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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 19:12 GMT 20:12 UK
Poles blamed for wartime massacre
Relatives of victims gather at Jedwabne memorial
As many as 1,600 Jews were killed in Jedwabne
Investigators in Poland have confirmed that Polish villagers massacred hundreds of Jews in a World War II pogrom previously blamed on occupying Nazi forces.

Presenting the findings of a year-long inquiry, war crimes prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew said about 40 Poles played a "decisive" role in the killings in the village of Jedwabne in 1941.


The role of the local population was decisive in the perpetration of this criminal act

Radoslaw Ignatiew, war crimes prosecutor
Polish authorities had denied that local Poles were involved in the slaughter, until a Polish historian published a book claiming Poles, not Germans, were directly responsible.

Despite the findings, Mr Ignatiew said no new charges would be brought in connection with the massacre and the case would now be closed..

Twelve people were convicted by a Polish communist court in 1949 for having helped the Germans carry out the killings.

Burned to death

War crimes investigators interviewed nearly 100 surviving witnesses to the massacre and gathered evidence including bones and bullets.

Jews in a Nazi concentration camp
About three million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust

Mr Ignatiew said the findings left no doubt that "Polish residents of Jedwabne and surroundings, men numbering at least 40" carried out the attack.

He said that on 10 July, 1941, a village mob gathered in Jedwabne to take part in a "planned crime of murdering Jewish residents".

Mr Ignatiew said Germans helped bring Jews to the village market place "but that was the extent of their active role".

The Poles, armed with sticks, attacked the Jews and herded them into a barn, which they then burned down.

As many as 1,600 Jews are believed to have died.

Cover-up

For decades, Polish communist authorities covered up the role of Poles in the massacre, blaming Nazi killing squads for the murders.


After a decade of democracy Poland has matured and is able to deal with that horrible secret

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Warsaw Jewish community

But a book by Polish emigre historian Jan Gross, published in the year 2000, challenged the official version of events.

The suggestion that Poles collaborated with the German invaders contradicted the traditional view of many Poles who regarded Poland as only a victim of the Nazis.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologised for the killings at a 60th anniversary ceremony in Jedwabne last year, but insisted Germans were behind the pogrom.

The head of Warsaw's Jewish community, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, welcomed the inquiry's findings.

"The Poles faced it... it's painful, it's uncomfortable but after a decade of democracy Poland has matured and is able to deal with that horrible secret," he said.

See also:

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