The word "Jedwabne" has a number of meanings and connotations. The first of these is the small town in the northern Podlasie region, north of the Narew River and west of the Biebrza. The name also stands for the pogrom that took place in that place. It was one of about twenty locations in that small region where massacres of Jewish civilians took place in 1941, after the Germans entered and the Red Army fled. It was not Germans, however, who were carrying out the exterminations in this case: in this region, twenty-odd collective exterminations were carried out by Poles. Finally, in 2000-2002, Jedwabne became a symbol for the greatest historical and public debate in Poland's history, comparable perhaps only to the Dreyfus Affair in France.

The debate began with a book by Jan Gross titled Sasiedzi: Historia zaglady zydowskiego miasteczka (Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland). The book is a journalistic study of the events of 1941, based primarily on accounts given just after the war. The publication stirred a great debate that touched on several fundamental issues.

The first of these was the need to establish what had happened in Jedwabne, as well as in Radzilow, Stawiski, Wizna and other locations in the region during the years 1939-1941.

The Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw joined the historical and journalistic analyses. In 2002, it published the results of its extensive and multifaceted investigation. The Institute estimated that several hundred (probably about 400) Jews from Jedwabne were killed by their non-Jewish neighbors in July 1941, with the approval or minor assistance of the German soldiers who were present.

The first volume, published by the Institute's own publishing house, contains studies that put the events in their broader historical context. These include an outline of Polish-Jewish relations in that area during the interwar period, a description of the German policy of exterminating the Jews, anti-Jewish excesses by the local population, and an analysis of the postwar criminal cases related to the Jedwabne massacre.

The second volume contains Polish, Soviet and German documents, including a report by the NKVD, accounts by Poles repressed during the Soviet occupation of 1939-1941, intelligence reports by the Polish Underground State, reports by the German military and police formations, testimonies from Jewish survivors, as well as documents from the investigation and criminal trials regarding the massacres in Jedwabne and Radzilow.

The second aspect-painful for many-was the need to revise the image of Poland and Poles' past. Because of the persecution of Poles and things Polish during the nineteenth century, the two world wars, and the half century of communism in Poland, a myth Poland's heroic past developed-a myth in which there was no space for baseness and heinous crimes. In that myth, it must be admitted, there was also little room for ethnic and religious minorities. Some historians taking part in the Jedwabne strove to rescue this myth, which they believed provided the basis for Polish patriotism. Others, who were thankfully more numerous, argued that national memory must be cleansed by accepting the shameful aspects of history as well as the praiseworthy deeds, for the sake of truth and as a warning to future generations.

The third aspect was the moral attitude today towards the tragedy in Jedwabne. Two events became the most important statement about how Poles regard those events now. The first of these was a prayer by the Polish Episcopate asking God's forgiveness for all sins committed by Polish Catholics against the Jewish nation. It was said in May 2001 at Warsaw's Church of All Saints. The second were the ceremonies held at Jedwabne on the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre. The Polish president took part, as did the marshal of the Polish parliament, Marek Borowski; the Ambassador of Israel, Professor Shevach Weiss; Poland's foreign minister, Professor Wladyslaw Bartoszewski; the head of the Institute of National Remembrance, Professor Leon Kieres; the rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz, Michael Schudrich; families of the victims with Rabbi Jacob Baker; representatives of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, and many people from all over Poland. The mayor of Jedwabne, Krzysztof Godlewski, also made the opening speech to those who had gathered for the event.

Listed above are links to Internet sites containing collections of articles about the tragedy, as well as the speech made by the Polish president in Jedwabne on July 7, 2001.

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