Jedwabne: Guilt Justly Acknowledged
An address by Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland
[The following is an unofficial translation of a radio address made by Cardinal Glemp on Warsaw's radio station Radio Józef on March 4, 2001. The translation is based on the text of the address as published in the Warsaw-based daily, Gazeta Wyborcza -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]
Brothers and Sisters!
A year ago I was informed by a respectable Jew that soon the events at Jedwabne, a village in the dioceses of Łomża where Poles carried out a slaughter of Jews, would be widely reported, Indeed, in July 1941, when the area was occupied by Germany, a dreadful slaughter of Jews did occur. Specifically, the slaughter was carried out by burning alive the Jewish population forcefully herded by Poles into a barn The matter is irrefutable.
Towards the end of February of this year the matter received wide coverage because of the publication of Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross's book S±siedzi. Was the matter not know beforehand? The inhabitants of Jedwabne and vicinity knew about it, so did the local authorities and the government. It's true that under Jedwabne, the encyclopedia mentions a slaughter perpetrated on the Jews by the Germans. In the matter of the Jedwabne slaughter there had been two trials, deposition, testimony, documents, sentences and people knew about the slaughter. The book by Gross makes the matter sensational, although it is in its second edition, thus the first, discussing the tragedy in Jedwabne, was sold out earlier. Now the publication of the English language edition is awaited with trepidation, based on the expectation that the divulging the truth to Americans will lead to sharp attacks of Poles by the Jewish community. One needs to point out that, as indicated in Gross's book, an English language version of the events in Jedwabne was published earlier. The matter reminds somewhat the Katyń murders: everyone knew who killed the Polish prisoners, but officially one had to be at least ignorant of the facts.
Why a sensation after 60 years.
Since the slaughter and mass murder is know, two questions come to everyones mind: why only after 60 years are the known facts presented as a sensation, and what where the reasons for this explosion of hatred and bestiality. The matter has several historical dimensions, ethnically-national, psychological and, unfortunately, political. I, as a clergyman, am most interested in the moral dimension. This is connected with generational responsibilities which requires in asking God for forgiveness for the sins of ones ancestors and for seeking the forgiveness of the descendants of the victims. Naturally, the degree of guilt depends on an objective understanding of the truth, and thus on the investigation of the causes of the sin and the context of the crime which was carried out. The reasons for the so wild and hateful attitudes of Poles against Jews, unmatched in other areas of Poland, need investigation. This task needs to be left to the historians and the sociologist. One cannot loose sight of the basic truth that the only source of systematic persecuting Jews was Nazi totalitarianism and that occasionally local animosities, used instrumentally, fell to it
Politicians will not dictate to the Church.
I agree with my excellent colleague [archbishop Józef Życinski] who writes in Więż "Don't let us look for some imagined historical documents which could change the tragedy of Jadwabne into an unimportant episode." Yes, don't let us look for imaginary documents; on the other hand don't let us dismiss as unimportant solid investigations. Personally, I would rather not mix the various dimensions of the matter. I wouldn't want the politicians to dictate to the Church the manner in which it will carry out the act of remorse for the crime carried out by a defined group morally barbarous believers, nor would I want that they should define the ideology in which the prayer of adornment should be formulated.
Yet towards the end of February, in the course of several days, a number of high ranking politicians contacted me with virtually identical programs: on such and such day, the Catholic Church should undertake massive prayers in Jedwabne, in repentance for the crimes and ask for forgiveness for the genocide, else we might incur anger. I understand that it is the tasks of politicians to find solutions for difficult problems. The Church should not involve itself in such plans, for then rather that bringing peace it will become a weapon in the struggle. Jedwabne may figure in a program of specific political skirmishes, similarly as in other instances. One's reserve to political programs in the solution of some question does not indicate that they cannot be harmonized, without mixing dimensions.
We shall hold joint prayers of Poles and Jews in Warsaw. For that reason I appreciate receiving a communication from the Rabbi of the Jewish Parish in Warsaw, who justifies the need for the act by citing the Holy Scriptures and writes "the 60th anniversary of the death of hundreds of Polish citizens of the Jewish faith is an occasion to unite in joint mourning for the unnecessary loss of many human lives." This is the appropriate moral dimension to mourn those murdered without reason. Eagerly we will do this in Warsaw in joint prayer of Poles and Jews either in front of the monument for the Heros of the Ghetto Uprising, or in one of the shrines, or in the synagogue. It is in this sense that I understand the following sentence of the Rabbi: "The murder of innocent people is not a local tragedy, it's a tragedy of the whole world." Yes, as humans we grieve over the spilled blood of innocents in every nation. The murders of the innocent committed in Jedwabne, in Katyń, in Dachau, in Auschwitz cause us pain as individuals of the human race, just as do the murders in Ruanda, in the Balkans or among neighbors in Palestine.
The tragedy in Jedwabne causes serious reflections regarding the sin, that turning man from God, leads him against another human. It is not about hasty and ostentatious
penance, but just self-examination in humility and sincerity. We cannot, undertaking acts of general atonement suggested by the politicians, risk the good name of those who gave their lives to rescue Jews. We are not permitted, in the name of justice, to label any nation as a nation of murderers. We do not do so in regards to the Germans, among whom Hitlerism arose; likewise we cannot extend to the whole Polish nation the blindness that overtook the people of Jedwabne and vicinity.
On the other hand it is altogether fitting that as a Church we should, in the company of people of the Jewish faith, apologize to God for the sin committed according to the truth revealed in the Bible. Apologizing to God, we should also thank for the "just" who in one and the other nation did not hesitate to accept sacrifice in the name of justice with which each individual should be surrounded.
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