Plan was prepared by Jan Skrodzki
Barn, in which Jews were burned
Dairy, near which Jews were killed and thrown into ditches
My house (Jan Skrodzki's) from which I saw what was happening on
the town square, as well as the group of Jews being led up
the Piekna Street to the barn.
better ask, who of our people was not there at that time. It will be easier to
count them" - said one of the witnesses, who had seen Jews being burned in
a barn in Radzilow on that day: July 7, 1941.
participation wasn't all the same. Some were active, other only in part, some
were just gaping. I still remember a woman, who followed the Jews and
It was in September of 1945. At the seat of
the Jewish Historical Commission, Menachem Finkielsztejn, 22 years old, [who
was] miraculously saved, was writing his report on the events in a small town
Radzilow - where on the 7th of July , after two weeks of a continuous
nightmare, of beating, robbing and humiliation, local people chased their Jewish
neighbors to a barn and set it afire.
Finkielsztejn, as well as
Szmul Wasersztajn, who also reported to the same Commission on the burning of
Jews in a barn in Jedwabne, three days after the same had been done in Radzilow,
never said he had seen all that by his own eyes. But when (almost 60 years
after) a person reads about it, these scenes of rape, or decapitation by a saw,
or throwing infants alive to pits full of corpses - one wants to believe that
some force of terror has pushed Finkielsztejn to exaggerate. However, when I was
quoting from his description to still other Polish witnesses - and I spoke to
more than a dozen of them and to many persons who learned about the course of
the events in Radzilow from their relatives - it became obvious that all their
recollections, put together, confirmed almost every detail of the crimes
described earlier by Finkielsztejn.
The history of the events
in Radzilow, after the German invasion in the summer of 1941, could also be
found in the testimonies from the trials held after the war. A few of them were
held in Radzilow. The first trial was held in 1945, the last in 1954. As usual,
the local people were judged collectively, on charges of participating in the
crimes against Jews or for taking part in the clandestine anti-communist
resistance after the war. In the first trial, in November of 1945, against Leon
Kosmaczewski, accused for "cooperating with members of Gestapo [German
Secret Police] and for active participation in liquidating the Jewish quarter of
Radzilow," there testified some Jewish inhabitants of this little town, the
Jews who left Poland soon after the trial: Israel Finkielsztejn, the father of
Menachem, and Berek Wasersztajn. And in spite of the fact that during the trials
these witnesses called out the names of many of the perpetrators in court, only
a few of them were convicted for the criminal acts committed against the Jews of
Later on in the 1960's,
Chaja Finkielsztejn, the mother of Menachem, submitted her testimony to the Yad
Vashem Institute [in Jerusalem, Israel]. It's a true miracle that both parents
[Chaja and her husband Israel] and four of their children survived the war. On
the day of the pogrom they found a shelter; some days later they were baptized
and became Christians. This religious act helped them to continue living in a
village near Radzilow until the year 1943, when Germans liquidated all the
ghettos in the region. After that, the Finkielsztejn's were hiding in woods,
in dugouts and in bunkers. Just after the war ended, Menachem's younger
brother, Szlomo, crossed the whole of Europe to Palestine. In the same year,
1945, Szmul Wasersztajn left Poland; at first he lived in Cuba, then went on to
Costa Rica; the information recently circulated by a Polish priest, Orlowski
from Jedwabne, and by part of the Polish media, about Szmul Wasersztajn's
alleged participation in UB [Urzad Bezpieczenstwa: State Security Office] and SB
[Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa: State Security Service] until the year 1968 (as some
people said) are simply falsified! Szlomo Finkielsztejn was killed in a battle
during the [Israel] War of Independence. It was as a result of this war that
Israel was proclaimed a free state. The remaining members of the Finkielsztejn
family waited in Poland for an opportunity to legally emigrate. They left Poland
in the year 1950. Menachem Finkielsztejn completed his higher studies and became
a civil engineer. I spoke in Haifa [Israel] to his widow, who is currently
living there. Not even once did he mention to her or to his children about his
hard times during the Holocaust.
There Lived a Jew, Konopka, a Grain
responsible for what had happened in Jedwabne, and in Radzilow. And I feel
responsible for all that will be revealed" - that was told to me, right
away, during the first conversation I had with Jan Skrodzki, an engineer from
Northern Shipyard in Gdansk, now a retired employee. Jan Skrodzki called
"Gazeta Wyborcza" in November 2000, right after the publication of the
first articles about Jedwabne. He was a little boy [in Radzilow], when, from
behind a curtain of a window in his family's house, he observed Jews, driven
by Piekna Street to the barn. When he left his hometown as a teenager, he
decided to never come back.
He also told me about his
father who wanted to compete against Jews. Though he was a tailor by trade, he
founded a bakery and placed a painted signboard stating: "A Christian
"We had probably
suffered because of that shop-sign" - he told me. "When the Soviets
came to Radzilow, they wanted to deport my father and our family. We had to
"Do you want to tell
me that Jews denounced your family?"
"Not at all. When it
comes to denouncing, people usually point to the Jews. Every nation has citizens
on the social margins [hoodlums, outlaws] but an honest Jew never collaborated
[with the Soviets], and an honest Pole also refused [to collaborate]. In our
case, it was a Jew who saved our lives. He warned my mother, telling her on what
specific night the Soviets were going to come arrest us. During the night I was
transported to the nearby village Trzaski and hidden by the Borawski family.
When somebody came to visit them, I was told to hide behind a cupboard. There
were no Jews in Trzaski, and I want to emphasize that they had to protect me
against their Polish neighbors."
About his father,
Skrodzki told me with pain: "How it could be, a clever man like him, and a
very good tailor, too - and he was an anti-Semite?"
We talked for many hours,
but I had no courage to ask him a crucial question: "Where was your father
on the 7th of July 1941?"
But obviously Skrodzki
himself was obsessed by this problem. That's why he returned with me to
Radzilow. He wanted to face the truth, whatever it is. He also wanted to learn
about the part played by the same inhabitants of his hometown in the murders,
and what had those persons, whom he recalled in his memory from childhood, done,
and what had his father done back then. He knew that during one of the trials
his father had been arrested and kept in custody for a few months until the
trial date. But he was not convicted. To look for any witnesses, Jan Skrodzki
traveled with me across Poland. It was he who led the talks and put pressure on
his interlocutors. To each of them he repeated his motto: "I owe my
satisfaction to this Jew who saved us." He was never sidetracked by people's
remarks to him, such as: "See, what connections and influence Jews had
then!" He persisted to ask about that Jewish savior, until he convinced
himself that he must have been a grain merchant, named Konopka. He said:
"If there will be a true inscription to commemorate the crimes in Radzilow,
I will put a small stone nearby and write on it: 'Here lived a Jew, Konopka,
who traded in grain, and I'm alive thanks to him.'"
A Beautiful Example of Help to a Neighbor
reunions or social meetings, my husband always told stories about the Jews
burned in Radzilow," - Bozena Skrodzka, the wife of Jan, and a doctor by
profession, told me.
"He repeated it
often, that some inhabitants of Radzilow and people from nearby villages were
responsible for the murders. That no German put his pistol to anybody's head.
That nobody had been forced to kill Jews. Therefore, almost all conversations
[with me] ended up in a quarrel."
Soon I would see an
example of such family conversations.
A cousin of Skrodzki,
Hanna Z., a woman tailor from Warsaw, left Radzilow in the 1950's. She also saw
her neighbors driving Jews to the barn in 1941. Now she listens to Radio Maryja
[a nationalistic, Catholic station]. When she tells about the events of the
past, she shouts: "Lousy Jews!", "A Bloody Parade of
Jew-Lovers!", "Gaberdiners, they were beggars and now they claim their
belonged to Polish nationalists and it's a great honor to recall this fact.
