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
- 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
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
Boczków 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
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
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.