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Rzeczpospolita - Article About Jedwabne and Radzilow
By: Andrzej Kaczynski
Copyright Permission Granted By Rzeczpospolita

COMMENTARY

Eyewitnesses talk about Jewish extermination in Jedwabne and Radzilow.

Thou Shall Not Kill

By: Andrzej Kaczynski

Photo: Rafal Guz

First meeting of Righteous People:
Leon Dziedzic from Przytuly (left) and Stanislaw Ramotowski from Dziewiecin.

       

We can very precisely determine, unknown until now, the place of burial of at least few hundred Jews, men, women and children, buried alive in Jedwabne, outside of Lomza on July 10, 1941.

After two months of searching we found an eyewitness, 74-year-old Leon Dziedzic, from the village of Przytuly, outside of Jedwabne, who at that time was a 15-year-old boy. By order of the Nazi government, he took part in a burial of victims, who were murdered by a group of local Poles on the order, inspiration or permission of the Germans. First we also found the Polish witnesses, who confirmed information about Jews who survived a similar tragedy several kilometers from Jedwabne, where almost every resident of the town and neighboring villages were killed by Poles. Also, we talked to the only rescued Jew living presently in Radzilow and her rescuer, 85-year-old Marianna and Stanislaw Ramotowski.

Today, on the 59th anniversary of the Jews exterminated in Jedwabne, members of the city government laid flowers and lit candles in the place, where the Holocaust victims were buried.


They Told Us To Bring A Spade

"Germans needed people for different work projects every day," says Leon Dziedzic. "Rotation was established by the head of a hamlet. A courier was sent from the town with information on how many people and with what equipment was to be there. That day, when my neighbor's and my turn came, we were told to bring spades. It must have been on the 12th of July, two days after the Jewish tragedy. I knew what happened on July 10 in Jedwabne, even though my mother forbade us to leave the house that day. There were eight of us, we did not have a father then, he passed away a year before the war. We heard agonizing screams, transforming into a quiet lament, and we saw black smoke above the Jewish cemetery, in a straight line from us it was not more then 3 kilometers."

Photo: Rafal Guz

"Here Are Buried These Poor."
 Based on Leon Dziedzic's directions
it will be possible to mark out
the collective tomb of Jews murdered
in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941.

       

"They gathered at least twenty men and ran us in the direction of the Jewish cemetery. Three policemen guarded the ruins left by the fire. It not was until later that we understood why. Before we came there must have been another team as piles of corpses were covered by thin layers of sand. Smoldering ruins of a barn were beyond description. The fire must have burned from west to east, because the left bay (chest) was almost empty with single corpses. In the middle, on the earth floor, there were more of them. But in the right bay, many layers of bodies. These from the top were carbonized, the lower ones slightly burned, then only grimy. On the corpses laid at the bottom even the clothes were not touched. These died not of fire, but by suffocation or squeezed to death."

"We dug a ditch from the northern part, at the back, not from the Jewish cemetery, because by the barn there was a road. The ditch was 5, 6 meters long, 3 meters wide, 2 meters deep, right by the foundation. The wall by the ditch was pushed down, but three other parts remained, one can feel it, it must be not deeper than at spade length and in this way we can form the outline of a barn. That is where the poor people are buried."

"Separating bodies was not possible, they were so tangled. But people tried to search corpses, to find valuables hidden in the clothing. I banged a shoe polish box named 'Brolin.' It jingled. I cut it with a spade and some coins shone, probably gold Czar 5 ruble ones. People ran to collect them. This caught the attention of the policemen. They searched everybody. They took the discoveries from these who hid them in pockets and gave them a bite. Those who tucked their discoveries into their shoes saved them."

"Corpses were of those Jews; who not only died the same day July 10, but earlier. Those that were not burned in a barn, but were murdered in a town, killed at the Jewish cemetery after the statue of Lenin was brought, or caught while trying to escape and killed in a field or in a forest; those were not on the surface then, but in freshly moved soil at the other side of a road, at the Jewish cemetery. The Jewish cemetery was at that time surrounded by a fence with a gate, decorated with tablets of the Decaloque. People would say that Jews were forced to dig a grave for themselves. Others were told to carry a statue of Lenin, or some other group. People would also say that the police commander had a fight with those Poles, who were leaders during the pogrom: 'You said you would establish order with the Jews, but you can not take care of it yourself.' He meant that they did not bury the remains of the burned people, and he was afraid of some sort of plague, for it was hot and dogs were already getting to them."

Photo: Rafal Guz

Survivor and rescuer:
Marianna (Rachela Finkielsztejn)
and Stanislaw Ramotowski
from Dziewiecin, outside of Radzilow.

