At Jedwabne, Polish president begs forgiveness

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski asked for forgiveness at a ceremony this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the Jedwabne massacre.

The July 10 ceremony marked the 1941 pogrom in the Polish town where at least 340 Jews were murdered. Most were burned to death in a barn. 

The massacre caused painful soul-searching in Poland when it was revealed in 2000, as Poles were forced to modify their belief, shaped by decades of communist-era propaganda, that they were always heroic victims — never collaborators — in Nazi-era atrocities.

“Today, Poland can still hear the never-fading cry of its citizens,” Komorowski said July 10. “Once again, I beg forgiveness.”

Also at the ceremony, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich recited the Mourners’ Kaddish at a monument to the massacre victims.

The date of the massacre in the village of Jedwabne, some 120 miles northeast of Warsaw, has entered Poland’s remembrance calendar, and state and church leaders have apologized. But it still remains to be seen to what extent the entire nation has acknowledged cases of Polish wrongdoing against the Jews.

A statement from Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said Jedwabne is an example for cases when the local populations collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews.

He called the July 10 ceremonies “a welcome and important step in the confrontation with the truth by the Polish nation,” but also called the absence of Jedwabne Mayor Krzysztof Moenke a “disgraceful failure,” saying it shows “that much remains to be learned and taught.”

In 2001, then-President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized for the crime during the first state memorial ceremony in Jedwabne. Kwasniewski attended the 

July 10 observances as a private person. Also, Bishop Mieczyslaw Cislo became the first high ranking member of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church to attend Jedwabne ceremonies. 

A relative of the victims, Icchak Levi, came from Israel. He cried over the stone monument, where participants placed pebbles in a sign of mourning. — jta & ap