Two Senior Polish Ministers Deny Poles' Involvement in Massacres of Jews

Education and defense ministers say there is no proof that Poles were behind murders at Jedwabne in 1941 and Kielce in 1946.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Polish Education Minster Anna Zalewska.
Polish Education Minster Anna Zalewska.Credit: Mateusz Wlodarczyk / NurPhoto
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Two senior members of Poland’s government have denied that Poles carried out the 1946 pogrom in Kielce, in which 40 Jewish Holocaust survivors were murdered by their neighbors.

Minster of Education Anna Zalewska said in an interview on TVN television last week that the identities of the perpetrators of the massacre – on July 4,1946 – were unclear. “Let’s leave it to historians to sort out,” she said, adding, “Poles have differing opinions on this matter. We must distance ourselves from this issue and leave it to Poles. This is a complex story.”

When the TV interviewer pressed her on the matter, the minister said, “The anti-Semites did it.” When the interviewer asked if those anti-Semites were Poles, she responded, “You can’t compare anti-Semites to Poles. There was a different political and historical background then. I’m trying to demonstrate the respect I have for different opinions.”

In the same interview, Zalewska denied Poles' participation in another massacre, committed in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941. Between 300 and 1,600 Jews – the exact number is unknown – were burned alive after their Polish neighbors locked them in a barn. That incident has been haunting and rocking Polish society since it was uncovered 15 years ago in a book called “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” by Jan T. Gross, a Polish historian living in the United States.

“Jedwabne was a historic fact that involves much misunderstanding and biased views. I’m not an expert, but the facts around that dramatic situation are controversial,” said Zalewska. When asked if she agreed that Poles had killed their neighbors, she said this was one opinion, and that other researchers presented a different story to the one offered by Gross. His research was biased and untruthful, she added.

The Polish defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, has also cast doubt on the part of Poles in murdering Jews in Kielce. In an investigative report published in the leading daily Gazeta Wyborcza last week, journalist Tomasz Pitek revealed that a newspaper Macierewicz once published included anti-Semitic articles and caricatures. Some even bore his signature.

One article claimed the massacre was a “foreign plot,” with communists or the Jews themselves being responsible, and that those responsible are living in Israel.

Macierewicz has courted controversy before after claiming that there was some truth to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which tried to prove that Jews dominate the global economy. Things calmed down and he even visited Israel last April. While here, he denied those statements, claiming it was wrong and foolish to accuse him of anti-Semitism. However, the report in Wyborcza, known for its antiestablishment stance, showed that numerous stories appeared in his newspaper supporting such views, some of them accusing Jews of trying to take over Polish assets.

Polish President Andrzej Duda holds opposing views to the two ministers and openly admitted that ordinary Polish citizens participated in the Jedwabne massacre. And in 2011, his predecessor, Bronislaw Komorowski, even “begged forgiveness” for the actions of his countrymen at Jedwabne.

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