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Readers doubt credibility
of war crime account by Polish-Jewish historian

[A controversial book on a war crime written by Polish-Jewish historian Prof. Tomasz Gross has got a mixed reception from readers and historians at an author's meeting. Gross himself admitted that "the source base in his book is incomplete". The following is the text of a report by Polish news agency PAP published by the BBC on February 17, 2001 and dissminated by Dr. Michael Szporer in SIEC, an email newsletter. It is copyrighted] -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]

Bialystok, 16 February: The book entitled "Neighbors" Sasiedzi about killing of Jews in Jedwabne northeastern Poland is one-sided and lacking credibility in some parts, some participants of a meeting with its author, Prof Jan Tomasz Gross, in Bialystok northeastern Poland have said.

The two-hours long and stormy discussion on the book, which took place in a reading room of the Ksiaznica Podlaska publishing house , ended the visit of Prof Gross in this town on Friday 16 February . In the afternoon, Prof Gross was signing his book in the Akcent bookshop; he also talked to journalists.

The open meeting at the publishing house was a first public discussion between the author and readers. Among them were, among others, inhabitants of Jedwabne and persons connected with this place, historians, as well as employees from the National Remembrance Institute IPN , which is carrying out an investigation into the case of the killing of Jews in Jedwabne in Lomza Region on 10 July 1941.

A document dating from 1945, which describes the participation of a group of Poles in the killing of Jedwabne Jews, is in the Jewish Historical Institute ZIH in Warsaw.

Prof Gross told his readers that he "doesn't question" voices directed towards him saying that "the source base in his book is incomplete". This mainly relates to doubts whether the Germans were present in Jedwabne on 10 July 1941.

"According to what the witnesses testified, actually there had been no Germans on this day, except for the German gendarmerie guard house, which functioned in Jedwabne with a force of 10 men. (...) There are no testimonies saying that the Germans came from outside and murdered the Jews", Prof Gross said. He stressed at the same time that if it hadn't been for the existence of Hitler and Hitlerism, "the killing of the Jews in Jedwabne would not taken place".

A different account was presented by Irena Chrzanowska, maiden name Reniewska, who was present at the meeting and said that she was a witness of those events and had herself seen at least 300 Germans in Jedwabne on that day.

"I deny your words that there were no Germans. It was swarming with them.(...) The Germans were hurrying the Poles to keep an eye on the Jews in the town square.(...) Please, don't attack Jedwabne, because it was Germans that did it", said Chrzanowska, who said that she had seen Germans through gaps in a high gate.

The grandson of the owner of the barn, where the burning of Jedwabne Jews took place, Wieslaw Biedrzycki, on Friday 16 February accused accounts by Wasersztajn, known at that time to everybody in the area as Calko, and written down by Gross, of lack of credibility. According to Biedrzycki, Wasersztajn could not have seen anything as he was being hidden by one of the Polish families at too great a distance from the place of the killing, and that he knows the case from the accounts of other people.

Before the meeting at the publishing house Prof Gross said that despite all there is no justification in the pre-war past for killing 1,600 Jews in Jedwabne. One of the participants in the meeting, who as a child lived within 3 kilometres distance from Jedwabne, thanked the professor for his book as only from it had he learned about the tragedy which took place there at that time.

The case is being investigated by the IPN. New witnesses are being questioned while the employees from the IPN regional branch in Bialystok intend to investigate traces of the case in the archives on the other side of Poland's eastern border.

The killing of 1,642 Jews in Jedwabne (this figure has nonetheless never been verified completely) was supposed to have been carried out by the inhabitants of this place. The motive was supposed to have been revenge for "the participation of the Jews in Stalinist repressions". Jedwabne belonged to those areas of the Polish Second Republic between the wars which from 17 September 1939 until the German aggression towards the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941 were occupied by the Soviet Union. At this time the NKWD terror affected many Polish citizens of various nationalities.

On the threshold of the 1940s and 1950s, over 20 inhabitants of Jedwabne and its vicinity as well as a German gendarme were tried during two court cases for having been accessories to the crime but not for committing it. Among others, one death sentence was passed, later changed to 15 years in prison.

The IPN has found documents which might witness to the fact that Hitlerite so called Komando Bialystok (Einsatzgruppen), which was active in northeastern Poland in the second part of 1941, was involved in the crime. The task of such units was among other things the killing of Jews and Red Army political commissars.

"It is known for certain that what had happened in Jedwabne, in the area occupied by the Germans, was not possible without German acceptance. It is known as well that German security forces were ordered to stage anti-Jewish pogroms. They were meant to be the so called self-cleansing actions where local people would themselves attack Jews", the director of the public education sector from the Bialystok IPN unit, Prof Edmund Dmitrow said a few weeks ago.

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