Mind you!" - Hanna teaches to her cousin Jan. "They [the nationalists]
were strong young lads. They turned over Jewish barrels with herrings and pushed
over the counters in Jewish shops. They turned Poles away from Jewish shops, so
that they would refuse to buy there. These Jews remembered well that your father
was an active nationalist, so they pointed to him and denounced him to be
deported [by the Soviets]. The Jewish nation overwhelmed us, they took the best
places, because other Jews supported them. They were unscrupulous, trying to
make Poland poor and to stop its development. We had to tolerate this so many
years. There was no prejudice against Jews, but Poles got mad at what they had
done to us under the Soviet occupation. Read the Bible, it says about Jews being
a tribe of vipers, perfidious and unbelieving. They teased the Lord, who had to
release plagues upon them. God ordered them to wander in the desert for 30
years. It's not incidental that He punished them so hard. I remember all that
from before the war, as we were taught at school, during religious
She tells us about plays
and jokes of that time.
courtyard adjoined Tarnawski's court. He was a schoolmaster and I was a friend
of his daughters. We, the children, observed the Rabbi from the roof of
Tarnawski's house when he went to a toilet in the court. Some kids
descended and held the door of the toilet open, mocking and disturbing him as he
relieved himself. He was like a rat, black-eyed, and his wife came out to us and
said: 'Well, young lady, I will go to greet your father and tell him what you're
doing!' We, the children, liked to tease the Rabbi. We did the same to a
Jewish shopkeeper, a woman named Psachtowa. She was half-blind and children came
for sweets or fruit-stones and paid her with buttons instead of money."
Skrodzki himself recalled
an incident: he received some money from his mother to buy ice cream. In the
market, a young lad with club in hand barred him from going to a Jewish shop.
"Not once did I hear
anyone say that all that belongs to the past and that there is no more
anti-Semitism in Poland. When I hear such an opinion I always answer: from my
circle every third man is an anti-Semite. And I could easily have become one of
Then I asked him, why he
hasn't, and Skrodzki answered:
"Because I looked
from behind the curtain at Jews driven to be burned alive. At that time I was 6
years, 7 months and 14 days old. This scene stays on my mind as clear as if I
looked at a photograph."
Our interlocutors often
recalled the 1930's. They told stories about boys who let in crows into the
Synagogue on Friday evenings. The crows flied to the light and put out the
candles - so that Jews had to interrupt their prayers. Or a story about a
curate, Kaminski. Kaminski was an activist of the National Party (Stronnictwo
Narodowe). He hated the Jews so much, that when he was drunk he fired rounds
into the windows of his Jewish neighbor, Monkowski, a tailor.
A Pogrom, or a Revolution
On the 23d of March 1933,
in Radzilow, there was one of the bigger pogroms in that region.
"There was shooting,
windowpanes were broken, shutters closed, women were screaming and made off
towards home. People told of a revolution." Hanna Z. told us about these
events. Other interlocutors also used the word: revolution. They never mentioned
that the broken windowpanes belonged to Jews. In fact, not a single Jewish shop
had windows unbroken. Goods were being robbed from them. Jews were beaten. Chana
Sosnowska, a shoemaker's wife from Jedwabne, was seriously wounded then and
she died in a hospital afterwards. The policemen who came to the place of riots
could not enforce order. They started to shoot and four perpetrators of the
pogrom were shot dead. Then there was a trial of the participants. A local
weekly "Przeglad Lomzynski," closely related to a pro-Government
political movement BBWR [Bezpartyjny Blok Wspolpracy z Rzadem: A Nonpartisan
Block for Cooperating with the Government] published a report from the trial,
entitled "Wyrok na czlonkow Obozu Wielkiej Polski" [Members of the
Great Poland Camp Convicted]. It was clearly written that those who came up
before the Court were not the hoodlums, on the social margin. The pogrom had
been organized by members of a local chapter of the National Party. Seventeen
persons were punished - terms ranging from three months in jail (with suspended
execution) to two and a half years of jail.
One could only guess what
was in the report, published by "Wspolna Praca," a Catholic newspaper
of the Diocese of Lomza: the entire circulation of that paper had been
confiscated by order of the Censorship Office. But in the next issue, in a note
entitled "A beautiful example of help to a neighbor," one could read
about some participants of the pogrom who were arrested and left their farm to
their 70-year-old mother without any help. The paper wrote: "Some party
colleagues of the arrested men, former members of the Great Poland Camp (OBW),
took care of the old woman and the farm. Working together they ploughed and
sewed the fields."
The National Democratic
Party (Endecja), called "a national" by local people of this region,
and the most powerful and influential political party there before the war,
considered a fight against Jews to be one of the most important points of its
political activity. The stories told now, by Poles and also by some Jews, about
a good relationship between the two groups at that time, are mostly untrue.
Poles feel they should blur their guilt, and Jews would like to embellish their
memories of their past youth. But the Polish-Jewish conflict of that time does
not represent the entire complicated texture of the discord between the
neighbors. The followers of Marshal Pilsudski [Jozef Pilsudski: a powerful
military and political leader of Poland], who came from local intelligentsia,
teachers, clerks and officials, were much closer to the educated Jewish elite
than to their Polish compatriots from the National Camp. In any case, the local
press belonging to BBWR [a pro-Government Movement] published sharp criticism
against the anti-Jewish nationalist fighting squads. The Polish-Polish conflicts
were so tempestuous that the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Lomza
(pro-nationalist) banned the celebration of the Holy Mass on the occasion of the
Name-Day of Marshal Pilsudski, and also on the day of his burial, in the year
A short time before World
War II, Polish-Jewish relations became even more acute. Almost every Thursday, a
market day, Jewish stands were turned over and some Jews were beaten up. A local
Catholic priest, Jozef Choromanski from Radzilow, personally controlled
nationalists' pickets in front of Jewish shops. One can read in some documents
from the Bialystok Archives that the same priest persuaded the pupils of senior
classes to boycott the Jewish businesses. He told these kids, for example, that
Jewish bakers knead the dough for bread with dirty feet and spit into it.
One of our interlocutors
hummed a popular tune to us, sung during religious processions in Radzilow. The
wording is like this:
"Forward, lads, step on,
be quick/A good harvest opens to us/Let's take over all the trade/Pull out big
money from Jewish hands."
You Have Jews Without Poland
saints" - explains Czeslaw C., a tailor from Radzilow, now living near
Warsaw. "They sneered at us under Soviet occupation: 'You wanted a Poland
without Jews, and now you have Jews without Poland!'"
When I ask Polish
Radzilovers about the burning of Jews in a barn, I often get an answer that Jews
joined the communist militia, that they guarded, with rifle in hand, those
Polish people deported by horse carts to Lomza and then to Siberia. But when I
ask directly about the Soviet occupation, they tell me stories about the Soviet
invaders. These are stories about Russian officers learning to ride a bike and
how funny it was. How some Russians collected cabbage left over in the fields,
and it was already spongy. How they killed a pig in the market, began to cook it
and wondered why the pig's lungs emerged from water, even from under a stone.
In the testimonies
collected by the Hoover Institution at Stanford (U.S.A.) and now also available
in Poland, in the Eastern Archives of the Karta Foundation, there is a
description of the Soviet occupation in Radzilow, by Ryszard Lawnicki, then a
pupil of the 6th grade of a Mechanics School. He wrote:
made a triumphal arch with posters glorifying the Soviets, the communist regime.
These communists were predominantly Jews. They formed a 'Communist Citizens'
Guard,' then reorganized as Militia. By this they formed a communist
self-government, granting many rights to the Jewish population, and this Jewish
authority ruled the town in a Jewish way, until the Soviets installed their own
administration. One day, on an autumn morning, a Soviet tank entered the town
and it was greeted by the Jewish population and only a part of the Poles. Six
hours later the first units of the Red Army came to Radzilow. They were greeted
even more enthusiastically by the Jews. Now a Pole could not approach a Jew. A
Jew answered in Russian with pride: 'The time when you could humiliate us is
gone.' A Jew always had a priority before a Pole. Everywhere I could see that
- in an office, in a cooperative, in the Militia, there served almost always the
Is this testimony really
factual or is it a reflection of the state of mind of the storyteller, a young
boy, fed by daily portions of anti-Semitism at school and in church? To that
boy, an admission of Jews to the public service could have been unusual and
contrary to all principles he had learned.
Testimonies of admiration
for the Soviets on the part of the Jewish population, young people in
particular, could be also found in Jewish sources. Menachem Turek, who
interrogated Menachem Finkielsztejn on behalf of the Jewish Historical
Commission, wrote a report himself - about the entry of the Red Army to nearby
Tykocin: "The Soviet tanks suffocated the sounds of venomous anti-Semitism
by their powerful whirr, the anti-Semitism that was being perpetuated in the
last years before the war. The Jews accepted the Red Army with a particular
liking. They felt they were free, they breathed fresh air and they served the
Soviets with gratefulness. And the Soviet authorities began to make order, in
the spirit of love between the nations and between people, on principles of
equal rights, liberty and equality."
