Jedwabne: The Politics of Apology and Contrition,
Defamation: The Price of Poland's Heroism
Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski

Presented at the Panel “Jedwabne – A Scientific Analysis”
Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences in America, Inc.
Annual Meeting, June 8, 2002

Georgetown University, Washington DC

A Historic Narrative

Today, as we are contemplating the tragedy of Jedwabne of sixty years ago, it is a bitter irony to see what has been called the "politics of apology and contrition" being used by post-communist leaders in an attempt to re-write the historical record. This irony is particularly cruel to my generation of Polish survivors of Nazi and Soviet terror.

It is entirely fitting and proper that Mr. Miller, the Prime Minister of Poland, remember with reverence the sufferings of Jewish people in Poland and elsewhere. It is not appropriate, however, to falsely implicate innocent nation for the crime of Jedwabne, and to exonerate German perpetrators, by convenient selective memory of the historical facts, and in process to obscure the crimes of the communist party.

The great heroic deeds of Poland of the 20th century benefited the entire world. Such was the derailing of Lenin's world revolution based on the Moscow- Berlin axis in 1920 as well as derailing of Hitler's strategy for domination of the entire world in 1939. Poland's heroism lived on in the wartime combat of Polish soldiers, airmen, and seamen, as well as Europe's largest resistance movement and the very existence of the Polish underground state under enemy occupation. Polish armed resistance continued during the postwar years of pacification by the Soviet terror apparatus.

After World War I the Poles declared their independence on Nov. 11, 1918. To keep their independence, the Poles had to win borderland wars. By far the most important was the Polish victory, led by Marshal Józef Piłsudski, over Lenin's Red Army in 1920. Lenin had attempted to overrun Poland and form a Moscow-Berlin alliance in order to stage a worldwide communist revolution. Germans resented their defeat in World War I; at the time millions of Germans were ready to accept a communist government in return for the re-annexation of western and northern Poland, once those lands would be occupied by the Soviets. The Polish victory deprived Lenin of a chance for a worldwide revolution. The Soviets then retaliated with terror and eventually murdered more Polish nationals than did the Germans, during the World War II, in 1939-1941. In the Spring of 1940 alone the NKVD executed 21,857 members of Polish leadership community. About four-fifths of all victims were betrayed to the NKVD by local leftists mostly of Jewish background.

In 1939 Poland again decisively shaped world's history, as Germany and Japan had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936 and Japan attacked the USSR in 1938. Hitler, in an advanced stage of Parkinson's disease, was in a hurry to start an anti-Soviet crusade to build his "1,000 year Reich" from Riga to the Black Sea and control world's main oil resources for his "war of the engines." Poland, a physical barrier between Germany and the USSR, was to become an impediment on Hitler's road to the domination of the world.

Hitler, warned by his generals that Germany had insufficient military manpower for his grandiose schemes, strived in 1935-1939 to have on his side Poland's potential 3,500,000 soldiers. The Berlin government felt that combining German and Polish forces in Europe with Japanese forces in Asia would bring a decisive victory over the USSR German control over the world's main oil fields was essential to secure Hitler world domination.

The Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Józef Beck, while following the strategic advice of the late Marshal Piłsudski, held both the Germans and the Soviets at bay as long as it was possible. The Polish refusal in January 1939 to join the Anti-Comintern Pact derailed Hitler's plans and caused him to lose his chance to join Japan in the attack on the USSR. Poland, Great Britain, and France exchanged common defense guarantees on March 31, 1939. Hitler signed Fall Weiss plan on April 11 and ordered the attack on Poland on September 1, 1939.

On July 25, 1939, Poland gave Great Britain and France each a copy of a linguistic deciphering electro-mechanical device for the German secret military code system Enigma, complete with specifications, perforated cards, and updating procedures. Thanks to the Polish solution for breaking the Enigma, the British project Ultra was able to interpret German secret messages during the entire war of 1939-1945. The invasion of Normandy would not have been possible without it. In 1999, the American code expert David A. Hatch of the Center of Cryptic History, NSA, Fort George G. Meade, Maryland wrote that "the breaking of the Enigma by Poland was one of the cornerstones of Allied victory over Germany."

