Were the Jews in Jedwabne killed by the Gestapo?
Testimony in the Ludwigsburg archives
[The following is an unofficial translation by Peter K. Gessner of an article printed in conversation as reported on March 17, 2001 by the Warsaw daily Rzeczpospolita. -- A large collections of Polish language articles published about Jedwabne by the Warsaw daily, Rzeczpospolita can be reached by clicking on the banner.]
The crime in Jedwabne was carried out by German gendarmes and the Gestapo - claimed one of the witnesses deposited during an investigation of German officers which was carried out in 1967 and 1968. It has not proved possible to determine the identity of the witness because of the incomplete documentation. A investigator of the Polish Institute of National Memory, Prof. Edmund Dimitrow, who for the past several days has been working in the German archives in Ludwigsburg in Baden-Wirtenberg told the correspondent of the Rzeczpospolita that he knows of no convictions of German citizens for the crime in Jedwabne. This was confirmed by Dr. Heinz Ludgar Borgert, the chief of the archives in Ludwigsburg.
Collected here are the materials pertaining to war crimes committed by German citizens during the Nazi period. Prof. Dynitrow intends to examine meticulously the records the existence of which was discovered in the Ludwigsburg archives last week by Tomasz Lejman, the Berlin correspondent of the Radio RMF FM. The records are those of an investigation that took place in 1968 in Germany in the matter of Jedwabne. The suspects, three officers of the SS, the Gendermerie and the Police and their subordinates who were accused of perpetrating the crime in Jedwabne and several other locations in the neighborhood of Bialystok. The investigation was however suspended because of insufficient evidence of guilt since it did not prove possible to determine which units had participated in the massacre. Neither those who gave the orders or those who carried them out could be identified.
Among the materials obtained from Ludwigsburg by Radio RFM FM is the account of an eyewitness of the crime who was deposited in New York in 1967 upon the request of the German authorities. One of the anonymous witnesses stated:
"During the German occupation I lived in Jedwabne. Soon after the township's occupation by the Germans, a gendermerie post and was set up there. I do not remember the exact date but it could have been July 1941, when some uniformed officers came to the post. People said that these were Gestapo functionaries. I cannot say how many there were. That day I was working on the maintanece of the machinery of the mill. At one point I observed that on the road by the mill the gendarms and the Gestapo functionaries I mentioned were herding Jews. It was men, women, and children, the entire Jewish population of Jedwabne. It could have been about a thousand Jews. I looked but did not count them and I don't know whether it was 500 or 1000. The gendarmes were herding them to a barn belonging to Bronislaw Sleczynski located outside the village. At some point I saw smoke arising from the barn and then flames. I must add that my hearing is defective and I suppose that because of that I suppose I did not hear the cries of those being immolated. The fact is that the Germans burnt the Jewish population in that barn.
"I remember that probably the following Jews were burned with their families: Limmy Wolf, Ebensztejn Mordechaj, Sini Limny, Szmul Wasersztein, Chonek Goldberg, Abram Ibram, Fajbu Dziodziak, Krzywonos, Calka Strzyakowski, Gutman, Chaim Kosacki, I don't remember other. Some of the Jews managed to save themselves but the number was not large. What happened to them, I don't know, but I know they were arrested and neither came back nor gave any sign of being alive."
In New York witnesses Rose Weg and Cwi Baranowicz were deposited by notary public Fritz Weinschenk. Rose Weg testified:
"The localities Kolno and Jedwabne are known to me (...) I learned that in both Kolno and Jedwabne, before the Jews were transported to the Lomza ghetto, there were many assaults both by Poles and the Germans. Today I do not remember any details."
In the official decision to suspend the proceedings, the names of the suspects were blacked out. On the other hand the names of the witnesses in the depositions were not. These included Lebercht von Bredow, Erbertgger, Mahnkeg and Schaefer.
On October 10, 1974, the Chief Commission for the Investigations of Hitlerite Crimes in Poland sent to the prosecutor's office in Dortmund the depositions of 10 Polish witnesses of the crimes in Jedwabne, asking at the same time for the re-institution of the criminal proceedings against the initiators and perpetrators of the slaughter of about 900 Polish citizens of Jewish ancestry, burnt alive on July 10, 1941 in a barn in Jedwabne in the Bialystock district. The depositions maintain - states the writ of the Chief Commission - that former functionaries of the German police in Jedwabne herded into a barn and burn alive 900 persons of different ages and sexes.
Those depositions are important today, said Witold Kulesza, the Director of the Institute of National Memory, for they show what the prosecutor's office did in this matter and with evidence. By interrogating witness who made depositions earlier, we can check that which they say today with their earlier testimony. Some times a fragment of the testimony given at the time when confronted with today's allows a closer approach to the truth. Asked about the chances of locating photographic or film evidence of the crime in Jedwabne, Kulesza answered that such a chance always exists but that one need to remember that German frequently recorded their actions for propaganda purposes and that they took care to present an appropriate image of their units in films, cutting out fragments which portrayed Germans in an unfavorable light.
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