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Gazeta Wyborcza - IPN Investigation in Bzury

Written by: Agnieszka Domanowska; Originally Published: March 6, 2012 Online *
Copyright Permission Granted By Gazeta Wyborcza

Murder of Jewish Women in Bzury. Polish IPN Opens An Investigation 71 Years Later
By: Agnieszka Domanowska

They were 15 to 30 years old. Jewish women from the ghetto in Szczuczyn. In August 1941 the locals "borrowed" them for gardening work. And then brutally murdered them. The Bialystok IPN is launching an investigation 71 years after the events.

 

Bzury is 2.4 miles ENE of Szczuczyn

       

Little is known about this case, although there are court records from the post-war period. It is possible that witnesses of the crimes are still alive, perhaps they talked about it to their families, who may still remember.

- The most important thing for us is to identify all the perpetrators of those events. And to check who has already been tried for that crime and who hasn't. In fact, some were brought to justice, others were not - says the prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew from the Bialystok branch of the IPN .

It was Ignatiew who led the the long investigation into the Jedwabne massacre, until its conclusion in 2003. The investigation confirmed that Polish citizens of Jewish nationality had been murdered in the small town and that Poles had perpetrated the murders.

According to the prosecutor Ignatiew, the Bzury crime is similar to the one perpetrated in Jedwabne, but on a smaller scale.

- Here we are dealing with 20 women, in Jedwabne there were many more victims. To this day no one has claimed these young women, they remain nameless. But, considering that during the Jedwabne case we managed to identify the names of more than 300 victims, it is possible that it will happen in this case too, says Ignatiew.

The murdered women came from the Szczuczyn ghetto (in the Podlasie province, about 60 km from Lomza). Property owners in Bzury borrowed them for work in gardens and fields - it was common practice at the time. Jews provided free labor.

Women from the Szczuczyn ghetto had to cultivate vegetables on the estate. But they never made it back to the ghetto.

What happened? Barbara Engelking, who has been researching the history of the Polish ghettos for years, went through court records of the case and found several witness depositions, made in 1948.

- The file mentions at least six men who killed the women. Only one of them - Stanislaw Zalewski - had to face a court. He was first sentenced to prison, then to death, and, finally, to a prison sentence again. The man died in 1957 - according to Engelking.

This murder was especially cruel. - The women were beaten with clubs reinforced with metal, some of them were, no doubt, raped. The clubs had been prepared earlier in a forge. The murder took place next to a pit, dug earlier by the perpetrators. At the end, the victims' bodies were covered with earth - according to Ignatiew's description.

The prosecutor says that, according to the documents, the crime had been planned in advance.

- Of course, they intended to kill them. That's why they did not take the women back to the ghetto, that's why they dug a pit in the forest in advance, that's why they went to the forge and reinforced wooden clubs with metal, so that they could hit them harder. They beat them all over their bodies, so that wasn't by chance - says Ignatiew. - We don't know if they wanted to rob them, or whether it was just lewd acts. However, one can suppose that they certainly would not have done this to women of Polish nationality. In the case of the Jewish women they went unpunished, at that time Jews were murdered for racial reasons. There is no doubt that the torturers were Poles.

This is confirmed by the testimony of Stanislaw Zalewski obtained during the 1950 investigation. The testimony is one of the many made during the August trials, which followed the PKWN decree of August 1944.

"We rode there on bikes. Earlier, we had been at the estate forge and reinforced the wooden clubs with iron, so that they would be better suited to killing. An hour later, two horse-drawn wagons came from the Bzury estate, Krygiel rode one wagon and Henryk Modzelewski the other. When the wagons arrived at the house, we chased the Jewesses from the basement and ordered them to get on the wagons. We took them to the Boczkw forest, where we had dug a pit. There we ordered all the Jewesses to undress, down to their shirts and underpants. We took them one by one to the pit and we killed them there with the clubs. Tkacz killed four Jewesses. Before they had killed five of them, they raped one Jewess. After the rape, I took the wooden club from Tkacz and personally killed a Jewess, by hitting her three times over the head, until she fell in the pit. I received one dress and shoes that belonged to the murdered Jewess. Three days later German military police came to see the mayor and, following their orders, I showed them the place where we had committed the murders. After I told them, I was hit with a rubber truncheon by the German military policeman, asking me why we didn't bring them back to the ghetto. Then they ordered me to put more earth on the pit... We were all members of the ND [Translator note: National Democracy, Polish right-wing nationalistic movement].

Is the testimony credible? Maybe it was made under duress? Engelking says: "I cannot judge that. Zalewski did not accept any of the accusations during most of the trial, but the testimony of other witnesses caused him to accept the charges, in the end."

Ignatiew believes that the German military police visit, described in Zalewski's testimony, led the people from the area to believe and spread the word that the Jewish women had been killed by the Germans .

Prof. Andrzej Zbikowski, a University of Warsaw historian, described the Bzury murder in the IPN publication "Around Jedwabne" believes that "The prosecutor will find it hard to find additional sources than the ones he already has, because the German wartime documents no longer exist."

A Conversation with IPN Prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew, about Radzilow

       

The Bialystok IPN is also conducting other enquiries into Jewish pogroms perpetrated by Poles. The investigation into the Radzilow murders has received widespread coverage. On July 7, 1941 in the morning, Germans came to the town and, allegedly, ordered the representatives to purge it from Jews.

A group consisting of at least a dozen Radzilow inhabitants gathered Jews in the market place, then herded them into an empty barn. They doused the barn with petrol and set it on fire. People attempting to flee were shot with firearms or thrown back into the barn. It hasn't been possible to ascertain the number of victims, but the estimate ranges from 100 to 1000 people murdered.

There is also an inquiry into the Jewish pogrom in Wasosz in July 1941. According to witnesses, as in Jedwabne and Radzilow, locals, inspired by the Germans, were the perpetrators of the murders. On the night of July 5 more than a hundred Jews were killed. In all likelihood, the victims of this murder will be exhumed.

 

 

Copyright 2012 Gazeta Wyborcza


Translated from Polish by: Piotr Wapinski.

* The translation adheres to the online version of the article, which appeared in the March 6, 2012 Edition of Gazeta Wyborcza.

Edited by: Jose Gutstein. All rights reserved.
Permission granted by Gazeta Wyborcza.

IPN = National Remembrance Institute in Poland. It is the agency, with the support of the Polish government, that is in charge of investigating the crimes in Radzilow and Jedwabne.

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