But a part of the Jews
were, from the beginning, in opposition to the communist government: the richer
merchants and businessmen (and soon afterwards, also the poorer ones) could see
that the new communist authority was soon to get rid of the owners of shops or
businesses. The same feelings were shared by the orthodox Jews and the Zionists
- and the Zionist Movement in Radzilow was very strong. Chaja Finkielsztejn told
at Yad Vashem how (under the Soviet occupation) she and her friends were taken
for all-night interrogations, robbed and beaten. She and her husband Israel, who
was the president of the local chapter of the National Fund, collecting money
for the buyout of land from the Arabs in Palestine, were persecuted for two
reasons: as Zionists and as "a bourgeois elements." The Soviets
confiscated not only their grain mill, but also their house. Every night they
feared they could be deported.
Some of my interlocutors
(in Radzilow, but I found the same attitude in Jedwabne), when they talk about
the alleged omnipresence and omnipotence of Jews [under the Soviet occupation],
they put all the Jews into the same category, including those who came with the
From a conversation with
Hanna Z.: "I remember the night when Jews stood at my bed, with their guns
in hand, and told me: 'Job twoju mat, ['Fuck your mother' - in Russian]
tell us where your father is hiding!"
"Local Jews cursed
like that?" - I wanted to make sure.
"No, no, only the
newcomers. But there was a crowd of the local ones in the Police [Militia], such
old communists and traitors of the nation like Lejzor Gryngras, Nagorka, Piechota,
there was also a brother-in-law of our Halinka, his name is not important,
because he was a Polish man, not a Jew."
Then I ask Kazimierz Z.,
a shoemaker from Elk, who left Radzilow in the 1960's and under the Soviet
occupation he was 13 years old, how did his Jewish colleagues at school behave?
"Well, during the
breaks we used to go out together and smoke cigarettes. I don't remember them
trying to dominate us. When the Russians came, well, at that time they told us
with pride: 'Our comrades have come.' But soon they came to their senses.
When a teacher tried to enroll Jews to the Pioneers [Soviet children's
organization], they didn't want to join. At least some of them, whom I
Jews are Scared and Lament; Germans and
On the 22d of June 1941,
at the entrance to Radzilow, the German Army was welcomed by a triumphal arch.
Menachem Finkielsztejn asserted that there were some portraits on the arch and a
slogan: "Long Live the German Army, Who Liberated Us from the Damned Jewish
Communism!" Maciej F., today a pensioned clerk from the Seaside, could
swear that the inscription was much shorter, just "Welcome!" and one
more word he'd forgotten. But he remembers well that the posts of the arch
were entwined with green branches. Halina R., a retired clerk from Radzilow who
was 7 years old at that time remembered as some Poles threw flowers on [German]
Poles also helped German
soldiers to hunt for marauders of the Red Army.
"Russians fled on
the other bank of the Biebrza (a river)" - tells us Stanislaw S., a
blacksmith from Radzilow. Poles sat on tanks and told Germans where to cross the
river to catch the Russians. Stanislaw Ramotowski, from the village Dziewiecin
near Radzilow, saw Antoni Kosmaczewski riding on one of these tanks. The same
man who took part in the burning of Jews on the 7th of July. Looking down from a
high tank, Kosmaczewski was proud of himself and instructed Ramotowski how to
behave in front of the new rulers: "Take your hands out of the
pockets!" - he shouted.
The German tanks rolled
away. Afterwards a small group of Wehrmacht soldiers [German army] stayed on in
the town for a few more days. From the first day they bullied the Jewish
population and invited Poles to join them. They cut off the beards of old Jews,
wounded them using scissors and beating them up.
"We stayed there and
looked. Children were laughing. Nobody knew how it would end, so at first it was
fun" - tells Maciej F., an exceptional witness, who, as a 13-year-old boy,
was running from one place to another and noted all that had happened. He
dreamed of becoming a journalist some day. ('After each day, when all that
ended, I ran home to take notes by candle light.') His diary was lost, Maciej
F. never became a news reporter but his memory conserved many tens of scenes.
Germans ordered to the
Jews to take out the Holy Scriptures from the Synagogue, to throw them into a
small river and trample on them. Then they harnessed Jews, like horses, to a
cart, and made them run at full gallop by scourging and beating. Polish
testimonies, and also Jewish ones, confirm that local people were just happy to
participate in this. ('Germans beat; Poles beat. Jews are scared and lament,
and they, Germans and Poles rejoice' - wrote Finkielsztejn). Polish
Radzilovers also harassed their Jewish neighbors on their own initiative. These
actions intensified when German soldiers left town and there was no other
authority but a temporary police, self-organized by the Poles after the Russians
had left Radzilow. In the protocols of the investigation against Feliks
Godlewski, I read the names of nine members of that self-organized authority.
From the witnesses, I have heard about eight of them; that they participated in
the driving of Jews to the barn later on.
In several Jewish
testimonies, there is the repeated description of a horrible murder carried out
on a young Jewish woman - just after Soviets left the town. "I want to
state that Kosmaczewski, Leon and Antoni, saw off the head of a young,
18-year-old girl, named Dorogoj [Szyma Dorogoj], and they did that when she
still lived" - Berek Wasersztajn told the jury.
"Do you remember the
daughter of Dorogoj, the shoemaker, who lived opposite to the fire-station, such
a black-haired girl, with short cut hair?" - Skrodzki asked his cousin
Hanna Z. and she repeated an old anti-Semitic lie: "She threw stones to the
Holy Cross and cursed. I don't approve that they killed her in the swamps and
cut off her head, but one has to openly admit that she was a member of the Komsomol [a Soviet communist youth organization]."
When Skrodzki cited to
his cousin some fragments of Jewish testimonies about raping of Jewish women,
she violently protested:
"These are just
Jewish lies. Everybody would abhor to do that. It's true, the Kosmaczewski and
Mordasiewicz youths, from behind the little gardens, they raped. Take Estera,
the wife of Szymon the tailor, the woman who came to us to wash laundry - Kaziuk
Mordasiewicz took her and did with her all he wanted. Then he led her to the
marshland, near Matlak (a river), behind the dike and he ordered her to turn
over. She went to us asking for help. Our father even wanted to intercede but
these bandits came, battered at the door and shouted: 'If you demand for the
Jews, you will be burned first!' And they burned Ester together with all of
From the testimony of
"On every nightfall
there were heard the wild shouts of the murderers and the horrible moans of the
tortured people. Sometimes they took Jews to the marketplace and beat them up
there. The shouts were intolerable. The tortured [Jews] were encircled by a mob
of Polish men, women and children, who mocked at the unfortunate victims."
Hanna Z.: "Each
night something happened. Our mother said: 'Just finish them all off at once.
Make it end, as we can't live because of all that shouting and screaming.'"
In the night some people
robbed the Jewish property. The robbers made it clear that Jews could buy out
themselves by offering valuables. "The Jews seized every little
opportunity, helplessly believing that gold may save them" - we read in the
Finkielsztejn's testimony - "People rush to the house of Wolf Szlapak and
bring jewelry and other precious things. These valuables are handed over to the
most voracious beasts. Gold is the only damned, compromised weapon of the Jews
in the Diaspora."
But this time nothing
Strzelecki took from Szlapak all the jewelry at first, and after that he shot
him in his own bed." - tells Hanna Z.
formerly a blacksmith at the Gdansk Shipyard, (on the day of the murder, his
mother concealed two Jewish children and passed them quickly away in fear of the
"The bandits tied
Jews to the bottom beam of Czesio Baginski's horse cart and harnessed the
horses. He told me that nobody asked him for consent. Water wasn't high in the
marshland but it was enough to drown the Jews. I never heard of any German to be
Many of our interlocutors
mentioned that the local bandits had weapons and alcohol. "Just after the
Russians had left" - Czeslaw C. told us - "then ours went in to a
distillery at Slucz. There was a lot of vodka. Poles were keen on booze, and
some of them were angry at Jews and that resentment was justified."
"In the Synagogue at
Gesia Street, Russians had a military store with uniforms and guns" -
remembers Stanislaw S. - "Our people grabbed all that, just after the
Russians had left. From the alcohol distillery at Slucz they transported vodka
by buckets. A few of them were killed at that work, when a store was set afire.
They had vodka, weapons and hate."
