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"Hell" Answer: Jedwabne's Circle of Hell

Marian Baginski Ph. D. former scientific research associate in France and Poland|Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Hell” Answer: Jedwabne’s Circle of Hell After reading the Article: The Nazis and “The East”: Jedwabne’s Circle of Hell, published in a Slavic Review, Vol.61, no 3 (Autumn 2002, pp. 476-482.  I had extremely mixed rational “turbulence”. Is it possible to be printed in the so called scientific and politically “blind” periodical?

Despite five years past, from the uproar about Jedwabne, the topic is still in mind of some interested parties in the academia community. Due the fact, that methods applied to interpret this tragic event are   still in use and well at the present.  

The way of thinking can be generally characterized and called: lie and deny, pick and choose, to omit and later to admit what was omitted; make up the facts based on the previous decisions.

This way of thinking can be detected in this piece in question. It seams that the author Norman M. Naimark is a historian and reads the documents and publications in many languages like Polish, German, not to mention English. Unfortunately the foot notes are rather sparse and in some way bias, just along the lines of certain imposed aims and goals from outside implying  that he wants to fallow the  scientific methods of history research.

Even his social approach for that matter would promulgate special interest group agendas.

If we fallowed what was written about Jedwabne, we have much more materials that Mr. Naimark wants to recognize despite avail in, or recent wave of detailed studies by younger German historians and many archives and libraries. Not to mention the Internet. It is worth to mention that IPN ( Instytut Pamieci Narodowej) published two volumes of documents on the subject (unfortunately omitting some important ones).

 In addition, if we have a controversial subject as Jedwabne, academia’s duties are to investigate more that usual, and to reach to all sorts of documents, writings including eyewitness counts... Unfortunately Mr. Naimark did extremely poor job in that regard... and committed many falsehoods, included plain lies, innuendos, unfunded perceptions, or assertions. 

My basic approach to this tragic event is: socio-political animosities against the occupiers, unquestionable presence of about forty Germans from Special Group, German administration of the town, strict denial of arms in Polish hands, blockage of the routes  for  leaving the area, actual loose of prominent persons ( catholic pastor and others), an essay to avert the tragedy done by Jewish elders(by giving the ransom to the German authorities), time table from the morning to the actual event taken place, fear ( we have to be aware that resistance participation, or discovery of Jewish hideout was equal to the death sentence) for live by some inhabitants, animosity and vented anger , frustration, vengeance from loose of the resistance members( including prominent members of the population) and many family members from Jedwabne and the surrounding area. An  occupation of houses owned by so called  “ deported” to Siberia , but retuning from Lomza ,  finding out some  Jews in their homes.

 Eyewitness’s accounts of particular undisputed facts related this same way by many different independent eyewitnesses, forced assembly of Jewish population on the market square and farce “procession” with the statue of Lenin to the barn.  Facts of reporting the names and hideouts of resistance members (including Jewish members) to the Bolsheviks authorities.

 Similar conduct of Germens in other places of Jewish martyrdom in the area like Radzilow, Wizna, Wasosz.

Public condemnations of real and perceived traitors by the Jedwabinien population and surrounding area, who happened to be many Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne and some szmalcownicy, not to exclude few disgruntled Jedwabiniens   and   immigrating tugs form General Gubernia for administrative duties to Jedwabne.

 Occupier’s collaborators were often executed by Resistance members (as was done in Radzilow ).  Particularly in Jedwabne, in minds of the population massacred Jews were first the Soviet collaborators, or their families, later the political adversaries, not necessarily pro se Jews. They happened to be Jews.

 In the furor of emotions and conscious distortions suggested by Germans, it was difficult to distinguish guiltiest from not guilty.

 It’s worth to note that only few if any from so called guards for this massacre perished during the war.  It was known that Jewish resistance force, and for that matter polish resistance executed German or Russian collaborators (see direct eyewitnesses accounts, written accounts by participants, family accounts about killed members, Catholic Church records).

All these facts are compiled and compeered (eliminated if not supported by credible evidence and many sources) based on the avail documents, researches, forensic evidence, or many eyewitnesses accounts. Assessment of the event, after it happened in the different publications, and in the eyes of direct witnesses

To begin this factual account of the undisputed fact taken place in Jedwabne, we have to start from the title which is suggesting that in this place, on July 10 1941 the Hell broke loose. Like almost the catastrophe of immeasurable proportion. But the fact is that  about 160-200 Jews were murdered there with forced help of few degraded jedwabiniens from social margin, some tugs from other part of general Gubernia with active and armed participation of German Special Commando and German town’s administration.

 If we compare this loose of lives with similar events, by standards at that time and now, even if it’s so tragic of many deaths by cruel methods it was not the Circle of Hell. The title suggests immediately that we have to give attention needed to the subject. It’s so important the punishment would be hell if we don’t react properly. And the author himself misevaluate his title by saying”even if historical “memory” does not register the circle of hell to which they and their countryman were condemned”- page 476.

Unfortunately at the beginning of the article, the author is mixing together Nazi massacres with progroms. This is totally different. The causes of the German annihilation presented primary in Hitler’s Mine Kampf in twenties and the pogroms in the other (including Germany) countries were different.

