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Dozens attend ceremony commemorating Jedwabne pogrom

Polish clergyman says 1941 tragedy in which 300 Jews were burned alive could have been avoided if Catholic Church had reformed stance on non-Christians earlier

Jews from Poland and abroad gather for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, on July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Michal Kosc)
Jews from Poland and abroad gather for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, on July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Michal Kosc)

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Some 100 people attended a ceremony Monday commemorating the victims of the pogrom in Jedwabne in northeast Poland.

For the first time, the ceremony was attended by Bishop Rafał Markowski, president of the Council for Religious Dialogue and the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, who said that the Catholic Church prays for the Polish perpetrators of the murder and apologizes for it.

On July 10, 1941, a few dozen local perpetrators burned alive more than 300 Jews in a barn in the village of Jedwabne.

Markowski recalled that his predecessor, Bishop Mieczysław Cisło, had said that if the Nostra Aetate Declaration, on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions, had been announced in 1939, there would not have been pogroms in Jedwabne and in Kielce in 1946, and perhaps there would not have been the Holocaust.

Emil Jeżowski, from Israel’s embassy, read a letter from Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari, in which she emphasized that Israel remains friendly, as it watches the difficult path being taken by Poland to learn its history.

“The demands of our religion are for us to remember and not forget,” said Anna Chipczyńska, chairman of the board of the Warsaw Jewish Community, who, during the ceremony, was accompanied for the first time by a bodyguard.

The ceremony was also attended by, among others, Mateusz Szpytma, deputy president of the Institute of National Remembrance; Wojciech Kolarski of the Chancellery of the President Andrzej Duda; Aaron Fishman of the US Embassy, and Rolf Nikel, Germany’s ambassador to Poland.

Isaac Lewin, whose family was murdered during the pogrom, came from Israel to recite the Kaddish prayer at the site, as he does every year.

The pogrom was described in detail by Jan Tomasz Gross in his 2000 book “Neighbors”. The Institute of National Remembrance began an investigation into the pogrom, but three years later the investigation was discontinued, and Polish nationalists have tried to discredit Gross and blame the pogrom on Communists and the Nazis.

In 2001, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski apologized for the pogrom on behalf of himself and Polish people “whose conscience is touched” by the crime.

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