Church Apologizes for 1941 Massacre of Jews

Poles Took Part, But Details Remain Unclear

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WARSAW, Poland, MAY 27, 2001 ( The Catholic Church in Poland took a step in improving relations with the Jewish community by apologizing today for the Poles who took part in a 1941 massacre of up to 1,600 Jews, Reuters reported.

The wartime massacre at Jedwabne came to prominence last year with the publication of «Neighbors,´´ a book by emigre scholar Jan Gross, who alleged that Poles, not occupying Nazi Germans, had murdered Jews and taken their possessions, the news service said.

«We wish to apologize above all to God, but also to the wronged, on behalf of those Polish citizens who committed evil against citizens of the Mosaic faith,´´ Cardinal Jozef Glemp, primate of Poland, said in an interview in the Catholic weekly Niedziela.

An expiation service was being held in Warsaw´s biggest church, near the site of the former Jewish Ghetto. It was to include a prayer by Polish-born John Paul II, a support of Christian-Jewish reconciliation.

But the service was unlikely to succeed in bringing Catholics and Jews together since it coincided with the Shavout, a major Jewish holiday.

The American-born rabbi of Warsaw and Lodz, Michael Schudrich, said in a letter to Cardinal Glemp he could not attend the service because «I cannot be in two temples at once.´´

Gross´ book ignited a national debate. Jewish circles expressed satisfaction that the blame was finally being placed where it belonged. But many Poles, accustomed to viewing themselves as war victims and heroes, resent being regarded as co-perpetrators of the Holocaust.

«Neighbors´´ describes how the Jedwabne Jews were bludgeoned, beaten and stabbed to death by their Polish neighbors, and how most were herded into a barn and burned alive. But many details of the case remain unclear.

Historians and journalists have questioned whether the Jedwabne Poles had acted on their own, as Gross maintains, or were forced to cooperate at gunpoint by the Germans.

Jewish collaboration with the Soviets, who had occupied the Jedwabne area for nearly two years prior to Germany´s invasion, has also been cited as a possible motive for the pogrom, a point repeatedly raised by the Church.

«Shouldn´t Jews also admit their guilt for collaborating with the Bolsheviks in sending Poles to Siberia or prison … or for the leading role played [in postwar Poland] by the Communist secret police of Jewish ancestry?´´ Cardinal Glemp asked in the Niedziela interview.

Poland´s National Remembrance Institute has started an investigation into the massacre and promised to bring those responsible to justice. Half a century ago, 23 Poles were sentenced for complicity in the massacre.

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