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Jedwabne, that's the new name of the Holocaust
Article by Rev. Stanisław Musiał, S.J

[The following is an unofficial translation by Peter K. Gessner of the article which appeared on July 10, 2001, issue of the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]

In 2000, 59 years after the massacre of the Jews in Jedwabne, there appeared in Poland the book devoted to this tragic event by Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross of New York. In Poland's public opinion it generated a shock as no other book had done in the preceding half century. Why? Because Prof. Gross showed, on the basis of documents, that the crime against the Jews was not performed by the Germans with the participation of Poles, but on the contrary, by Poles with the participation - likely slender - of the Germans. But why did this reality so shake the Poles? Because hitherto they were ready to admit to many sins committed against the Jews during the German occupation - some blackmailed them, exploited them materially, denounced them to the Germans, and even in single instances, murdered them in secret - but not to having ever collaborated with the Germans in their extermination. In this regard, the Poles considered themselves as better than other European nations. Yet Jedwabne and the murders carried out in the neighboring communities of W±soszu and Radziłów, make it more than clear that such collaboration did take place, even though it was limited to a certain geographic area.

The shock caused by Gross' publication was all the more painful by the fact that for at least the last two hundred years Poles have believed in the myth that, in the course of their long history, they were always only the victims of aggression, that they themselves wronged no one. Prof. Gross' work demolished that myth.

It is necessary to add here, that studying the history of anti-Semitism in Poland, particularly in the interwar period when Poland, after a century and more of subjugation regained its independence and sought to create a ethically homogeneous country, the crime in Jedwabne should not surprise anyone. Is it not true that during the German occupation, many Poles considered that Poland has two enemies, an external one - the Germans, and an internal one - the Jews? It is only owing to the unending contempt of Hitler for the Poles that he did not consciously seek, by means of various promises and gratification, the massive collaboration of the Poles in the extermination of the Jews. Were it not for his haughtiness and obtuseness - fortunate, in this regard - we might have had in Poland not one or several Jedwabnes, but dozens and more.

One cannot therefore be surprised that after the truth about Jedwabne became known, Polish opinion became divided into two camps. One, without doubt the more numerous, positioning itself in the center and on the right politically, "thinking" in national terms, either negates the participation of Poles in Jedwabne, or seeks to deflate its importance (antisocial elements and bandits were involved in the massacre), or else seeks "mitigating" circumstances, citing the purported wrongs suffered at the hands of the Jews during the short Soviet occupation. The second camp, smaller, representing to a greater extent the left side of the political scene, accepts the results of the investigations carried out by Prof. Gross, and expresses regrets for what happened. In the emergence of the truth about Jedwabne, it sees a chance for clearing of the memory of Poles about the occupation and a stimulus to fight with the manifestations of anti-Semitism in Poland today. A sincere self-examination of the conscience and determination to do better can, according to it, help Poland internally in the establishing its democracy and externally in improving its image.

What is the position of the Church? It must be admitted to prior to July 10, 1941, the clergy in Jedwabne made no move to retrain the faithful from participation in the massacre. The attitude to Jedwabne today is characterized by a certain ambiguity. The local bishop in Łomża, Stanisław Stefanek, discerns a plot against Poland. The Primate, Józef Glemp, didn't deny the participation of Poles in the crime, but accursed the Jews of wrongs purportedly perpetrated by them on the Poles during the Soviet occupation. The Episcopate made the decision, however, to apologize to the Jews for Jedwabne. The Church, without waiting for the 60th anniversary of the tragic events and unwilling to apologize for the crime at the scene, in Jedwabne together with the President of the republic, held its own penitentiary mass on May 27 in All Saints Church in Warsaw (that church stood on the border of the ghetto). Although only 1/3 of the Episcopate took part in the mass, this act of penitence has to be viewed positively (no one has hitherto seen Polish bishops on their knees apologizing for the sins of Christians towards the Jews.)

Is there any sense to remembering today, after 60 years, the events in Jedwabne, a small village, that hitherto was not even known by Poles? That's analogous to having doubts whether there is any sense to remember now the Holocaust, the death of 6 million Jews, since they were only Jews. Ignorance of the past results in making easier a repeat of past errors in the present, though in a different form. Humanity consists of a system of connected vessels - knowledge about the past influences the present and the future. Moreover there is sense to discussing Jedwabne, and not only in Poland, for that crime reveals a fresh, dark aspect regarding whom humans can be. For the crime was not committed behind barbed wires in an extermination camp or in some prison, but in a small, ordinary, poor township, where everyone knew each other, met daily and lived together for centuries. Jedwabne is the new kind of Holocaust: the murder of neighbors by neighbors. But also as an example of the long incubation of a crime under everyday conditions systematically reinforced by oozing anti-Semitism.

During the penitential service in Warsaw on May 27, the Right Rev. Bishop Sanisław Gadecki, in his introduction to the liturgy, mentioned Jedwabne next to Auschwitz and other places of extermination. And rightly so, for Jedwabne is the new name for the Holocaust.

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