The Author’s statement:” here was no mercy on the killing fields of “the east” as the region was called by the Germans”... The facts from the killing fields denied that statement.

 In Radzilow on July 5 1941, the Jewish boy was saved by the Nazi German and taken by the Pole Justowicz when he rose up and started running from the fresh mass grave just covert with the dirt. (Eyewitness account).

 At Jedwabne on July 10 1941, A few Jews were saved from the certain death running away in the high crop and allowed for that by so called polish guards on the way from Public Square to Sleszynski’s barn. (Eyewitness accounts).  Next assertion: “Anty-Semitism in Poland was far from dead and ideas about zydokomuna- that the Jews were responsible for woes of communism-still carried weight in wide circles of Polish society.”p. 477 ibidem.

 The author makes reference to the 1968, when some Jewish groups went against other Jewish groups, or nationals, or clicks in the socialist government.  Direct result of this melee was a massive emigration of Jews from Poland, most to the USA and Europe, a little to state of Israel.

 At this same page the author asserts”also affirmations of Polish culpability and guilt not only looking the other way, but in the case of the infamous szmalcownicy, of identifying Jews, helping he Nazis.”

 It’s so unfortunate, that the Auhtor passed the judgment as a prosecutor, the judge and ethicist in this same person, and made “culpable” polish people for atrocities of the Nazis committed in occupied Polish territories.

He continues about “Poles indifference to the fate of the Jews”, based on the film Shoah.

 This argument is total unpleasant surprise to invoke the argument by suppose to be historian based on the controversional film, or different perception expressed in the Czeslaw Milosz’s poem? To counter this claim, the author himself cites “Zegota, 2000 Poles memorialized by Yad Vashem.  Incidentally many from Jedwabne and Radzilow region. Personally I knew a few and I know many families who risked their lives and their neighbors. My mother feed Jews and partisans during the nights of German occupation. 

On other so called argument promulgated  according to Mr. Naimark is thinking “outside the box” about this problem of  Polish alleged culpability  started by Jan Gross’s  Neighbors published and being important  “in the ability of Polish historiography to confront difficult questions of Polish- Jewish relations in the past, Gross’s book produced an explosion, blowing a hole in the ice and bringing to surface a whole series of issues and problems carefully hidden-or at least removed from view-by the majority of scholars and citizens sins war.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Naimark, there were many publications about suggested subject before Gross’s publication, some of them recognized by author in question. They addressed much better than Mr. Gross this problem, at list they did without hidden agendas. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Naimark willingly or purposely did not consult It., or did not want to take in to consideration due to the fact that it contradicted his preconceived notion of alleged Polish guilt promulgated for political and other reasons.

 Polish citizens in Jedwabne and elsewhere were well aware about German atrocities on Polish land and about some disgruntled inhabitants of Polish territories at that time, and many Jews for that matter. Tragically enough, many German Jews at the highest levels of German government at that time were the executers and the tools and remotely partial contributors (some unwilling, under the fear for its lives) to the Nazis atrocities. Cited Heindrych Reinhardt, Eihmann and the list of70 mentioned in literature on the subject of holocaust, not to forget about highest military brass in the Wehrmacht.

 The most outrageous assertion of Mr. Nimark is; “Gross’s well documented and carefully argued reconstruction of this event has unlashed a torrent of criticism, defensiveness, and self-examination, whose results are far from over”.

 When and if it was well documented why it “has unlashed a torrent of criticism”. The fallacies of assertions of Mr. Gross are carefully, scientifically and expertly documented by historians, other scientists, eyewitnesses, forensic experts, even judiciary procedures in that case.  His so called well documented approach was totally and successfully disgruntled as outside of the serious historical research and prompted by innuendos and political agendas of certain groups and international organizations. The only positive step, if it can be, he wants   more studies of this event.

It’s comforting that Gross himself,  saw a need for further research, and author  Mr. Naimark  asserts that as  he sees it: “my task as that of trying to put the Jedwabne massacre in the context of war and the people who fought and were caught up in it”. Later he stated also that   this murder not “diminish the responsibility of the Poles or of anyone else for the murder of innocent civilians”.

Unfortunately instead of putting in the historical context this event, Mr. Nimark further clouded the question of that context, where this case took place .Putting even a site Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and some superficial analysis of the historical conditions at that time, the Jedwabne’s situation had its own particularities.

First of all, this small little town in the Mazury region was so called “a neighbor’s town”, anybody knew everybody. The neighborhood pressure to respect the rules of conduct was crucial not only for surviving, but to have a healthy and nonconflitcual relationship with the neighbors who happened to be Jewish, or Germans for that matter (there were German families in Jedwabne before the World War II, and for that matter now). The Poles of Jedwabne enjoyed their Freedom gained form Russians after the World War I. One of their heroes was Pilsudski, and his monument was in the center of the town square. The local moral authorities were spiritual leaders (catholic and others), teachers, Pharmacy owners, some merchants, local major and its employees.

