A man cleaning the defaced Monument at Jedwabne, Poland.
Vandals Deface Jewish Monument Dedicated To Polish Jews
Murdered in the Jedwabne Massacre of July 1941 Pogrom
WARSAW, September 1, 2011 [From Reuters and Associated Press] -- Vandals desecrated a monument marking the spot in Poland where hundreds of Jews were burned alive during World War II, scrawling "they were flammable'' and a swastika on the memorial.
The government, Poland's Jewish community, and Holocaust survivors yesterday strongly condemned the attack on the site, which marks one of the most notorious cases in which local people collaborated with Nazis in killing Jews during the German wartime occupation.
The monument in the town of Jedwabne honors the victims of July 10, 1941, when about 40 Poles hunted down the town's Jews, shut them up in a barn, and set it on fire, killing 300 to 400 people.
Vandals also smeared a wall surrounding the memorial with signs saying "I'm not sorry for Jedwabne" and "They were highly flammable". They obscured the Hebrew and Polish signs on the memorial itself with paint.
Police discovered the desecration on August 31 (2011) during a patrol and are trying to find the culprits. Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister, expressed solidarity with anyone affected by the act and said he was convinced the perpetrators would be tracked down soon and face justice.
The head of Poland's Jewish community, Piotr Kadlcik, called on authorities to crack down harder on anti-Semitic incidents, saying the desecration at Jedwabne comes after authorities have treated such cases with leniency for years.
The massacre came to light only a decade ago with the 2000 book "Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,'' by sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, which sparked controversy and soul-searching in Poland.
The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said the attack, which came on the eve of the anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland on Sept 1, 1939, was aimed not only against the Jewish community but the reputation of Poland.
"In erecting the Jedwabne memorial Poland demonstrated its determination to confront its anti-Semitic past; by its swift reaction to these vandals it will demonstrate its commitment to fight hate in the present," Elan Steinberg, the group's vice-president, said in a statement.
A 2001 Polish investigation concluded that the Jedwabne pogrom was inspired by Poland's then-Nazi occupiers and the case remains a traumatic memory for Jews and many Poles today.
Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish population of some 2.5 million until World War Two, when most of its Jewish citizens perished in the Nazi-sponsored Holocaust.
The few who survived the war faced periodic oppression by the communist regime installed in Poland after 1945.
Poland is a largely homogenous Roman Catholic country but religious and ethnic minorities are more common in eastern regions near the borders with Belarus andUkraine.
(Partial reporting by Boston Globe and writing by Gabriela Baczynska and Gareth Jones; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)