Maciej F. had heard a
tale that the fire in the distillery began from a match, thrown by the
production manager, a Jew, who could not stand the looting. They stripped him
nude, tied his legs to trees, by one leg to one tree and by the other one to the
next. "Each one [of the bandits] cut his body, just once in turn, and put
salt into the wound." Maciej F. also knows of a Jew who was found hidden at
one farmhouse and they dragged him to Radzilow from Racibory. There he was tied
up to a bottom board of a horse cart and his head was sawn off by a handsaw used
for wood. "I did not see the very act, but I saw a headless corpse left in
a ditch. I looked at another scene, where one communist had a big flat stone
tied up to his neck by a cord and he was ordered to look straight into the sun.
When he shut his eyes, he was beaten on the head with a club. Two men stood by
his sides. One beat him with a club from one side, while the other did so on the
other side of his head, and they kept asking him where Kapelanski and the family
were, because they had been deported [by Soviets]. Then they led him by
Lomzynska Street to the bridge and pushed him over [with that stone on the neck]
to the river."
People Went Mad There
"On the 6th of July
1941 I met a colleague of mine, who told me that from the nearby villages, from
Wasosz, from Zebry, they would go together to Radzilow to do the same work they
had done earlier at Wasosz. There, a day before, on the 5th of July, peasants
came with their horse carts to town, to Jewish houses and killed [Jewish] men,
women and children with axes. The dead and the wounded they then loaded onto the
carts and transported out of town. Streets were full of blood, which was
dropping from the bodies loaded onto the carts. Hearing this I quickly ran to
Dziewiecin, to warn my friendly neighbors, the Finkielsztejn's" - tells
us Stanislaw Ramotowski, now 86 years old, one of the Righteous among the
Nations of the World, a man who tried to save the whole family, but he could
save only Rachela, a girl of the same age as his at that time, and who later on
would be his wife.
[Rachela Finkielsztejn would later adopt the name Marianna Ramotowska upon marrying the
man who saved her.] "They [the Finkielsztejn's] couldn't believe what I
said. But finally I managed to persuade them to go and I led them out to my
field. Their clothes and other things had been packed in sacks and hidden in the
attic of my house. At dawn they [the bandits] came, broke the windowpanes and
robbed all that was left. On the next day, in the evening, I returned to the
house. The bandits sat there as if they owned the place. I drank four bottles of
vodka with them and when they went drunk, I collected the [Finkielsztejn's]
belongings and, with my brother-in-law, we put them on a cart. They [the
Finkielsztejn's] lived off by selling all their goods, until somebody
denounced them and they were taken to a ghetto. At that time I stole my future
wife out of the ghetto. but I could not steal away the whole family. It was God's
will that she was chosen to survive, and I was set for saving her by God."
On the 7th of July a car
with Germans appeared in the [Radzilow] marketplace (some witnesses mentioned
even two or three cars).
Antoni K.: "Germans
were five and a driver. White caps, white gloves. Many people came to see them,
and I was also there. One German came out of the car and said in Polish: 'Take
all the Jews, first to weed grass in the marketplace. We are going to Jedwabne
now, then we shall come back to see what have you done, if not - we shall do
harm to you.'"
Maciej F.: "Three
Germans arrived in an open car. I stood nearby. They said: 'Here stinks of
Jews too much. When we return, some days later, it shouldn't stink so!' They
pointed at Feliks Mordasiewicz, as the responsible one. He asked: 'By what
should I do it?' So they passed to him five rifles, such long one-shot rifles.
I went home to tell my mother that something's going to happen. Then I fed the
rabbits, I ate my lunch and when I returned to the marketplace there already was
formed a column of Jews. I saw that in one of the four files was marching a
[Jewish] butcher Sawicki, our neighbor, who had a cheap butcher's stall at
Koscielna Street, and with him, his wife and their older daughter."
Hanna Z.: "Four
Germans arrived at the marketplace in two cars, the kind of [exotic] cars that
drive to wild places. They had caps on, with death's head [the SS-formation],
and they brought rifles to distribute. Mostly young lads went to listen to them.
The Germans said: 'Here you have Jews who are responsible that your families
will freeze in Russia. Bring them all to the marketplace for weeding the
pavement.' And it was like that. Just before the Germans came, there was a big
deportation. Women and children had been already deported and men were still
kept for interrogation. And Germans rescued them from the fortress at Osowiec.
The men came back very angry and started to brawl. They went from one house to
the other and said: 'Jews!' Our Polish marketplace became overgrown with
weeds. 'Go pull the weeds out.' Ye, ye, they, the Jews were happy and they
took rasps with them to work. They thought that something worse was going to
happen, and this was just weeding the marketplace. Then our people started to
select the most notorious communists. If somebody had a grudge against a
[particular] Jew, he looked for that one in the market and took revenge. Some
Jews were hiding in chimneys, and Poles dragged them out. One Jew, a communist,
was so scared that he cut his own throat with tailor's scissors. Before sunset
the Germans came back. They brought in more ammunition and ordered the Poles to
check if the most important captive had been taken. They wanted the Rabbi."
Polish accounts of these
events point to a conclusion that Germans ordered the Poles to kill Jews, let
them do it freely and left. But Chaja Finkielsztejn describes in her account
that there was a German (she defines him as a Gestapo man) and a Pole - the
commune's secretary Stanislaw Grzymkowski - who went together to look for a
proper place to burn the Jews. At first they planned to do it in the Jewish
prayer house, but it was too close to other houses and the fire could harm them.
So they picked up a distant, unused barn (the owner had left to Argentina before
the war). "I was a witness" - reported Chaja Finkielsztejn - "How
Germans organized Poles from the town, and the Poles were the executors of the
Jan Skrodzki: "The
marketplace was paved with stones, and weeds of grass grew between them. I
observed the weeding from our house. From another window, looking on Piekna
Street, I saw a column [of Jews]. Like I saw many times in the movies later on,
there were transports of Jews, escorted by SS-men, under rifles, watched by
dogs. In our town no Germans were involved. These were our people from Radzilow
and the nearby villages. They had to organize themselves before and to decide:
On that day we would get rid of them [the Jews]. Was there another way to
collect them? On other days, before that, they also ordered to the Jews to come
to the marketplace, but without children. No hoodlums did that [these were
regular citizens]. There were plenty of young men, not with sticks, but with
heavy clubs. Later on I saw what had remained in Piekna Street after the Jews
[left]: shoes, and the spoons and forks they used to dig out weeds.
"The outside walls
of the barn were made of stones, the gates - of wood. The thresher was in the
middle, and the mows, where grain was kept, were on both sides. It happened
before the harvest, and the mows were empty. Children were thrown into the mows
through holes, when the barn was already burning. Poles were placed against the
gates of the barn, fixed with heavy stones, to bar the escape to the Jews."
Boleslaw C.: "I saw
how they drove them [Jews], how they dowsed the barn [with kerosene]. What a
wail there was! Among the Jews there were mostly children and old people.
Infants were thrown to the barn from the top. A crowd of people came to watch
them, out of curiosity. Mostly youngsters, but also some women. A Jew was
running out through the peat bog. And there stood one [a Pole] from a nearby
village, he had a Mauser (rifle), and he leveled the gun and fired. Look Madam,
he was drunk and he shot the Jew dead."
Hanna Z.: "They
drove them under our windows, and a Jewish woman, our neighbor said: 'Mr. Z.,
you're such a respectable man, please take our goods and save them.' But the
youngsters had flick-knifes in hands. The Jewish woman carried her little son,
and the second child clung to her legs. And one man, a newcomer, I never had
seen him before, chased her, swung a club and the little boy's brain spilled
out. My father just observed the scene from behind a window curtain and he
cried. I was also there and I saw that. Rachela Wasersztajn had just delivered a
baby. They took her from her bed when she was lying in. She was the prettiest
girl of the town, apart from my sister, Sophie. She went and cried. They threw
her baby into the barn, over the top, to be burned [alive]."
Her husband, Berek
Wasersztajn, testified during the trial of Feliks Godlewski and he told what a
Polish woman had told him about the death of his wife: "My wife was hidden.
When they found her, they drove to the barn. Kosmaczewski ordered her to go in
with her child and, because of high flames, he put a ladder against the wall. My
wife began to appeal to him that he save at least the baby, only 10-days-old.
Kosmaczewski took the baby by its feet and threw it into the barn by the roof,
then pierced her with a bayonet and also threw her in."
was setting a fire at the barn" - reports Hanna Z. - "He was maybe
16 years old. Fat, not tall, so his colleagues had to lift him up." Maciej
F.: "I saw with my own eyes how Jozek poured kerosene on the barn. Later on
he pursued a girl who had escaped from inside. He caught up to her in the
rye-field and killed her there."