       


Guard Of Unknown Graves

"Fate made me bury those killed people, for this wasn't the only time. But the one with Jews was the most difficult to survive. I got sick. I vomited a few times and until now I can not free myself of this nightmare," says Leon Dziedzic. He leads us to a forest between Jedwabne and the village of Przytuly. "Gendarmes used to bring people here to be shot," he said.

On one forest grave a statue for "Twenty Political Workers" was placed, which tells more about the epoch when this sign was prepared than about the dead. "Here are buried Poles, Jews and Russians, but nobody knows about their political activity," explains Dziedzic. "Further, there is a tomb of two killed married couples, erected by families. First they put up a cross, then asked if they could erect a gravestone. This is my property, my patrimony. 'Sure,' I said, 'but give me this cross instead, so I can put it in the place where there are fifteen killed.' My horse was eating the grass. I looked and there was a fresh ditch, covered with pine branches. I went home. There was no sleeping in the house that night, the police were preparing for an execution. We heard shooting in the forest. A truck went back and forth three times, five executioners and five policemen, everybody shot one." About another German tomb from 1945 only Leon Dziedzic and his son remember now. "The Russians were coming and the Nazis backed out, leaving only a few soldiers to cover them. One with a rifle, died on the spot. Two others were wounded. The Soviets killed them. They took their own soldiers, and left the Germans. They were lying just like that from the end of January until April. Parts of their clothing went missing little by little, until finally they were left only in underwear. I was not there because I was taken to an army camp to dig out antitank trenches. Everybody was killed," says Dziedzic. "Upon my return we buried the three Germans. Snow was melting then. Here lies the one with a rifle, and two other ones." Leon Dziedzic shows us an almost invisible hollow. "In memorial we cut crosses on pines in the four corners of the grave."

There are many more tombs like that one in the woods outside of Jedwabne. The history of one of them shows how complicated wartime was for the local people. Some time passed from the entry of Germans, when a group of "forest people" decided to settle matters with those, whom they recognized as communist backers. Who they represented remains unknown. They issued "sentences" for a few people, including a farmer from Przytuly, where in Soviet times there was a storehouse. He, his son and somebody else were taken at night. They went into the forest. The storehouse owner's son ran away and hid in a tree. They were looking for him, blindly shooting, but they did not get him. He realized that now it would be even worse. He got to Lomza, and went directly to the Gestapo. He reported who came to get them and what weapons they had; he knew them, they were neighbors. Police arrived, surrounded the houses and made a house search. Guilt was confirmed except for one man, who they beat up, but he did not confess anything. He was sent to a stonepit, the rest were shot in a forest.

Photo: Rafal Guz

Monument where Jews from Radzilow
were burned by Polish neighbors
on July 7, 1941 does not say a word
about the persons responsible
or the date of the crime.

       


Save Me!

"Some time passed from the burning of the Jews. I went to our barn in the evening to take some grass for my horse. I heard a rustle. I looked into a bay and somebody was there. He caught me by my legs: 'Save my life, I will go. I escaped police.' It was Szmul Wasersztajn, my peer and good friend from the same school class. We were friends. My whole family knew him very well, because at the time of the Russian occupation he would trade meat. He used to buy a cow or a lamb, even a pig, but asked us not to denounce him before the Germans. He kept them at our place, but when an order came in he killed them. I told him, 'Be quiet, lie down and I will go to tell my mother.' I brought him home at night. Szmul said there is a hiding place being prepared for him and asked us to notify Wyrzykowski's family from the village of Janczewo, at the other side of Jedwabne. Soon after, Antonina Wyrzykowska arrived with seven Jews, who hid in her place till the end of the war, I won't tell any more about her. She sort of came to the shoe repair, because my brother used to fix shoes. We settled matters. Szmul spent two weeks with us. Later my sister and brother took him to Janczewko."

I told Leon Dziedzic, that Szmul Wasersztajn's story about the Jewish extermination in Jedwabne, as told to the Jewish Historic Commission in Bialystok immediately after war is the basic historic source. In 1949 it was the basis to begin legal proceedings against the mentioned instigators of the crimes and was recently, after years of silence, published. This is a reason why I began my research. Inspired by Wasersztajn's story, professor Jan Tomasz Gross wrote a book, but Szmul Wasersztajn did not live to this point, he died in February of this year. Leon Dziedzic knew about his friend's death and about his story but he did not know about the book by Gross. I gave him a copy, he was touched. He found pictures of Wasersztajn in there.

"Szmul came to us, when he arrived from Costa Rica to visit Poland. We did not meet. I was at my son's home in the US. My mom was dead by that time. He asked me to show him a picture of her. He kissed it and cried. He said that his mother gave him life first, and my mother gave it to him a second time," Dziedzic told me.

