Little Grey Rabbit's Historical Skepticism Blog

Jedwabne: A fraudulent exhumation

Posted in Essential Postings, Miscellanous by littlegreyrabbit on April 30, 2010

The story of Jedwabne is well enough not known not to need to be extensively retold here.  It re-emerged into the public sphere after the publication of Neighbours by Jan Gross, chronicling how spontaneously the townsfolk of Jedwabne immediately upon German invasion in 1941 rounded up their Jewish neighbors, drove them into a barn and set it on fire.

The events of Jedwabne were first described by Szmul Wasersztajn, supposedly a member of the security apparatus, in April 1945 before the Jewish Historical Commission in Bialystok and variety of other Jewish eyewitnesses also appeared and an investigation was held, duly resulting in several trials between 1949 and 1953 and a number of convictions not unassisted by the usual police methodology of the times of beatings and coerced affidavits. [1]  Doubtless it played an important role in the local power struggles of post-war Poland but made little impact elsewhere.  The Yizkor Book of Jedwabne appeared in the late 1960s, rehashing a number of less than plausible eye-witness accounts, many which seem to be borrowing from each other, with little concern for historical accuracy. [2]  However, not until the publication of Jan Gross’s book did Jedwabne become an internationally recognised symbol of 1600 Jews burned to death inside a barn at the hands of their Polish neighbours.  This book sparked an IPN official investigation which resulted in an exhumation and an official report.  It is these I wish to look at it more depth.

First, however, Wasersztajn’s original deposition

On the morning of July 10, 1941, eight gestapo men came to town and had a meeting with representatives of the town authorities. When the gestapo asked what their plans were with respect to the Jews, they said, unanimously, that all Jews must be killed. When the Germans proposed to leave one Jewish family from each profession, local carpenter Bronislaw Szlezinski, who was present, answered: We have enough of our own craftsmen, we have to destroy all the Jews, none should stay alive. Mayor Karolak and everybody else agreed with his words. For this purpose Szlezinski gave his own barn, which stood nearby. After this meeting the bloodbath began.

Local hooligans armed themselves with axes, special clubs studded with nails, and other instruments of torture and destruction and chased all the Jews into the street. As the first victims of their devilish instincts they selected seventy-five of the youngest and healthiest Jews, whom they ordered to pick up a huge monument of Lenin that the Russians had erected in the center of town. It was impossibly heavy, but under a rain of horrible blows the Jews had to do it. While carrying the monument, they also had to sing until they brought it to the designated place. There, they were ordered to dig a hole and throw the monument in. Then these Jews were butchered to death and thrown into the same hole.

The other brutality was when the murderers ordered every Jew to dig a hole and bury all previously murdered Jews, and then those were killed and in turn buried by others. It is impossible to represent all the brutalities of the hooligans, and it is difficult to find in our history of suffering something similar.

Beards of old Jews were burned, newborn babies were killed at their mothers’ breasts, people were beaten murderously and forced to sing and dance. In the end they proceeded to the main action–the burning. The entire town was surrounded by guards so that nobody could escape; then Jews were ordered to line up in a column, four in a row, and the ninety-year-old rabbi and the shochet [Kosher butcher] were put in front, they were given a red banner, and all were ordered to sing and were chased into the barn. Hooligans bestially beat them up on the way. Near the gate a few hooligans were standing, playing various instruments in order to drown the screams of horrified victims. Some tried to defend themselves, but they were defenseless. Bloodied and wounded, they were pushed into the barn. Then the barn was doused with kerosene and lit, and the bandits went around to search Jewish homes, to look for the remaining sick and children. The sick people they found they carried to the barn themselves, and as for the little children, they roped a few together by their legs and carried them on their backs, then put them on pitchforks and threw them onto smoldering coals.

After the fire they used axes to knock golden teeth from still not entirely decomposed bodies and in other ways violated the corpses of holy martyrs.[3]

The IPN released a press release of its final findings on 9 July 2002, with 2 volumes of investigations published later.  The press release said in part:

From the morning hours of 10 July 1941, Jewish people had been forced out of their homes and gathered at the town’s market place. They were ordered to pluck grass from between the cobble stones with which the market was paved. Acts of violence against those who had gathered were committed. These acts were committed by the inhabitants of Jedwabne and those from the locations nearby who were of Polish nationality. [….]The group of Jewish men who had gathered at the market place were forced to break apart the Lenin monument outside the market place at a square by the road leading towards Wizna. Next, about noon, the group was ordered to carry a fragment of the broken bust to the market place and then to carry it to the barn, using a wooden stretcher. The group may have consisted of 40 to 50 people, including the local rabbi and kosher butcher. The manner in which the victims from that group were slain is unknown, the bodies were thrown into the grave dug inside the barn. Parts of the broken Lenin bust were thrown onto the corpses in the grave.