"Oh My God! They
burned people alive, Jews tried to escape, mounted the roof, jumped down" -
tells Janina Sadurska (maiden name: Korytkowska), a cousin of Jan Skrodzki, Now
she lives in Trojmiasto [Tri-city, the popular name of Gdansk-Sopot-Gdynia at
the Gdansk-Golf Seaside].
"Some people were
hiding in corn-fields and furious bandits went after them searching. I was
twelve then, I was going back home from a pasture over Matlak (a river) after I'd
carried some food to a boy who guarded our cow. It was late afternoon. I looked
up and there was one of them, with club in hand, shouting at me: 'You're a
Jewish girl!' When he led me, our neighbors - Jarosz and Andrychowski, whose
houses were the nearest to the barn, took to my defense: 'She isn't a
Jewess. What do you want from Szoferowna, the driver's daughter?' It was the
way people spoke about me, because my father was a driver. From that time on, I
was scared to go by that way."
On the 7th of July,
Ramotowski went to Radzilow to check what happened there. "They pulled Jews
out of their houses and drove them to the marketplace" - he reported -
"I have not seen them burned in the barn but I looked around for about one
hour. Poles guarded the roads to prevent Jews from escaping."
- Did you see any
"Just one MP, who
stood on a balcony and took pictures. No German contributed to the murder in
Jedwabne, nor in Radzilow or Wasosz. I can't imagine that. Was that their
conscience that blinded them? In the marketplace I saw small [Jewish] children
clasping one to another with their heads bent down. Poles drove Jews to be
burned. They hurried from house to house, pulling people out, robbing. The
[Polish] people went mad there. They entered the houses, tore feather-beds
apart, feathers flied around, windswept, and they put a sack on their back and
hurried back home, to return again with an empty sack."
- Just men?
"Most. I also saw
women, but not many."
- And children?
"Such who could
carry anything, also took part."
- How could such a crime
"Some did it, I
guess, for the murder itself, but the majority for looting, and also because the
Germans had allowed them to do it."
"Towards evening not
even one ex-Jewish house stood intact" - tells Maciej F. - "What a
going around it was, what quarrels about who takes whose goods."
Hanna Z.: "A stench,
a greasy smoke with human fat was everywhere, and it stayed on in people's
houses for many weeks."
The Earth Was Moving Three Days
Both Jewish reports and
Polish witnesses tell about this. Many Jews were hiding in the cornfields, in
the garrets of houses. Poles pulled them out, murdered them on the spot or led
them to the cooler [ice-pit]. It was an oblong pit, not far from the barn,
several meters deep. There, people kept ice, hacked out from the river in
winter. The ice stayed there for the whole year, unmelted. At that pit they shot
at Jews, killed them by axes and hatchets and - still living - they threw them
into the ditch full of corpses. Barrels of quicklime were brought, to spill lime
over the subsequent layers of the victims. The catching of the hidden Jews and
then killing them, on the spot or after leading them to the cooler, lasted for
three more days, until the 10th of July.
From the protocols of the
investigation against Leon Kosmaczewski: "After that a round-up was still
going on. Whom whey caught, they killed. When they went short on ammunition to
the rifles, they started to kill with spades and similar tools." (The
testimony of Israel Finkielsztejn.)
Hanna Z.: "Those who
had not been burnt, were killed and thrown to the pits used for storing butter
and cottage cheese, near the dairy, and then covered by lime. I went there just
once, at dusk. The earth was moving, half-dead victims pushed down, revived
underneath, but the lime then killed them off."
Maciej F.: "I saw
how they were shooting at Jews in the cooler. The Drozdowski's, both
Dziekonski, Wladyslaw Dudzinski, there were many trigger-happy men. If there
were no bullets, they threw the victims to the ditch alive. The earth was moving
for three days. They searched [Jews] in attics, in cellars. I saw how Antoni
Kosmaczewski, with Heniek Dziekonski, pulled out the family of a Jew who owned a
coal and iron depot, along with his wife and two children. This family had
hidden in their attic and waited there until the burning was over. Then they
drove them to the cooler."
Antoni Olszewski was only
three and a half years old then. His memory, like a photo-plate conserving a
picture, remembered a scene of treading down the dirt over a body of a Jewish
boy, not much older than him, murdered by neighbors: "Some time after the
burning, we saw a blood-covered cap in our garden, on the cabbage. They pulled
out a child, hiding nearby, and clubbed him to death. My mum shouted that we
should bury the body deep underground, so our pigs wouldn't dig it out. The
old people piled up earth and I, and Jozek from Szymon's family, treaded it
down to make it solid. I still remember that treading of earth and I could point
to that place even now."
Maciej F.: "The
Drozdowski brothers, Dominik and Aleksander, were very active at the murder and
just after the war they went to the market and displayed the robbed goods to
sell. There were bales of cloth, pre-war goods. They were a real bargain and
everybody bought some."
"Can you judge how
many people from Radzilow took part in this (the murder)?" - Skrodzki asked
"You better ask who
wasn't there, it will be easier for me to count them. But their participation
wasn't all the same. There were three groups: the active ones, the half-active
and the gaping spectators. I remember a woman, who followed the Jews and
Boleslaw C.: "Nobody
mentioned anything about this in church. As it had happened and that was
Dolegowski from Radzilow, visited us once, after the war, at the time of
caroling" - tells Stanislaw Ramotowski. "'It doesn't bother you,
as you're a priest, if somebody comes to the church in a fur-coat [robbed]
from a Jew?' Everybody knew who was wearing Szlapak's fur-coat. The priest
didn't answer. My wife, Marysia, was scared and she pulled me by a tail of my
The Riff-raffs Have Done It
When I was reading
documents at the Jewish Historical Institute, not all was clear to me. Such a
phrase, for example: "The first victim has fallen, some Skondzki, a tailor,
and Antoni Kosmaczewski carries out a bestial murder on a 17-year-old Komsomol
[a Soviet communist youth organization] girl - Dorogoj. Telling that it's
better save a bullet, they have cut off her head." Only after reading this
passage once again did I realize that the tailor in question wasn't a victim,
but an accomplice of Kosmaczewski in the crime. Skrodzki must have been
tormented by the same dilemma, as he asked his cousin, Hanna Z., a straight
question: "Was that tailor my father? I want to know the truth, be it the
worst one" - he insisted.
"Your father was
young and eager" - answered Hanna Z. - "It was a shock, but I swear
for my mother and yours that nobody knows how it really was."
I asked Skrodzki if he
really wanted to get to know the truth. I proposed to him to go together to meet
Stanislaw Ramotowski. He is a living testimony of these events. For years he was
drinking vodka with the murderers, the only reason being to draw out the details
of the murder from them.
"No, no! It could be
the tailor who lived opposite to the fire-station, Eugeniusz Skomski" -
Ramotowski explained and then showed to Skrodzki a perfectly tailored black
leather jacket. He said he still wears this jacket, made by Zygmunt Skrodzki,
Jan's father, a half a century ago.
Later on Ramotowski told
me, that he didn't know what Zygmunt Skrodzki was really doing on that day -
the 7th of July 1941 - and that he could not tell anything about it. From the
pre-war times he remembered the curate, Kaminski, as he marched in front of a
fighting squad of the nationalists who were breaking windowpanes in Jewish
houses, and Zygmunt [Skrodzki] marched right behind him. "I saw this, and
Skrodzki was the first one in town to do such things."
During one of our common
travels, I gave to Jan Skrodzki some documents to read from the investigation
held in 1945. I had no time to read them beforehand. Skrodzki found in the text
a testimony of one of the witnesses: "Kosmaczewski collected the gang and
began to break in and demolish the houses of the Jewish inhabitants. They pulled
Jews out and beat them up until they were unconscious. They also raped a lot of
young girls." In the documents there have been mentioned more than ten
names of the participants, "Skrodzki, a tailor" among them.
Jan perused the whole
testimony and said: "I must have known about it from somewhere." His
voice was calm, only his fingers skimmed through the pages of the judicial
Finkielsztejn, in his
testimony made at the Jewish Historical Commission, and also some witnesses in
court, cited the names of a dozen or so of the most active participants.
