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Legacy of Jedwabne Length: 57mins
Published: 15 Sep, 2005
On 10 July, 1941, the Jewish population of Jedwabne, Poland, were rounded up and murdered. Over a thousand Jews were forced into a nearby barn which was doused with petrol and set on fire. Music was played to drown out their screams. For over 60 years, the Nazis were blamed for this pogrom. But new evidence proves residents carried out the massacre. This single revelation — that ordinary Poles willingly participated in the Shaoh — has proved the most shattering revelation confronting Polish society since the fall of communism. It further complicates our understanding of the Holocaust. Our documentary this week is a compelling and personal film exploring the legacy of this massacre.

“The Polish Christians in Jedwabne killed their Jewish neighbours,” states Judith Kubran unequivocally. “My father escaped to hide in the fields. He heard the awful screams and smelled the burning flesh of his family, friends and neighbours.” Mietek Olszewicz agrees. “It was the Poles.” He escaped after one of his friends warned him about the planned massacre. “He told me ‘listen, they’re going to burn all the Jews tomorrow. They’re preparing the gasoline.’”Today in Jedwabne, despite a wealth of eye witness statements and circumstantial evidence, a conspiracy of silence still pervades. Residents deny any involvement in the massacre. “The Poles did not murder. The liquidation was carried out by Gestapo,” states local priest, Father Orlowski.

Defiant graffiti on the town walls proclaim: “We’re not apologising. The Germans murdered the Jews in Jedwabne. Let them apologise.”Poles who do speak out are ostracised and persecuted. Antosia Wyrzykowska hid seven Jews during the holocaust, protecting them from the massacre. But when her neighbours found out, they attacked her savagely. “They said ‘You Jewish lackeys! They killed Christ but you saved them anyway! Then they ordered me to lie on the floor and beat me with a club until I was purple.”

Today, fear of reprisals prevent her speaking to the media. Most hated in Jedwabne are the journalists and historians that rake up the past. “When I go to Jedwabne, all these people scream ‘You hate Poles!’” states reporter Anna Bikont. “But the ones who are persecuted, the ones who are harassed in Jedwabne are the elderly who recall what really happened.” The town’s mayor, Krzysztof Godlewski, is forced to resign after he pushes for a new memorial for the victims. “I received letters calling me a traitor, a fool, a Jewish lackey. They said ‘You’ll end up with a bullet in your head.’”

Behind this reluctance to acknowledge the truth is a real fear the Jews will sue for compensation if they do. “I hear it all the time: they’ll come and get what’s theirs,” states Anna Bikont. “A woman told me we can’t admit that the Poles did it because then the Jews will take our homes away from us. People are really scared.” Tensions come to a head at a ceremony unveiling the new memorial. Thousands of American descendants travel to Jedewabne, outnumbering residents. To their dismay, the plaque unveiled makes no mention of who perpetrated the massacre. “If they put up a monument that says the real truth, they’re afraid tomorrow it’ll be defaced,” explains descendent Laura Klein.

But for the families, it’s a bitter disappointment. As spokesman Ty Rogers states: “We are all deeply opposed to this monument which is incomplete and doesn’t tell the real truth.”What is most shocking about Jebwabne is that it was not an isolated event. “What happened here took place in many towns, not only in Poland but around the world,” states former mayor Krzysztof Godlewski. A commission investigating the pogrom concluded there were at least twenty similar events in the same region alone. Acknowledging that these ethnic tensions pre-dated the Nazis seems the last taboo. LogTV


  • 1.  JanetWard 04 Mar 2014 17:05

    Legacy of Jedwabne film

  • 2.  ejlevine 13 Feb 2016 18:38


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