CRF Blog

The Crime and the Silence

by Bill Hayes

The New York Times Book Review reviews The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne by Anna Bikont.

On July 10, 1941, in Jedwabne, a town of roughly 3,000 inhabitants in northeastern Poland, a mob of Catholics murdered most of their Jewish neighbors. Estimates of the number of victims vary, from about 300 men, women and children to as many as 1,600. Whatever the correct figure, very few Jews survived. Using axes, clubs and knives, the mob first killed some 40 Jewish men. The remaining Jews — men, women and children, many of them infants — were herded into a wooden barn on the outskirts of the town. Then, as the jeering crowd watched, the murderers barred the doors, poured gasoline on the structure and lit the fire. Everyone inside died. Plunder of Jewish homes followed. Peasants from neighboring villages, who had begun arriving in Jedwabne at dawn on the day of the massacre, joined in the fun.

The Polish journalist Anna Bikont’s beautifully written, devastating and very important book, “The Crime and the Silence” (published in Poland in 2004, and now expertly translated by Alissa Valles), details her painstaking reconstruction of this crime, along with the attempt by families and descendants of the perpetrators, right-wing politicians, historians, journalists and Catholic clergymen to cover it up and deflect blame on the victims. [more]