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The BBC's Rob Broomby
"For many people, it was a powerful ceremony"
 real 56k

Jewish history expert Prof David Cesarani
"Poland is keen to be seen as a part of Western Europe"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Poland apologises to Jews
Jedwabne massacre monument
The victims are remembered but no one is blamed
Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski has made a formal apology on behalf of the Polish people for a massacre of Jews 60 years ago.

I beg pardon in my own name, and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime

Polish President Alexander Kwsniewski
"For this crime we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness," he said at a ceremony in the village of Jedwabne.

"This is why today, as a citizen and as the president of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon. I beg pardon in my own name, and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime," he said.

During the years of communism, the massacre in Jedwabne had always been blamed on the Nazis.

But in the last 12 months books have been published challenging that view - it is now believed that hundreds, possibly as many as 1,600 Jews, were murdered, not by the Germans, but by their own neighbours.

During the ceremony people placed stones, candles and wreaths on a new monument in memory of the victims.

New evidence

The inscription on the new memorial stone, written in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish, reads: "To the memory of Jews from Jedwabne and the surrounding area, men, women and children, inhabitants of this land who were murdered and burnt alive on this spot on 10 July, 1941".

It is not my business. Germans are responsible, so why should we apologise?

Jedwabne Parish Priest Edward Orlowski
A Polish commission investigating the incident has so far found that Poles did the killing but that German forces were also present. It has yet to issue its final report.

The fact that the inscription says nothing about who committed the massacre and makes no mention of any Polish involvement has caused bitterness among some Jews.

Evidence published in a book by Polish-American Jan Tomas Gross suggests that on 10 July 1941, the Poles of the village turned on their neighbours in a frenzy of bloodletting, which lasted eight hours.

Alexander Kwasniewski
President Kwasniewski's apology has divided Polish public opinion
The day culminated with hundreds of Jews being herded into a barn and burned alive.

The issue remains divisive - some locals, including the parish priest, stayed away from the ceremony in protest.

"These are all lies. I am spending the day quietly at home. It is Holocaust business. It is not my business. Germans are responsible, so why should we apologise?" the priest, Edward Orlowski, said.

Exhumations blocked

An official investigation has been hampered by Jewish laws forbidding the exhumation of the dead.

Massacre survivor, Jakub Pecynowicz, with his daughter
Hundreds died in a killing frenzy
Investigators were allowed to analyse the top layer of corpses in one site only, whilst other mass graves remained untouched.

One of those who has returned for the ceremony is Ty Rogers from New York, whose grandfather was born in the village. He lost 26 relatives in one day.

Like many Jews, he is angry that for political reasons, the inscription on the new monument still will not apportion blame for the killings.

Jewish leaders say the book is forcing the Poles to re-work the view of themselves as victims and admit their own small part in the Holocaust.

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See also:

04 Jun 01 | Europe
Jewish grave controversy deepens
29 Mar 01 | Media reports
Jewish mass grave found in Poland
07 Mar 01 | Media reports
Fury over massacre apology plan
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Poland
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