Sometimes they misrepresented these names but we have managed to get them right
(for instance: 'Charon Pakowski,' who cut the beards of Jews, was known as Hieronim Haustowski from Okrasin, a village near Radzilow). Polish witnesses
confirm the participation of the following persons as chief perpetrators. They
are: Jan and Henryk Dziekonski, the brothers Aleksander and Feliks Godlewski,
Edmund Korsak, the brothers Antoni, Jozef and Leon Kosmaczewski, Mieczyslaw
Strzelecki, Aleksander Leszczewski, the brothers Jan, Mieczyslaw and Feliks
Mordasiewicz ("Professional bandits" - I hear - "Please, Madam,
write down that there was also another Mordasiewicz family in Radzilow, until
now one of them is living - Stanislaw Mordasiewicz, a very respectable
They were shoemakers,
blacksmiths and bakers. A majority of them were aged between 20 and 30. When in
Radzilow as I talked to people over 70, it was difficult to abstain from asking:
"What they were doing at that time?"
"Waldek K. didn't
take part, just his brother did, wasn't it so?" - Jan Skrodzki asked his
"Not at all, he was
the one who had God in his heart. He robbed because anyone who was strong and
near to the action, robbed. I remember how my father met his apprentice in the
marketplace. That lad came from a village to take away some beds because they
were so poor that they had to sleep on the ground."
"This one, perhaps,
didn't - he's so nice" - I think about Ludwik Z., but soon I began to
doubt, when the man giggled nervously for the third time, each time when we
talked about the barn. Later on I was to be a witness of such a conversation
between Jan Skrodzki and his cousin:
Hanna Z.: "That one
took part; his family had been deported [to Russia]; nobody else [took
So Ludwik Z. didn't? -
I want to make sure.
"He did. But he wasn't
tried for it, he took part to accompany the others."
"This one was a
respectable family" - Jan Skrodzki leads me to still another house. -
"They lived on Piekna Street, Aleksander still lives, he must have known a
lot." But Aleksander O. isn't happy about our visit. After many efforts
by Jan, we succeeded to make him speak up:
"None of us went
there and none of us held out his hand for somebody's property. A grandmother
of that Jew, Lejzor, who bought old clothes and had a lot of children, came to
us on that day and she was hiding in a chicken coop. I saw her and I said: 'Grannie,
sit there and make no noise.' But she came out and went away, later on. On the
same day Adam Krzeminski came to us, a postman, who had been in Russia during
the Revolution. He said: 'No need to go, no need to rob.' Folks hurried
there out of curiosity, I'd be ashamed to go. I went to school, to the same
class with Szlapak's son. His father had a shop in the house that was taken
over by the Mordasiewicz brothers later on. Why should I rob them? They were my
classmates. Mum made clothes for me on her loom, I had got one set of clothing
from my aunt in America, and I didn't have to be greedy of their rags. The
riff-raffs had carried it out, and now [Jews use that] to make an ill opinion
about all of Poland."
"This one, for sure,
didn't do it" - I think, observing the face of a taciturn interlocutor, Piotr L., a tailor from Radzilow. He's telling me that on that day he pastured
cows and returned to the town in the evening. I asked him, if his colleagues,
who were running around and robbing the deserted [Jewish] houses didn't ask
him to join in. "I entered one house, my colleagues carried out chairs, a
table, and I took some leftover Jewish books. Later on they laughed at me: 'A
stupid man, he took paper.' When I asked what kind of books they were, he
reiterated, confused as if I wanted him to give these books back. And then he
quoted from Asnyk and Mickiewicz [the famous Polish poets]."
We have heard that Leon
Kosmaczewski probably still lives, and we've got his address in Elk [a city in
northeast Poland, 30 miles to the north of Radzilow]. We came to a large villa
in the town's center, near the lake. There we found his daughter and a
20-year-old granddaughter. Kosmaczewski, they told us, had died two years ago,
aged 88. The women didn't want to talk to us but Jan Skrodzki gave them no
chance to throw us out. Upon entering the house, he presented himself as a
relative. His mother's maiden name was Kosmaczewska, so, when he was a child,
he addressed all Kosmaczewski by "uncle."
"They accused him of
raping a Jewess on the marketplace, and he saved her" - shouted his
daughter. "A German asked, pointing to the woman: 'Jude?' and he
answered no, and helped her to escape. A few years ago a Jewish woman came to
town and asked about him. Sure, that was the one whom he had saved, and she
wanted to thank him. The trial was because of a denouncement, and that
denouncement was because of a damned plot of ground; a woman, our neighbor
clashed with my father about a boundary strip."
granddaughter echoed her words: "Grannie said that father saved a Jewish
woman from Dziewiecin, and now they are writing who knows what. "There is
only one serious historian, professor Strzembosz, and no other person should
talk nonsense to us." [Tomasz Strzembosz, a Polish historian, who opposed
professor Jan Gross' views about the Polish participation in the Holocaust in
Radzilow and Jedwabne. See also: Jan T. Gross "Neighbors", Princeton
University Press 2001, pages 21 and 47].
Skrodzki tried to
interrupt them a few times, but he's a quiet man and his interlocutors were
talking at the top of their voices, furiously. At one moment he stood up:
"I won't listen to it. We, the children are responsible. If you don't
want to accept this, all the worse for you. Ania, we're leaving."
We Had to Defend Them
From a paper by Dr.
Szymon Datner, "The Extermination of Radzilow," the Jewish Historical
Commission, Bialystok 1946: "The only survivors of the German occupation
were the Finkielsztejn family and Mosze Pesach Dorogoj, together with his son,
Akiba Dorogoj. After the liberation by the Red Army, both Dorogoj's were
killed by peasants from Slucz, a village near Radzilow. They were the unwanted
eyewitnesses of the terrible massacres of July 1941."
and his brother deceitfully ordered them [the Dorogoj brothers] to come up to
them, pretending they would drink a half-liter of vodka to reconcile" -
Marianna Ramotowska tells me - "and in the entrance hall they killed them
by axes. To get rid of the witnesses."
"After the war one
lived in fear" - adds her husband Stanislaw. "One time, already two
years after the war, my wife wanted to buy back a family cupboard made of oak.
She could have had a better one, but that one was a keepsake. And somebody didn't
like her doing so. On the door of our house someone nailed a small note, saying
that we had been condemned to death. At that time, in our region, the NSZ [Narodowe
Sily Zbrojne: National Armed Forces - a Polish nationalist guerilla formation]
carried out many executions. They robbed, beat and killed. I went to my people
because I was a member of AK [Armia Krajowa: The Home Army - the largest
clandestine Polish military organization during the Second World War]."
- But it was already
after the demobilization of AK?
"In our region the
AK and the NSZ still had their quarrels for a long time. And AK arranged that
the death verdict against us be abolished. But the pressure was continued all
I ask Marianna Ramotowska
if it ever happened, later on, that somebody came and told them: "I am
ashamed for what Poles did [to the Jews]?"
happened, but they [the Poles] weren't bad to us. Because they knew that we
wouldn't accuse them. On the other hand, if there was a suspicion in some
unpleasant matters, we went to testify. I testified in the case of Feliks
Godlewski, who was a (German) gendarme but collaborated with the AK and helped
my husband to receive the identity pass. I testified for the benefit of Aleksander Lasiewicz, also a member of the Gendarmerie and the AK, who once met
my Stasinek [Stan, from Stanislaw] on the road and shouted to him 'Lay down in
the potatoes!' and then Germans drove by. And, once again, I testified in
favor of him, who later on came, knelt, embraced my legs and kissed" - she
After a long-time of
trying, I succeeded to find out that the third man for whose benefit she
testified, was Leon Kosmaczewski. She [Marianna Ramotowska] was supposed to be
that Jewish woman from Dziewiecin, and he was telling his family that he had
- But you knew well what
he had been doing on the 7th of July 1941, the same as what the other two
suspects had been engaged in. And you helped them, anyhow?
"The other two [Godlewski
and Lasiewicz] that's a different case, they really had helped us just once,
and I didn't see what they were doing on that day. But we were ready to help
any one of them, because we were forced to do it. Otherwise, we couldn't
"For them to kill a person was like for someone else to kill a fly, so we
lived here as sparrows in a bush. There were no sentences against them, because
we had to defend ourselves."
Later on I read the
testimony of Marianna Ramotowska from the trial of Feliks Godlewski: "I am
a convert. I have heard from the Jews that Godlewski enjoyed a good reputation
among the Jews. He always helped them, before and after the incident." In
spite of the testimonies of other witnesses, charging him with guilt, the jury
in Elk decided to exculpate Godlewski, acknowledging that "his guilt has
not been proven." The jury wrote in conclusion: "One has to emphasize
the importance of the testimony submitted by a witness - Marianna Ramotowska, of
Jewess by origin, who presented the defendant as such, who was liked and enjoyed
a good opinion among the Jewish survivors. If the accused had taken any part in
the annihilation of the Jews, he surely wouldn't be liked by them."