As we all know, despite the crucial Polish contributions and sacrifices for the Allies' victory, Poland was betrayed by Roosevelt and Churchill first at Teheran and then at Yalta; it was handed over to become a Soviet satellite state, after a ruthless pacification by the communist terror apparatus which followed German mass executions.

The Tragedy of Jedwabne Explained by the Evidence of Two Graves and German Archives

Thus, on July 10, 1941 German executioners collected Jews of Jedwabne in the town square and drove them by physical violence to the site of their murder. First they shot some 50 Jews and then burned alive 250 others (not 1600 or 1800 as inaccurately reported in the American press on the basis of false information published by J. T. Gross who ignored Soviet and other sources as well as German archives in his book Neighbors).

The executioners of the Einsatztrupen enlisted help of several ethnic Germans (the "Volksdeutche" known as traitors and spies), and a group of primitive and illiterate criminals, both local and from out of town, as well as possibly a few "avengers." The latter must have believed that they and their relatives had suffered murderous persecution by Soviet security officers and deportation to the Gulag because of the betrayal by some of the Jews living in Jedwabne. German executioners forced an additional number of Poles, at gunpoint, with blows of rifle butts, and with threats, to help bring Jewish victims to the town square (the marketplace) ostensibly to clean the pavement.

According to eyewitnesses still living today, uniformed Germans committed this wartime atrocity. They forced some 300 Jews to march in a mock-funeral procession while carrying a concrete head of Lenin that had been removed from a monument.

The Germans of the Einsatzgrupen divided the marchers into two groups. The first group consisted of some 50 Jews, men strong enough to put up a fight. The second group was formed from the approximately 250 remaining Jews, mostly old people, women, and children.

While the second group was held back, the first group was directed into a 62.4 by 23 feet wooden barn. The keys to the barn were confiscated a day earlier by uniformed Germans, who removed agricultural machinery from it and prepared it for the execution of the Jews next day. (The daughter of the owner of the barn repeatedly testified about this facts, most recently on the CBS "60 minutes" on March 24, 2002.)

The 50 Jewish men were ordered to dig a large grave inside the barn, ostensibly for burying Lenin's concrete head. (J. T. Gross wants his readers to believe that the head of Lenin was buried in the Jewish cemetery.) As the diggers stood near the grave, the Germans shot them and then ordered several Poles to drag into the shallow grave the bodies of the Jews, some slain and some wounded but possibly still alive. Lenin's concrete head was placed on top of the victims in the grave #1. The German executioners then ordered the second, more defenseless, group into the barn, which moments later would be turned into a gigantic funeral pyre.

Stefan Boczkowski, Roman Chojnowski and five other eyewitnesses reported seeing the following: A small German military truck loaded with soldiers and gasoline canisters quickly pulled up to the barn crowded with Jews. Some of the soldiers jumped down from the truck, and those soldiers staying in the truck handed them the canisters, whose contents they poured on all outer walls of the barn. The flames engulfed the barn at once. Pyrotechnic analysis indicates that the Germans used approximately 100 gallons (over 400 liters) of gasoline to soak some 1000 square ft. of walls of the barn in order to engulf all of it with fire, burn it and in process suffocate the victims (by inhalation of the hot smoke). Later (reportedly the next day) the Germans ordered Poles at gunpoint to bury the partly burned bodies emanating a horrible odor. Remains of about 250 victims were buried in the grave #2 located along the barn (the high content of water in human bodies requires temperature of some 800 degrees Centigrade for more than thirty minutes in order to obtain a complete cremation).

At that time there was no gasoline available to the local population of Jedwabne (only a small amount of hydrocarbons in form of kerosene for lamps was available to the rural population). Such small amounts of kerosene (as mentioned by J. T. Gross) with its flashpoint of about 50 degrees Centigrade could not produce a sudden fire to engulf the entire barn at once.

In the 2001 investigation by the Polish government bodies of the victims of the July 10, 1941 massacre were found buried in the graves #1 and #2. Thorough search and drilling some 170 test cores in the vicinity found no other graves of the 1941 massacre of the Jews in Jedwabne; however, at the request of an Orthodox Rabbi who objected, rigorous forensic studies and full exhumation of all victims and the determination by autopsy of causes of death of every one of them was prematurely terminated. Thus, only an approximate number of victims could be estimated by the size of the two graves. Unfortunately these unanswered questions inevitably discredit the veracity of the final report of the official investigation by the Polish government's agency, the Institute of National Memory (IPN).

