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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 13:16 GMT
Fury over massacre apology plan
Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski
Polish President Kwasniewski: spoke too soon?
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski is facing a storm of protest over a plan to apologise to Jews for a controversial massacre during the German occupation in 1941.

Polish media of all political shades are questioning his announcement that he will be making an official apology for Polish involvement in the massacre, which took place in the small eastern town of Jedwabne.

Prisoners at Auschwitz
The Germans placed Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland
Mr Kwasniewski told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot that the death of over 1,500 Jews was murder carried out by Poles, rather than by the German occupation authorities.

"It was an act of genocide which Poles from Jedwabne carried out against their Jewish neighbours," he said in an interview which was quoted in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyboorcza.

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

Jewish organisations say many Jews were herded by their Polish neighbours into a barn which was then set alight.

Investigation still under way

But an investigation into the killings which the Polish National Remembrance Institute (IPN) began last year is still not complete.

And the deputy head of the IPN, Jerzy Bukowski, said Mr Kwasniewski's announcement was inappropriate before all the facts were known.

"We are surprised that, before investigations have been concluded and in view of all the controversy surrounding the key question of Polish involvement in the crime, the president is talking about the exclusive responsibility of the Polish inhabitants of Jedwabne," Mr Bukowski told PAP news agency.

'Battle against Communists'

In addition, local residents point to a more complex background to the killings.

They took place only two weeks after German occupation forces replaced the Soviets, who had invaded eastern Poland in September 1939.

Graves at the Katyn massacre site
Thousands of Poles were murdered by the Soviets at Katyn and other sites
Polish residents said Jews and Communists had collaborated with the Soviets in bringing terror and repression to the Polish population. Many thousands of Poles were murdered during the first brief reign of the Soviets, and many more were deported to Siberia.

"We cannot apologise for what happened until the Jews apologise for turning their Polish neighbours over to the Soviets before the German occupation," Catholic priest Edward Orlowski says.

"What happened in Jedwabne was a battle against Communists and not the Jews."

The massacre is not a new discovery. A number of local residents were put on trial and imprisoned for the murders by the Polish Communist authorities in the late 1940s, PAP news agency said.

We cannot apologise for what happened until the Jews apologise for turning their Polish neighbours over to the Soviets

Catholic priest
And local parliament representative Michal Kaminski said it was inappropriate to focus attention on the town now, when very few residents remain from 60 years ago.

"The Germans killed Jedwabne Jews and unquestionably some Poles participated. But all of Jedwabne is being spat on and the entire country is being put on trial," Mr Kaminski said at a town meeting.

Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek agreed.

"The crime committed in Jedwabne 60 years ago cannot be blamed on all Poles alive today. I believe our nation will prove to be on the side of truth and reconciliation," he told PAP news agency.

Mr Buzek added that the murders could not be said to have been carried out in the name of the Polish nation or state, as at the time Poland was a country under occupation.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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07 Mar 01 | Europe
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