 As enjoying the Independence and respecting catholic values, there were against the communist ideology and its sympathizers, who happened to be a few Poles and many Jews. The commerce and artisan work were mostly in the hands of Jews, but some Poles had their own little shops, or stores. All of them were geared to serve little farms population in Jedwabne and the surrounding areas.

Jedwabne was a little center of Commerce.  On each Wednesday many merchants were coming to the town from far to sell their products. For that matter many buyers far from were present too. Some of the Buyers happened to be Jews, and some of the sellers happened to be Jews.  Disproportionately the sellers happed to be Jewish, and disproportationatly the buyers of farm products happed to be Jews. As usual in the commerce, the Jews were generally nice to the buyers, some time gave the credit and usually their was a mutual trust. In general each part of the Jedwabinien population had its own set of values, there were not big skirmishes between them, not to taking in account some jokes and

Usual pranks …and it came about September 10 of 1939.

Germans came to the town and established their administration. They approach the German families in town but they refuse to take any part in the administrative authorities with German occupation. Instantly clandestine resistance was organized.  Mostly there was a local intelligence, merchants, local inhabitants, farmers who took part in it. This resistance was by standards at that time rather massive, taking into account fierce attachment to the Independence against the occupiers.  The locals were not aware if a few Jews joined it. When the Germans pulled out about 50 km from Jedwabne, Russians came in November 1939, or a little later. 

Inhabitants of Jedwabne saw them as new occupiers first, as communists second and rude third.


 Unfortunately Russians were embraced primary by Jews as theirs friends and their prospective employers in the jedwabinien administration. In fact most of the administrative positions were taken by local Jews. They demolish Pilsudski monument and put Lenin’s instead.

 Jews received arms and guns from Russians and were part of the local police and NKWD.


 Naturally the local network of resistance was now against the Russians, including the NKWD and its collaborators, no matter if the were Jews or maybe Poles.

 Russians received a helping hand to destroy local resistance... to grab local leaders and to send them to Siberia from neighbors who knew, who were in the resistance from the people who knew the best what’s was going on.  These neighbors happened to be mostly local Jews, who denounced their Polish counterparts.

  Russians with the armed local Jews went to homes prepared and sent many transports of locals to Lomza train station. From there, some of the most valuable locals from Jedwabne were killed on the spot, or in cattle   wagons were sent to Siberia .(I may add that after 1945, in Jedwabne the youth resistance movement was created, and later crushed by security forces. Spotty resistance against socialist regime  was known up to 1954 in this area).

 This practice was common by Russians since Poland’s Insurgency in 1831 and later. Russians used it at many occasions in occupied part of Poland during the recent history.

 Inhabitants of Jedwabne knew what it meant to be in exile in Siberia. Usually a death from starvation and frost. Immediately rightly, or wrongly they established connection between the predicament they can be found in and the Jews, seeing them to be active part as caring arms and sending Jedwabiniens to Siberia.

Some of the last transports from Jedwabne and neighboring villages reached the Lomza detention center (prison), but it wasn’t sent to Siberia due to the precipitous Russians  withdraw.  When they  left Jedwanbe  in June 1941 and Germans did not established their administration, these people  who were incarcerated  in Lomza,  broke the gates and came back to Jedwabne and found out that  their neighboring Jews in their own houses and  farm land, taking their different possessions  , as so called “new” owners. These acts and other obvious collaboration of Jews with Russians fueled animosities towards the local Jews and Poles according to the old formula” divide and impera” particularly in Jedwabne.

 It is worth to remember that in Jedwabne at that time , particularly before the World War II, there was no known of  obvious  hate , or any animosities between the Jews And local population

 I may add that some local Jews in 1941 were conscripted to the Russian army some others left along with the retreating soldiers.  But many stayed in Jedwabne.


 This perception that jedwabinien Jews and Bolsheviks worked “hand in hand” was obvious in this locality, attested in different publications and witnessed by hundreds, including my older friends.  Incidentally the locals clearly distinguished between the Jedwabinien Jews and Bolsheviks. Bolsheviks came and gone, the local neighbors who happened to be Jews usually stayed.

 Talking Yiddish doesn’t necessarily meant to be associated with Bolsheviks, but coming with the arms along with NKWD and arresting locals and sending them to Siberia is other matter. Those were the facts in Jedwabne and neighboring villages. This was a real context for this tragic event.

 Naturedly the occupiers Germans like Russians passed and fueled partially the misinformation of the events taken place in other parts of the country in order to fuel animosities as usually the occupiers do. In Jedwabne, it was a reality based not only on the research, actual publications, presence of Germans, their active and   administrative role, but on many eyewitnesses’ accounts.               

It’s commonly known that the perpetrator (in general) is crying wolf and committing more of this same... trying to divert attention from his sinister acts.

Unfortunately, Mr. Naimark, despite his historical erudition apparently falls in this trap without recognizing it.

 He presented some data remotely linked to the event in Jedwabne... On his way of thinking committed many factual errors and fall victim of hidden agendas of international pressure group advancing their illicit aims and propaganda machine, or he can be part of it.

 Marian Baginski Ph. D. invites discussion and remarks at:
bensonwolf55@gmail.com


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