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Extracts (translated) from witness statements, 1945

A Jewish survivor provided two written statements in 1945, telling his story of the massacre. It was this testimony that prompted the arrests and trial in 1949.

'Gestapo men came to town and had a meeting with representatives of the town authorities. When the Gestapo asked what their plans were with respect to the Jews, they said that all Jews must be killed. A local farmer offered his own barn which stood nearby. After this meeting the bloodbath began. Local hooligans armed themselves with axes, clubs studded with nails and other instruments of torture, and chased the Jews into the street. They selected 75 of the youngest and healthiest, and ordered them to pick up a huge monument of Lenin that the Russians had put up in the centre of town. It was impossibly heavy, but under a rain of terrible blows the Jews had to do it. While carrying it, they also had to sing. They were ordered to dig a hole and throw the monument in. Then they were butchered to death and thrown into the same hole. The rest of the Jews were ordered to line up in fours, with the rabbi and the Kosher butcher at the head, and were chased into the barn, beaten up along the way. Bloodied and wounded, they were pushed into the barn. Then the barn was doused with kerosene and lit, and the ruffians went round to Jewish homes to look for any sick people or children who had been missed out. After the fire they used axes to knock gold teeth from the bodies.'

This witness wrote in his statement that Germans had first entered Jedwabne on June 23 (part of the occupation of Poland as the German army advanced eastwards to invade the Soviet Union). He also said that local Polish thugs had begun anti-Jewish action straight away. 'I saw with my own eyes how these murderers killed a woman and two men, one of them 73 years old. Another they stoned to death with bricks. Another they knifed, plucked out his eyes and cut off his tongue. He suffered terribly for 12 hours before he gave up his soul.'

This same witness also described a tragic suicide on the same June day. Two women in their 20s, 'both holding new-born babies, saw what was going on. They ran to the pond in order to drown themselves with their children rather than fall into the hands of the thugs. They put the children in the water and drowned them with their own hands. One then sank to the bottom, but the other suffered for 2 hours. Assembled hooligans made a spectacle of this: they told her to lie face down in the water, so she would drown faster. Seeing that the children were already dead, she flung herself more energetically into the water and found her death too.'

Someone else saw this dreadful scene. She wrote that the two women were sisters, whose husbands had worked for the Soviets. Their men, fearing reprisals, had left them and joined the retreating Soviet army. Terrible treatment by the incoming Germans drove the two women to end their lives. Each took the other's child and leapt into the water. 'Non-Jews standing by rescued them, but they again jumped into the water and drowned.'

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