The veracity of Grosses book and the film Neighbors is further compromised by a baseless, non-corroborated claim that a cut off head of a Jewish female was kicked around in Jedwabne. Jerzy Robert Nowak, the author of the book 100 Lies By Gross (published in Poland) claims that after its publication he determined additional factual errors in Neighbors.

"The book of Prof. Gross can not be considered as a serious scholarly work: it is rather a tendentious propagandistic pamphlet. He jumps to farfetched conclusions before examining the existing evidence." wrote to the New York Times M. K. Dziewanowski, Professor of History, author of: History of Soviet Russia, 5th edition, Prentice Hall, 1996.

As Alexander B. Rossino, historian at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. writes in an article to be printed in Polin, Volume 16, 2003:

"The evidence collected by the West Germans, including the positive identification of [Hauptsturmfuehrer Herman] Schaper by witnesses from Łomża, Tykocin, and Radziłów, suggested that it was indeed Schaper's men who carried out the killings in those locations. Investigators also suspected, based on the similarity of the methods used to destroy the Jewish communities of Radziłów, Tykocin, Rutki, Zambrów, Jedwabne, Piątnica, and Wizna between July and September 1941 that Schaper's men were the perpetrators... The method used to kill the Jews of Jedwabne was exactly the same that had been employed by the Gestapo [Einsatsgrupen] to kill the Jews of Radzilow only three days earlier."

During the initial investigation of 1964, German investigator Opitz in Ludwigsburg, Germany, concluded that Hauptsturmfuerer Hermann Schaper's Einsatskommando conducted the mass execution of Jews in Jedwabne. Nonetheless, Schaper gave conflicting answers to his interrogators. First, he lied that in 1941 he had been a truck driver and he used false names. Later he claimed to have been an administrative officer, and another time a hunter of double agents, when the Gestapo was busy finding and killing communist commissars and Jews.

Court documents at Ludwigsburg archives show that the chief of the German civilian administration in the Nazi occupied Łomża district, Count van der Groeben testified that Schaper conducted mass executions of Jews in his district, which included the town of Jedwabne. That notwithstanding, legal proceedings against Schaper were terminated Sept. 2, 1965 despite positive identification of the defendant by Jewish survivors of the execution in Radzilow and Tykocin.

In 1974 Schaper's case was reopened and in 1976 a German court in Giesen, Hessen, pronounced the then 68 year old Schaper guilty, together with four other members of the kommando SS Zichenau-Schroettersburg, of executions of Poles and Jews. Schaper was sentenced to a six-year prison, but was soon released for medical reasons. (The facts of Schaper's dossier are quoted from article by Thomas Urban, reporter of the Suddeutsche Zeitung; Polish text in Rzeczpospolita, Sept 1-2, 2001.)

To make any legal sense now in 2002 the Polish Government should have demanded either the extradition or deposition under oath of Schaper by a German court and not an interview which has no legal meaning and can not give legally binding information. However, the Polish government's agency IPN gave the press a report that "Hauptsturmfuehrer Hermann Schaper confirmed known facts."

An Evil Empire and the "Politics of Apology and Contrition"

President Reagan was right: Soviet Union was "an evil empire," with its communist party that ruled, among other places in the Soviet sphere of influence, Poland with an iron fist for half a century. Now, with a shiny new name of "the Leftist Democratic Union (SLD)," new apologists for the old communist past are starting to act like new emperors, blaming the nation for the crimes of their communist predecessors of the former evil empire. Let me proclaim: these new emperors have no clothes!

You see, Mr. Miller, like the current president of Poland, Mr. Kwasniewski, has an ax to grind. They are both former high officials of the communist party. Yes, this was the party of the same communists whose NKVD security forces, the mainstay of the Soviet terror apparatus, staged the Kielce pogrom in 1946.

At that time Ostap Dluski, the head of the department of foreign affairs of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (PPR), wrote on September 25, 1946 a personal letter to Stanislaw Skrzeszewski, the Polish communist ambassador in Paris, ordering him to carefully plan, organize, and finance with state funds a defamation campaign for the purpose of generating in France a wide- spread condemnation of the "Polish perpetrators" of the Kielce pogrom.

