- REPORT OF REV. FR. EDWARD ORLOWSKI translated by: Thaddeus Mirecki original page at: Polish American Congress Pastor ofMessage 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2013View Source
REPORT OF REV. FR. EDWARD ORLOWSKI
translated by: Thaddeus Mirecki
original page at: Polish American Congress
Pastor of the Parish of Jedwabne,
Dean of the Jedwabne Deanery
Jedwabne, June 10, 2001
After completing the seminary, for 14 years I was an associate pastor in various parishes, including 3 years in Lipsk on the Biebrza River, where I served together with Fr. Jozef Keblinski, who throughout the entire period of Soviet and German occupation fulfilled pastoral duties in Jedwabne.
Every day at dinner, at supper, Fr. Jozef Keblinski would tell me about what happened in Jedwabne; among other things, he spoke about the burning of the Jews. From his reports, which he repeated many times, I know the exact sequence of those events.
From July 1 1998 I became the Dean and Pastor of the Parish in Jedwabne. (…)
Why do I feel entitled to speak out in the matter of the murder of Jews in Jedwabne? Because I had very detailed information about the events of this murder of the Jews from Fr. Jozef Keblinski, who told me about it many times. Thanks to that, I consider myself an indirect witness.
The roots of the matter go back to 1939, when the Germans came to Jedwabne, but on the basis of the Ribbentrop – Molotov Pact they yielded the place to the Soviets. When the Soviets arrived, the Jews greeted them with flowers, they took over positions in the city government, they formed from the Jewish youth a Soviet militia and they began cooperating with the NKVD. The cooperation consisted giving the NKVD detailed information, and because in October of 1939 a resistance movement had been formed, there was a facility for training in guerilla warfare for three counties: Lomza, Bialystok and Augustow. At this facility there gathered a group of people from military schools in Warsaw and its environs. They lived and conducted activities in Jedwabne, but the Jews were spying on them, so they relocated to the neighboring village of Kubrzany, but there also they were spied upon. Then they relocated across the Biebrza River, to a swampy region, to the forest of Kobielno, where there was a forester’s station that they made their base. But there too they were spied out, due in large part to the participation of Jews from Jedwabne.
On Pentecost in 1941, the NKVD came with units of the Red Army, and a battle was fought there in which some partisans were killed, but many more soldiers of the NKVD.
After this event, there began the most cruel deportations. The Jews prepared lists of patriots, of the most valuable people, the educated, who were to be deported as quickly as possible. The Jews participated actively in the arrests, they would lead the NKVD people to the dwellings of the deportees, and together with the NKVD, they drove them off in horse-drawn wagons to the rail station in Lomza. The wagons were escorted by Jews armed with rifles. The mothers and wives of those arrested pleaded with the Jews, their neighbors, to allow their husbands and sons to escape on the way to the station. The Jews allowed no one to escape – there is no known instance of assistance in anyone’s escape.
The most tragic was the last convoy, just before the entrance of Germans into Lomza, just before the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. There was not enough time to load all of the people on the huge train of cattle cars. The remaining ones were put into a prison, awaiting the next transport.
On June 22 1941, the Germans entered Lomza. The prisoners forced the doors, got out of the prison and returned to Jedwabne, where they met the Jews who had escorted their convoy.
The homes of the Poles had been taken over, families had been deported into the depths of Russia, the returning Poles had no place to go.
On July 10 1941, the Germans organized the liquidation of the Jews in Jedwabne. For a few days preceding this liquidation they gathered the Jews to work in the town square, for the purpose of pulling up the grass from the square; after that work they would let them return home. The second day they repeated this experiment, and it was only on the third day they decided to murder them. So it was that in the third day the Jews were burned.
Fr. Keblinski lived in the rectory which the Germans had handed back from the "Selsoviet." The Germans had their headquarters in the Old Pharmacy. The Germans returned the rectory to Fr. Keblinski. For a short time, the German chaplain lived there together with the priest. Because Fr. Keblinski knew German, by necessity he acted as interpreted between the Poles and the Germans, the Jews and the Germans. Fr. Keblinski found out from the Germans that the Jews were to be destroyed, because one of the gendarmes passed along the information that a unit of 240 German commandos had arrived in Bialystok, for the purpose of ending the Jewish problem. Fr. Keblinski tried to argue that perhaps these Jews could be saved. The Jews even wanted to collect valuables for the purpose of bribing the Germans. But the Germans declared that was impossible, they said that wherever a German soldier sets foot, no Jew has a right to live. Fr. Keblinski warned some of the prominent Jews. He could tell only those whom he considered capable of being discreet, otherwise he himself would have been shot.
On the day when not only the men, but also women and children were gathered in the town square, Fr. Keblinski went to the headquarters of the high officer who was directing the entire action and tried to reason with him: if you consider the men guilty because of their sympathy for Communism, surely the women and children are not guilty. And he heard in response: "Do you know who’s in charge here? Don’t meddle, if you don’t want to lose your head and want to stay alive." He opened the door and yelled in a loud voice: "Raus!" Fr. Keblinski left the post, he felt totally powerless.
On posts there were signs warning that anyone who hides a Jew, or allows one to escape, is subject to being shot, along with three generations of his family. He saw how the Poles were forced, herded out into the town square, for the purpose of guarding and leading the Jews to the barn. But nobody, not the Jews, not the Poles, suspected what would be the final outcome. The Jews went with their everyday articles, calmly, without suspecting what awaited them. Fr. Keblinski estimated that there could have been 150 to 200 Jews.
About the moment itself we know only that there was an explosion, then cries; I know that the Jews attempted to escape from the barn, but the barn was tightly surrounded by armed Germans. Only the Germans were armed; certainly, they did not agree to give arms even to Karolak, a German agent whom the Germans named as mayor.
The action of the final killing of the Jews was solely and exclusively the action of the Germans; Poles were forced to stand guard under threat of loss of life. From the testimony of a Jew in a legal case before a regional court in Lomza, it is unequivocally apparent that the Jews were burned in the barn by Germans. At least three Poles were pushed into the barn and burned there, they were pushed by the Germans and burned there along with the Jews.
The Jews carried with them their everyday articles, they had spoons, forks, the butcher had a knife. The Jews did not know that they were going to their deaths. That knife was intended for ritual ceremonies.
Rev. Edward Orlowski
Translation: Thaddeus Mirecki
Ks. Edward Orłowski, Polish American Congress, 2001-06-10