Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath

By Joshua D. Zimmerman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Jews and Their Polish Neighbors
THE CASE OF JEDWABNE IN THE SUMMER OF 1941
JAN T. GROSS

On 8 January 1949, in the small town of Jedwabne, some nineteen kilometers from Łomz.a in Poland's historical province of Mazowsze, security police detained fifteen men. We find their names in a memorandum ominously called Raport likwidacyjny (A liquidation report) among the so-called control-in-files (akta kontrolno-śledcze) kept by the security police to monitor their own progress in each investigation. 1 Among the arrested, mostly small farmers and seasonal workers, there were two shoemakers, a mason, a carpenter, two locksmiths, a letter carrier, and a former town-hall receptionist. Some were family men (one a father of six children, another of four), some still unattached. The youngest was twenty-seven years old, the oldest sixty-four. They were, to put it simply, a bunch of ordinary men. 2

Jedwabne's inhabitants, at the time totaling about two thousand, must have been shocked by the simultaneous arrests of so many local residents. 3 The wider public got a glimpse of the whole affair four months later, when, on 16 and 17 May in the District Court of Łomz.a, BolesŁaw Ramotowski and twenty-one codefendants were put on trial. The opening sentence of the indictment reads, “Jewish Historical Institute in Poland sent materials to the Ministry of Justice describing criminal activities of the inhabitants of Jedwabne who engaged in the murder of Jewish people, as stated in the testimony of Szmul Wasersztajn who witnessed the pogrom of the Jews.” 4

There are no records at the Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH) telling us how or when Wasersztajn's deposition was communicated to the prosecutor's office. On the basis of the court files, likewise, it is impossible to know, for example, when the prosecution was informed about what had happened in Jedwabne and why the indictment was so long delayed. The control-investigative files from the Łomz.a Security Office shed some light on the matter, but they are also

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