

A special service was held in the capital, Warsaw, at which the congregation was told that the church felt deep pain and regret over the killings.

We are deeply disturbed by the actions of those who caused Jews to suffer and even murdered them in Jedwabne

Bishop Gondecki
The country's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has welcomed the apology.

He declined an invitation to join the ceremony, however, because it was held at the beginning of the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

German forces had been blamed for the massacre at Jedwabne in 1941 until a book by a Polish-born historian said local Poles carried it out.

Jan Thomasz Gross' book Neighbours suggested that Jews were bludgeoned, beaten and stabbed by their Polish fellow villagers, after which those still alive were herded into a barn and burned to death.

The book has fuelled a debate about whether the Poles had acted on their own or were forced to co-operate at gunpoint by the Germans.

Victims of a crime

The All Saints Cathedral in central Warsaw was packed with worshippers and most of Poland's bishops were also present.

Rabbi Schudrich at the exhumation site
Rabbi Schudrich (middle) welcomed the apology
Making the apology, Bishop Stanislaw Gondecki said that the Jews were victims of a crime and that there had been "Poles and Catholics" among the perpetrators.

"We are deeply disturbed by the actions of those who caused Jews to suffer and even murdered them in Jedwabne and in other places over the ages," he said.

BBC correspondent Ray Furlong says that this marks something of a turnaround for the Polish church, which had earlier resisted calls for an apology.

Outside, a small group of people demonstrating against the apology was a sign of just how sensitive this special church service was for many Poles.

An investigation is still going on into the massacre, and criminal charges could be still be filed if living perpetrators are found.

Poland's National Remembrance Institute is currently supervising the exhumation of the mass grave in Jedwabne to determine the exact number of victims and how they died.

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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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