The second witness, apart
from Marianna Ramotowska, who contributed to the acquittal of Godlewski was
(according to the conclusion of the jury) Zygmunt Skrodzki, a member of the AK.
He testified that from the very beginning Godlewski was placed in the
Gendarmerie by this [Polish] organization. Stanislaw Ramotowski, who also
actively participated in the AK during the war, assured that this was not true,
that it took him a long time before he could persuade Godlewski that the
cooperation with the clandestine organization suited his interest.
Antonina Wyrzykowska from
Jedwabne, who had saved seven Jews, wrote in her autobiography (conserved in her
dossier at Yad Vashem): "After the liberation I have been beaten, not only
one time, so I had to leave the area where my family lived."
warned the Wyrzykowski family" - tells me Leszek Dziedzic from Przytuly,
near Jedwabne, whose father sheltered Szmul Wasersztajn for some time - "My
father-in-law was present during a meeting, when it was decided to kill the
seven Jews saved by them, when it became known that they survived [the pogrom].
They [the bandits] cruelly beat Mrs. Antonina, because they were angry finding
no Jews in her house."
Apart from Antonina
Wyrzykowska and Stanislaw Ramotowski, the medals "The Righteous Among the
Nations of the World" have been also awarded to the farmers in these same
parts who sheltered for three years, a [Jewish] tailor from Wizna, Israel Lewin,
with his wife and two children.
"There was a hiding
place under the floor, near the stove. Nobody knew about it. Only after the war
did it become known. What happened later on, God help us. In the year 1945, some
partisans from the NSZ robbed our clothes, our cows and pigs, and then they set
the farm on fire. It was a time when, if somebody lived a little better, soon
there was a battering at the door. They [NSZ] also thought, I guess, that we had
Jewish gold. My father turned to the AK for help. Their people went to those
from the NSZ and told them: 'We have a good intelligence and we will shoot all
those who make trouble here.' Since then it was quiet, but one had to live
through hard times. After the war, when the NSZ ruled, people were afraid of
them as they were of the Russians or Germans before them, and maybe even more
Telling about the murder
of Jews was a taboo in the majority of local homes. The same taboo existed then
- one which still exists now - to speak up about having helped Jews.
Maciej F., with whom I
compiled a list of the names of the murderers, and who was not scared to give
these names to me, when I asked him where, and on whose field, were hiding the
Dorogoj brothers in a dug-out, answered: "I can't tell this. The
daughters of that farmer are still living, I would have to ask them [his
daughters] if they agree [that I answer]."
learned only from me that the mother of his colleague had sheltered two [Jewish]
children, and furthermore, that these children were transferred, later on, to
the same people's house, where he and his wife were hiding for some time.
"Was your family
ever honored in one way or other, for instance, were you invited to a
school?" - I asked the farmer, who gave shelter to the Lewin's family.
"Never. Once, when I
was in a hospital, I got a letter from Israel. A neighbor from the other bed
asked me about it and I told him how it happened, and he kissed me. But I ask
you, Madam, don't print my name, even by chance. Why should I be exposed to
No Shame to Carry a Canopy
In the mist of some
Radzilow people I ask why none of them pointed to the murderers after the war.
"No sweat, better
live in peace."
"And I tell you that
they were scared. Felek Godlewski, when he got drunk once, stood up and made a
move as if he were cutting heads with a scythe, then said: 'A man means to me
less than a swish of air.'"
Maybe that was the fear,
or the lack of disapproval, but the murderers went unnoticed among the local
Aleksandra Olszewska, the
same one who kept the two Jewish children in hiding, sent her son to the
apprenticeship of one of the murderers, Feliks Mordasiewicz.
"He trained me to
become a blacksmith because he was a good specialist. My dad had to sell a cow
to pay for the apprenticeship." - tells Antoni Olszewski. "A company
of bandits got together there to remember the event. They chased me out: 'Go
away, you squirt!' One of my aunts provoked me. At that time I didn't
realize what had happened, and I repeated her words: 'Boss, don't you dream
sometimes of the Jews?' And he said: 'You, son of a bitch,' and threw a
hammer to me. He had a heavy hand anyhow."
Stanislaw Ramotowski told
me what Feliks Mordasiewicz dreamed about at the end of his life: "Those
who had murdered, had no painless death. A colleague of mine who lay in a
hospital bed near Felek, told that he [Mordasiewicz] called out the names of the
Jews he had murdered. Before death came, all that came back to his eyes. His
family tried to cover his mouth, but he shouted aloud: 'There's plenty of
them here in the entrance-hall, make them go away!'"
"Later on I learned
much more, because nobody held one's tongue at our home" - Olszewski
continued. "When women neighbors came to us, my mum made beer for them and,
at last, the conversation always diverted to the same topic. I remember my mum,
cursing at one the murderers: 'Why that son of a bitch is not ashamed to carry
a canopy [over the Holy Sacrament] during a procession?' The mothers of the
murderers have lived the greatest tragedy. The mother of Olek Drozdowski came to
us to weep out of her grief: 'Dear women, what could I do, he was already a
grown-up man, he also wanted to slit my belly once.'"
Bed Linen and Poultry
After the war not only
the few saved Jews feared for their life, but also those who had kept them in
hiding. All people were scared. "In the daytime one feared the UB [Urzad
Bezpieczenstwa: Communist Secret Police], who came to arrest people for a true
or alleged help to the Underground. At night one was scared of the
partisans" - tells us Edward Borawski from Trzaski, a son of the people in
whose house Janek Skrodzki was hiding during the Soviet occupation.
In the Archives of Lomza
City I read the "Situation Reports from the Lomza District." Let's
take, for example, a report from January 1947. This report lists "the
objects of the robbery by the bands": sugar (from the railway station of
Sniadowo), grain and money (robbed from a peasant driving back home by his cart
from the market by the Lomza-Rutki road) and shoes (from a car, on the
Lomza-Jedwabne road). From the households: linen and clothes, bed linen and
ladies underwear, yeast and poultry.
"When the father of
a woman neighbor sold a cow" - told to us by a cousin of Jan Skrodzki, a
resident of Radzilow - "on the next day there was no money and no husband
[because the money was stolen and the husband was arrested]. The neighbor was
left alone with five children and asked people for bread. Until 1947 and
thereafter, each night nobody knew what could happen."
anti-communist guerrilla! Most of them were just bandits." - tells us
Antoni Olszewski - "Once one of them came to us and he confiscated my mum's
last hen, on behalf of the organization, telling her 'You whore, if you don't
like it I can cut off your head, too!' And there were four little children at
home and just mum to feed them."
"Here the NSZ was
active" - tells Franciszek K. "But I hadn't heard of any action made
by them against the Germans. People talked about them as a 'thieves'
organization' as they managed to steal pigs out of a pigsty. It seems at that
time the popular saying was originated: 'What their eyes see, their hands will
take,' or this other one: 'He goes to the church but steals chickens.'"
recalls how bandits entered a grain-mill he just had rebuilt after the war. They
ordered him to lie on the floor and stood over him with rifle in hand:
"Before leaving, they left a note, signed 'Tiger.' It said that 12
sacks of corn must be taken to exchange for weapons. They spilled corn over the
mill, threatened me by blowing up the mill the next time. It wasn't a revenge
for the saving of Jews, but a plain robbery."
"On both sides, the
underground and the communist one, there were a brutality and illiteracy" -
tells us Stanislaw S. "I remember Czesiek Darwicki, a local secretary of
the PPR [a Polish Communist Party] in Radzilow. Somebody came to him on
business, and he told the man: 'Fuck off, [odpierdol sie] because I don't
wish to talk to you!' My friend scorned him: 'Czesiek, you can't talk like
that, you're the secretary!' and he taught him to sign his name, because his
signature consisted of just three crosses (+++). The chairman of GS [Gmina Spoldzielnia: A Commune Cooperative] couldn't sign his name, either."
Sorrel Like a Soap
"In this way" -
Menachem Finkielsztejn finished his testimony to the Jewish Historical
Commission - "disappeared from the surface of Earth the Jewish Community of
Radzilow that had lasted for 500 years. Together with the Jews, perished all
that was Jewish in town: a school, a synagogue and a cemetery."
