Home Shtetl Life Holocaust Landsmanshaftn History Photos Videos
Maps Trips Surnames Researchers Links Guest Book Contact

Gazeta Wyborcza - Feature Article About Radzilow

Written by: Anna Bikont; Originally Published: June 15, 2001 Online; June 16/17, 2001 In Print *
Copyright Permission Granted By Gazeta Wyborcza

They Had Vodka, Weapons and Hate
-- Before Jedwabne, The Murder of Jews in Radzilow
By: Anna Bikont

Plan was prepared by Jan Skrodzki
R = Market Square
K = Church
S = Synagogue
ST = Barn, in which Jews were burned
ML = Dairy, near which Jews were killed and thrown into ditches
D = 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.
       

"One should 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.

"But their 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 wept."


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 [1941], 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 Radzilow.

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 Merchant

"I'm also 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 Bakery."

"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 hide."

"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

"During family 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 property!"

"Your father 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 instruction."

She tells us about plays and jokes of that time.

"The Rabbi's 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 them."

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 1935.

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

"Jews weren't 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:

"Some communists 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 Jews."

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 Soviets.

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 remember."


Jews are Scared and Lament; Germans and Poles Rejoice

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] tanks.

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 them."

From the testimony of Menachem Finkielsztejn:

"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 helped them.

"Mieczyslaw Strzelecki took from Szlapak all the jewelry at first, and after that he shot him in his own bed." - tells Hanna Z.

Antoni Olszewski, 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 neighbors):

"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 there."

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 whole action."

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."

"Jozek Klimaszewski 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 Germans?

"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 have happened?

"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 him.

"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 wept."

Boleslaw C.: "Nobody mentioned anything about this in church. As it had happened and that was all."

"A priest, 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 garment."


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 documents.

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 man").

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 cousin.

"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 part]."

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."

Kosmaczewski's 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."

"Leon Kosmaczewski 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 the time."

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]?"

"This never 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 adds, weeping.

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 saved her.

- 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 survive."

Stanislaw Ramotowski: "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."

"My father-in-law 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 scared."

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]."

Stanislaw Ramotowski 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 danger?"


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.

"They were afraid."

"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 population.

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."

"What an 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.'"

Stanislaw Ramotowski 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 the matsevas?

"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 well!"

"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 bye!"

"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 smooth.

"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 them]."

"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 subject.

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.


Footnotes:

1) From the Author: Some initials of the names have been changed. We thank Mr. Jose Gutstein for rendering the pictures accessible for this publication.

2) From the Editorial Office: Read about the crime in Jedwabne [and Radzilow] on the Web, in the Portal of "Gazeta Wyborcza" - check: www.gazeta.pl/jedwabne [URL no longer functioning, but part of original article]


Copyright 2001 Gazeta Wyborcza
Original article, Gazeta Wyborcza, June 15, 2001: "Mieli, bron i nienawisc"
[They Had Vodka, Weapons and Hate]
Other articles written about Radzilow/Jedwabne by Anna Bikont:
Gazeta Wyborcza, April 6, 2001: "Mowia swiadkowie zbrodni w Radzilowie"
[Witnesses of the Crime in Radzilow are Talking]
Gazeta Wyborcza, June 14, 2001: "W Jedwabnem nie dawalo sie zyc"
[One Couldn't Live in Jedwabne: An Interview with Janusz Leszek Dziedzic, whose family sheltered Szmul Wasersztajn for some time]
Gazeta Wyborcza, March 23, 2001: "My z Jedwabnego"
[We from Jedwabne]

Translated from Polish by: David M. Dastych. In [brackets] there are included explanations of some Polish official names or historical events. Polish family and geographical names are written without the specific Polish language letters and diacritical marks.

* The translation adheres to the printed version of the article, which appeared in the June 16/17, 2001 Weekend Edition of Gazeta Wyborcza. There is only a very slight difference between the two versions. The printed version has the title "They Had Vodka, Weapons and Hate." The online version originally did too, but it was subsequently changed to "Before Jedwabne, The Murders in Radzilow." The printed version includes both footnotes stated above. The online version includes one footnote, stating: "Some initials have been changed."

Edited by: David M. Dastych and Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.
Permission granted by both Gazeta Wyborcza and Anna Bikont.

Return to Holocaust Section