The Jedwabne Massacre of 1941
Until picking up a book by Robert Wistrich, I knew nothing about the Jedwabne Massacre of 1941. His account was taken from an earlier work by Polish-American author/researcher Jan T. Gross. One reviewer of Gross’ book says, “This story is literally the stuff of nightmares.” Below is the horrific story as told by others, including Wistrich, whose gruesome account is retold in the book I am currently reading.
“One summer day in 1941, half of the Polish town of Jedwabne murdered the other half, 1,600 men, women, and children, all but seven of the town’s Jews. [Neighbors: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland] tells their story. Jan Gross pieces together eyewitness accounts and other evidence into a reconstruction of the horrific July day remembered well by locals but forgotten by history. His investigation reads like a detective story, and its unfolding yields wider truths about Jewish-Polish relations, the Holocaust, and human responses to occupation and totalitarianism. It is a story of surprises: The newly occupying German army did not compel the massacre, and Jedwabne’s Jews and Christians had previously enjoyed cordial relations. After the war, the nearby family who saved Jedwabne’s surviving Jews was derided and driven from the area. The single Jew offered mercy by the town declined it. Most arresting is the sinking realization that Jedwabne’s Jews were clubbed, drowned, gutted, and burned not by faceless Nazis, but by people whose features and names they knew well: their former schoolmates and those who sold them food, bought their milk, and chatted with them in the street. As much as such a question can ever be answered, Neighbors tells us why” (From the Google Book Overview of Neighbors: the destruction of the Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan Tomasz Gross, Arrow Books, 2002, ISBN 0099441667).
Robert S. Wistrich gives a glimpse into the horror that was the Jewabne Massacre in his book Hitler and the Holocaust (Modern Library, 2001, ISBN 0679642226, pp. 26-27):
Murder most foul is exactly what the Polish population of Jedwabne (about one hundred kilometers from Bialystock) perpetrated against nearly all of their 1,600 Jewish neighbors on 10 July 1941, shortly after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. While the Germans looked on and limited themselves to filming the proceedings for propaganda purposes, the Polish villagers slaughtered Jews with axes, poles, knives, and nail-studded clubs. Men had their tongues or eyes cut out, women were raped and murdered, babies were thrown to the ground and trampled to death. Jews, after being savagely beaten, were lined up in the market square and forced to sing that they “had caused the war”; other groups of Jews were forced to undress, sing, dance, and perform “insane exercises” while Polish peasant onlookers, including women and children, applauded. A group of young Jews was ordered to lift a giant statue of Lenin (from the time of the Soviet occupation) and drag it to the Jewish cemetery, where they were promptly butchered. All the remaining Jews, reeling from savage blows, were then forced into a nearby barn, which was set alight with kerosene, so that they were burned alive.
Wistrich concludes, “This was already the Holocaust in miniature…one small episode in the murderous war of Hitler against the Jews…”
Never Again! pauses to reflect on the massacre of hundreds of innocent Jews in the town of Jedwabne.
For more on the Jedwabne Massacre:
- The Legacy of Jedwabne (video)
- Zionism and Israel Encyclopedia, “Jedwabne Pogrom”
- BBC News, “In Pictures: Jedwabne massacre remembered
- The Legacy of Jedwabne
- Yad Vashem Online Magazine, “Reflections on the Jedwabne Debate”