The other larger group of Jewish people had been taken out of the market after one or one and a half hours, as one witness stated. Other witnesses said that it had been late afternoon. This group included several hundred people, probably about 300, which is confirmed by the number of victims in both graves, according to an estimate of the archaeological and anthropological team participating in the exhumation.

That other group consisted of victims of both sexes, different ages, including children and infants. The people were led into a wooden, thatched barn owned by Bronisław Seszyński. After the building had been closed, it was set on fire, presumably with naphtha from the former Soviet warehouse.

As the barn was only 7 meters by 19 meters (allegedly) it was held impossible to fit 1600 people.  The IPN claimed 2 graves one in and one just outside the barn were located, the larger grave measuring 8 by 2 meters to a depth of 1.6 or 1.7 meters and containing the ashes and remains of 100-150 people.  The smaller one being measured at 6 by 1 meters.

IPN’s top prosecutor Witold Kulesza told Reuters: “We know how many human remains we found … We saw bones and ashes of roughly 200 people.  We did not conduct a full exhumation since we did not pull out the bones from the graves.”[4]

Photos were also released of this exhumation

The foundations of the barn exposed during exhumation

At this stage there is nothing out of the ordinary

Grave 1: Dimensions 8 by 2 meters

This is the grave described as being 8 by 2 meters, although nowhere is the width exposed even close to 2 meters.  There may be traces of carbonised material visible at the bottom of the trench and a rather odd circular excavation in the foreground.

Circular excavation

At this point the forensic exhumation has disintegrated into farce.  A bone has just been placed randomly in hole and a shoe stuck on the end, purely for photographic purposes.  At this point it becomes clear that this is not an exhumation to uncover history, rather to conceal history.

Various other photographs of individual human remains follow.  It should be noted that the barn was adjacent to a Jewish cemetery, so a team intent on a deceit would not have to go very far to find suitably ancient human remains.

Grave 1

Grave 1: Same individual's remains as above

It would appear that not sufficient remains were found that even in this small photo collection, individuals had to be photographed from different angles – assuming that our intrepid forensic investigators are not just raiding neighbouring cemetery.

more grave 1

There are traces of blackened material around, but not a great amount and nothing particularly indicating the burnt remains of a barn.  Individuals that can be seen, seem utterly distinct and not entangled with other remains.  There is no multiple layers of victims as is sometimes claimed.  They appear to be distinct, individual burial sites.

Grave 2. The famous Lenin head

The famous head of Lenin is dug up, for reasons unexplained the team seems to be working at night.

Grave 2: the smaller grave

Grave 2 seems no more impressive than Grave 1.  Again, all photos released seem to be photographing the same individual set of remains.

Grave 2

Grave 2

Even the very basics of exhumation seems beyond this team, namely marking the head of each individual located with a number and identifying parts that belong to them.  It is likely there was no need to do this, as distinct, individual graves were dug up.  From the evidence in these photos they seem to have found exactly 2 individuals, one in each grave, which have been photographed to deceive not enlighten.

But the nature of the deception becomes obvious when the team begins to “restore” the graves prior to completion.  Up to this point, at best slight traces of ash and charcoal were seen – visible but hardly abundant.  To finish up, the team appears to have quite literally purchased half a dozen sacks of charcoal, all in nice sized chunks ready for the BBQ and quite literally scattered it through the site.

Salting the site with charcoal

salting the site

Quite what is being place in the grave is not certain, but it is very obvious foreign and not originating from the grave before it was dug up.  The sense of fraud here is absolutely palpable.  This is not simply a sloppy and amateur exhumation, this is deliberate and conscious deceit.

Further evidence of the corrupted nature of this exhumation is found in the analysis of bullets allegedly found in the graves.   Marek Jan Chodakiewicz The Massacre in Jedwabne, July 10 1941: Before, During and After (pages 142-144) discusses the provenance of various bullets allegedly found in the mass grave of Jedwabne.  These bullets were sent off to Germany for professional forensic analysis but alas it was found that these dated well after July 1941: “They were fired from a German machine gun (Machinengewehr) MG-42 produced in 1942.  Still some other bullets had steel components produced only in 1943“.  Weakly Chodakiewicz, whose motivation is primarily to minimize Polish culpability rather than truly investigate the historiography of the incident, suggests these bullets might have magically “fallen into” the grave when the front passed again in 1944.  Deliberately salted into the site during the exhumation strikes me as a more likely option.

[1] Dariusz Stola, Jedwabne: Revisiting the Evidence and Nature of the Crime. Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.1 (2003) 139-152


[3] Jan Gross, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland

[4]  June 4 2001

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One Response

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  1. Jerzy Ulicki-Rek. said, on June 6, 2010 at 7:34 am

    What a pleasure the read something far from the common “holocaust pulp”.
    i hope more and more historians and independent researchers will have to courage to use scientific methods to establish the TRUTH.

    Jerzy Ulicki-Rek

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