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Thursday, 29 March, 2001, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Jewish mass grave found in Poland
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski
Poland's president plans to apologise for the massacre
A mass grave containing the bodies of hundreds of Polish Jews believed to have been massacred by their neighbours has been found in northern Poland.

The Jews were burned to death in a barn in the village of Jedwabne, about 100km north-east of the capital Warsaw.

For years the massacre, in July 1941, was blamed on Nazi occupiers, but the Polish President has now accepted that it was the Jews' fellow-villagers who were to blame.

The finding of... cartridges may confirm the fact that these people were most probably shot at in the barn itself

Wartime Cemeteries official
Andrzej Przewoznik
The site of the barn into which the Jews were herded has also been discovered.

Burn-marked cartridge casings from a German Mauser carbine were found at the site where the barn stood, said Andrzej Przewoznik, head of an agency that supervises wartime cemeteries.

"The finding of these cartridges may confirm the fact that these people were most probably shot at in the barn itself," he said.

New monument

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

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

But the wording to be used on the new memorial has still to be agreed and will be a highly sensitive issue.

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

It was an act of genocide which Poles from Jedwabne carried out against their Jewish neighbours

Polish President
Aleksander Kwasniewski

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

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski faced a storm of protest when he announced earlier this month 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."

'Too soon' to lay blame

An inquiry into exactly what happened is still being conducted by Poland's new National Remembrance Institute.

Some senior Polish figures have said it is therefore too soon to lay the blame on Polish citizens.

The massacre took place only two weeks after German occupation forces replaced Soviet troops, who had invaded eastern Poland in September 1939.

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

The grave itself has not been disturbed, in keeping with Jewish tradition.

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07 Mar 01 | Europe
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