Based on the guidance of Leon Dziedzic it will be possible to mark common graves of Jews murdered in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941.


Radzilow

The story of Menachem Finkielsztejn tells about the Jewish extermination in Radzilow, but documents kept in the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw did not survive in one piece. There are pages telling about the pogrom preparations and its beginning phase, but the page about the extermination itself vanished [emphasis added]. On the outskirts of town, by the street to Wizna, there is a little monument with the inscription, "In August of 1941 fascists murdered 800 of Jewish descent, 500 of them were burned alive in a barn."

The number of killed, similar to Jedwabne, is difficult to verify; so many Jews were killed in this place, but how many, and under which circumstances, is unknown. The date is false. The extinction of the Jewish community in Radzilow happened on July 7, 1941. We can assume that it was altered by about a month, because in August 1941 in the Bialystok district, there were no examples of Poles participating in Jewish murdering, which took place in a few places in the last week of June and in July. Pogroms took place successively in towns, along one line from northeast towards southwest: Szczuczyn, Wasosz, Radzilow and Jedwabne. The Inscription does not tell the truth about the crime perpetrators.

"I did not see any outside Germans coming to Radzilow on this or on any previous day. Gendarmes stood on a balcony and watched. Ours did it," revealed an eyewitness of the incident of July 7, 1941, who asked to remain anonymous. "Yes, on a previous day, on Sunday, July 6 on country wagons many people from Wasosz arrived in Radzilow, where a pogrom took place a day before."

The scenario was similar to Jedwabne. In the morning all the Jews were gathered on the market square. They were ordered to "weed" the pavement. They were insulted, beaten and humiliated. At the same time, Jewish homes were robbed. Escaping and hiding Jews were looked for. After a few hours a parade was formed, which was marched to the barn and they were burned alive. "About 60 families were murdered that day. Numerous generations of families. If we assume that, including grandparents, parents and children, such families could have seven or eight people, information on a monument giving the number of 500 burned may be close to the truth," said my informer. He mentioned also, that it was said that supposedly Germans settled matters with murderers from Szczuczyn. "The same that you did to the Jews you may want to do to us," they might have said and killed a few people. He said as well that after the war some people from Radzilow were called to Bialystok for interrogation. He himself was called on. He said that Poles did the pogrom. The interrogators disagreed. "Why have you called me, if you know better?" asked my witness. Then they allowed him to tell his version, and advised him to keep it to himself. The process took place in Elk. "I did not tell the truth before the court," he confessed.


I Led Them Astray

Stanislaw Ramotowski from Kramarzewo-Dziewiecin, hamlet of Radzilow, confirmed that he learned about a pogrom about to happen the day before. "Jozef (if I remember the name) Malinowski from Czerwonki came with the warning that the next day people from Wasosz will 'take care' of Jews. I ran to warn a befriended family named Finkielsztejn who were millers from Dziewiecin. They did not want to believe, but I led out and hid the mother, son, two daughters and two children of one of the daughters in my field. Five people. I was able to keep them in hiding till 1943 but someone denounced them to the Germans. They were taken to a ghetto in Radzilow. Actually they gathered the remains of the Jews in the remaining synagogue. Rachela and I were absent at that time. But they came for Rachela next day. At night I happened to steal her away. Gendarme Godlewski helped me (we were in the A.K. [Armia Krajowa, or Home Army] together; conscription had moved him to the military police). We could not save the whole family. They were taken to Grajewo, and then to Prostki, which was the last stop before Treblinka. From that time on I had to hide. I was able to walk only at night. Till the end of war we lived in underground hideouts."

Rachela Finkielsztejn is called now Marianna Ramotowska. "We wanted to get married during the war, but the priest would not agree to make a false birth certificate," says Stanislaw. In 1991 he was granted a certificate and medal "Righteous Among The Nations" from Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.


       

Copyright 2000 Rzeczpospolita
Original article, Rzeczpospolita, no. 159, July 10, 2000: "Nie zabijaj"
[Thou Shall Not Kill]
Other articles written about Jedwabne by Andrzej Kaczynski:
Rzeczpospolita, no. 104, May 5, 2000: "Calopalenie"
[Holocaust]   Translation in English Available
Rzeczpospolita, no. 116, May 19, 2000: "Oczyszczanie pamieci"
[Cleaning the Memory]

Translated from Polish by: Charles Finkelstein.
Edited by: Roy Warshawsky and Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.
Permission granted by both Rzeczpospolita and Andrzej Kaczynski.

Editor's Note: As a result of this Rzeczpospolita article, an amazing reunion occurred with Rachel Finkielsztejn (mentioned above) and her American cousins. Full story

Return to Holocaust Section; Return to Reunion With a Holocaust Survivor Still Living in Radzilow