On one hand the NKVD was staging pogroms in all satellite states in order to drive out of East-Central some 700,000 Jews. Those that would arrive to Palestine were to abolish the British mandate there and to foment Jewish-Arab wars in order to interfere with the flow of oil to the west. On the other hand the communist propaganda used the accusation of Polish anti-Semitism to "justify" the need for a protracted stay of the Red Army in Poland long after the war was over. Similarly, the present Polish president and the prime minister distribute internationally the propaganda of the responsibility of the Polish nation for the crime of Jedwabne to obscure communist crimes in Poland.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Kwasniewski are apologists for, the same communists who persecuted Jews in Poland in 1968 under the orders of Jiri Andropov then the head of the Soviet terror apparatus. They are the same communists who oppressed the Polish people for half a century. And they managed to extend their dominance even today.

So what is an ambitious post-communist to do about such an evil and embarrassing past? Why not blame these crimes not on the communist leaders who carried them out, but on the people subjugated by those leaders. That appears to be the strategy embodied by the "politics of apology and contrition," as practiced in Poland today. One of the latest manifestations of this was on January 10, 2002, when Mr. Miller spoke to the conference of presidents of major Jewish organizations in New York. He betrayed the Polish citizens whom he is supposed to represent by apologizing on the international scene in the name of the Polish nation for crimes committed by the communists and the Nazis.

Mr. Miller and Mr. Kwasniewski are trying to establish that the Polish people were the exterminators of Jews in Poland, while first the Nazis and then the Soviet-installed communist leadership stood around as innocent and helpless bystanders. It is a bizarre behavior for a president and a prime minister of Poland to insist and broadcast to the world that the Polish nation, when under the brutal subjugation of the Nazis, is responsible for the killing of a community of Jews in Jedwabne.

Mr. Kwasniewski, as the current president of Poland, issued his apology during the inquiry into the crime of Jedwabne by an agency of the Polish department of justice thereby violating the independence of the judiciary. For domestic consumption he worded his apology as his personal and in the name of those who want to apologize. However, people throughout the world understood that the president of Poland accepted the full responsibility of the Polish nation for the crime in Jedwabne with all the consequences of the international law.

In order to strengthen the international propaganda effect of the presidential apology the followers of the post-communist leadership now make public acts of contrition and confess publicly to their personal feeling of guilt and remorse and say that they feel permanently tainted by the allegedly Polish crime of Jedwabne, in spite of the fact that because of their age they could not have had any experience of the terror in wartime Poland. These acts of fake contrition contribute to disorientation in America, where people often believe that Poland fought on the side of Hitler; especially, after they participated in the obligatory Holocaust Studies, in which the role of the Jewish Ghetto Police and Administration serving Gestapo is omitted.

The Nazis, according J. T. Gross, unsuccessfully tried to save some of the Jewish victims in Jedwabne, but he insists, that the locals would not let them. Blaming the Polish people for both Nazi-and Soviet-era atrocities against Jews attempts to complete the picture of a hopelessly evil Polish populace - picture that is a familiar sight on American television and in the movies, in which Poles and Poland have had the worst image of all central European nationalities. This also is a picture that is grotesque in its wickedness, transparent in its self-serving post-communist motive, and it is a falsehood in contradiction to the facts that cannot stand against the historical test of time.

Unfortunately the dominant liberal and post-communist press in Poland frequently falsely reported and distorted many known facts. This widespread phenomenon resulted in an addition to the Polish vocabulary of a new word "przekłamanie" meaning "media lies."

In Jedwabne the local reaction to the current investigation of the crime is full of distrust. It is said that when the investigators dug up the first three skulls, they found in each of them a bullet hole. Apparently about at that point the investigators stopped the exhumation under the pretext that two Rabbis objected to further disturbance of the remains. Now it appears to many people in Jedwabne that bullet holes in these skulls were not what investigators were looking for. The decision to stop the exhumation and forensic studies disqualifies the entire investigation of this horrible crime. "The truth is, to be sure, sometimes hard to grasp, but it is never so illusive as when it is not wanted" (as remarked by Herman H. Dinsmore, All the News That Fits, Arlington House, 1969).

At the present time practically all the forensic evidence remains buried. Under these circumstances the only remedy is to complete the forensic exhumation of the two graves and the surrounding area in order to properly document the murders of Jedwabne as Dr. Moor-Jankowski explained in the preceding presentation.