In Jedwabne, in place of
the former kirkut [Jewish cemetery], between the hazel-wood planted here after
the war, I have counted over twenty fragments of the remaining matsevas
[gravestones]. In Radzilow there is no trace. I've asked what had happened to
"People took them to
make whetstones out of them to sharpen axes" - tells Stanislaw S.
"There was no one, I guess, in Radzilow who wouldn't have a whetstone
made of these cemetery stones. They sawed all trees [in the kirkut], and I
remember such high pines growing there. I remember, because during the war we
used to go collecting crows' eggs there, and a crow isn't like a raven and
it never will nest on a small tree."
"When people began
to rebuild their houses, they were taking gravel [from the kirkut] on their
wheel-barrows and they plastered the walls by the ashes of Jews." -
Kazimierz Z. told us. "And the new administration, that of People's
Poland, used the rest of the [Jewish] cemetery, that part not yet stolen by
farmers, to build a segment of a highway. We picked sorrel from the [Jewish]
graves. It grew high, and one always could make a few zlotys selling it."
"What crap are you
telling them?" - interrupted his sister-in-law. "Such sorrel would
lather like soap, because it grew up on [human] fat."
"But it sold
"Stones from the
barn are in the underpinnings of our house, everybody took them." -
recalled Olszewski. "After the war one ordered to children: 'Go to the
[Jewish] graves and bring some sand,' because sand there was yellowish, good
for plastering. I also carried that sand. One time I found a (human) bone, I
threw it out, and my friend threw a skull into the river and it floated. What a
shame when I think of this today. But at that time we didn't imagine it could
be wrong. Recently I went there with my daughter, she wanted to go to the kirkut.
And it came out that there was a school in place of the Jewish cemetery."
Two other witnesses
confirm that situation. But another one would insist that the kirkut was placed
to the left from the school, at a site, where a sewage treatment plant was
before. Stanislaw Ramotowski pointed to still another place, several hundreds of
meters from the school, where there is a field with crops now. "Isn't it
inconvenient to them to sow grain at a cemetery?" - mused Ramotowski.
Among Us, People Don't Talk About It
"An awful stain they
now have in Jedwabne." - many Radzilovers repeated to me when I began to
drive down there with Jan Skrodzki in winter.
"In a moment they
will also come to us" - Skrodzki told them.
"If that prosecutor
from the IPN [Instytut Pamieci Narodowej: National Remembrance Institute -
investigating the murders in Radzilow and Jedwabne] came, no talk" - I
heard from Stanislaw S. "It would be impossible because nobody from
Radzilow will talk."
"I will not talk to
you, I must receive an authorization of the Town Council." - said the mayor
of Radzilow, Kazimierz Gwiazdowski. "I'm upset that the press, radio and
TV are carrying an investigation, as if they were authorized to do so. Good
"I'm a newcomer
and I know nothing." - warned a priest, Dean Grochowski. "Here people
don't talk about this. Let the historians take care of it, in peace."
"I had no signals
from the teachers, or pupils, that we should discuss this matter at
school." - a nice, young schoolmaster (a woman) told us. "If the IPN
will publish the results of the investigation and this fact will lead to a
change in the textbooks, then."
"This may last for
years." - I say. "Isn't it a too distant perspective for the
children from this region?"
"We are obliged to
follow the program. When it changes, we shall adapt ourselves."
During my first visit to
Radzilow, when I saw Jan Skrodzki's family with him, our conversation wasn't
"If that Jew had not
warned my mother, we wouldn't talk now." - Jan said. "Our mum with
three little ones would have ended in a cattle-wagon." (Poles were deported
to Russia in railway-cars used for the transport of cattle).
"Because the Jews
knew, and they denounced." - answered his cousin.
Skrodzki tried to tell them what he had
already learned [about the pogrom]. He began by telling them how respectable
their cousin's family [the Z. family] was. If a Jewish woman, persecuted by
one of the Mordasiewicz brothers, sought refuge at their house [she had to trust
"Well, well!" -
his cousin interrupted him - "It's because the mother of the Mordasiewicz's
had been deported to Siberia, with a child. If anybody's family hadn't been
deported, one didn't go there. There's no need to talk about it, none of
them is living."
"If you tell us they
don't live, you must have known who the murderers were?" - I cut in.
"I will not talk
about the dead people. They have already been harmed enough."
After returning home, Jan
found a letter from his family with the following comment about bringing me with
him to Radzilow: "A devil must have possessed you, Janek." Next time,
we only paid a visit to his friends. At his family's house, the situation was
strained, and at his friends it was nice, a cordial atmosphere. They insisted
that we stay over-night, and they began to make beds for us. But then at this
moment the master of this house began to relate: "I met your cousin in the
market. He told me that you've come over to him with a Jewish woman. I just
shrugged my shoulders: 'It's impossible for Janek to foul his own nest!'
And I turned my back to him."
"I must get to the
truth about my father." - said Skrodzki, but he was not understood by
anyone. Only once did our interlocutor take up the subject. At the next meeting
he brought for him a blank money-order to transfer money to the Higher
Theological Institute. "Why spend money for travels across Poland? Pay
instead for a Holy Mass. They will pray for your father's soul and your
conscience will be calmed." [In the Catholic Church there is a custom to
pay money to priests for praying for someone's soul during the Holy Mass.]
Germans Didn't Do It? Oh, My God!
When they talk to a
journalist, the local people seem to be divided into two groups: those who carry
on the old hate from 60 years ago into today's world, and those who still hear
that scream in their night dreams. In Radzilow I was presented as Jan Skrodzki's
cousin who accompanied him in his search for the truth. When we didn't talk to
the people who were directly connected to the events (like the relatives of the
murderers or of the saviors of Jews), their feelings remained indifferent. Janek
told them: "The murderers were Poles." And his girlfriend from his
childhood days, who remained in the town for 70 years, kindly expressed her
astonishment: "Germans didn't do it? Oh my God!" And she changed the
This indifference usually
had a flavor, a kind one, or a hostile one, but above all it was indifference. A
topic from history, the one that most kindles the feelings of the local people,
is the time after the war. For hours they can discuss, again and again, who, and
by whose verdict, had been killed. This is their own painful history, their own,
still remembered fear. But for a great majority of the present inhabitants of
Radzilow, the history of the burning barn is just another peoples' history.
When I tried to find for
Skrodzki a descendant of the Konopka family from Radzilow, I looked for
genealogy lists of Jews in the Internet. A dozen or so of the Jewish people who
trace their roots to Radzilow all gave to me the same answer: "Jose
Gutstein knows all!" In this way I found a 40-year-old lawyer from Miami
whose grandfather had left Radzilow in the 1920's, and he founded the Radzilow
Home Pages on the Web, www.radzilow.com , just two years ago. They're very
professional in quality, easy to read and clear, with beautiful graphics. These
pages contain a priceless collection of old photographs, memoirs and letters.
I had been to Radzilow a
few times. But thanks to Gutstein, a resident of Florida, and following his
advice, I quit driving to Radzilow from Warsaw by way of Ostroleka, instead
choosing a shorter and better road by Ostrow Mazowiecka. Thanks to all the
pictures placed on his Web Pages, I then looked at Radzilow through other eyes.
Driving in to the town, I stopped paying attention to the dilapidated plasters
and lopsided pavements, and instead, began to remark on the beauty of the
simple, wooden architecture of the pre-war houses. I had to see it first in the
Internet to then appreciate it in the real world.
In one of the last
e-mails he wrote to me that he had searched the genealogical family tree of
Marianna Ramotowska, going back to the beginning of the 18th century, but he had
a problem trying to fulfill the request of Jan Skrodzki, passed on to him by me,
who wanted to thank someone of the Konopka family for the saving of his own
life. So far, Jose Gutstein wasn't able to find any descendant of this
particular Konopka family, although he already knows that all [Jewish] Konopka's
from Radzilow come from the same ancestor's branch, dating back to the 18th
century. "I tried to find out - he wrote - what could possibly be the first
name of that Konopka? You wrote that he was 'a grain merchant and miller.' I
translated this into Polish with the help of my dictionary. In my search, there
was no Konopka from Radzilow under 'ziarno' (grain), no name under 'mlynarz'
(miller) but under 'kupiec' (merchant) there was one name: Lejba Konopka.
Born in the year 1903, he had two boys, Mosze and Chaim. Perhaps that could be
the right one?"
But we couldn't
determine this. Today nobody in Radzilow remembers what was the first name of
the Jew Konopka, the grain merchant.