The Testimony of Szmul Wasersztein, one of the seven Jewish survivors, about the murder of the Jews in Jedwabne, 5 April 1945
1,600 Jews lived in Jedwabne when the war broke out. Only seven survived. They hid at the home of a Polish woman, Wyrzykowska, who lived near the town.
On Monday evening, 23 June 1941 the Germans entered the town. As early as 25 June local hoodlums from among the Polish population started anti-Jewish riots. Two of the thugs, the brothers Wacek and Mietek Borowiuk, together with others, entered Jewish homes. They played the accordion and clarinet to drown the screams of the Jewish women and their children.
I saw with my own eyes how they killed Chajca Wasersztein, 53 years old; Jakub Kac; and Eliasz Krawiecki. Kac was stoned with bricks, Krawiecki was knifed – they ripped out his eyes and cut his tongue – and he suffered inhuman agony for 12 hours until he died. The same day I saw a terrible sight. When Chaja Kubrzanska, 28 years old, and Basia Binsztein, 26 years old, both with babies on their arms, saw what was happening, they went to the pond in order to drown themselves and their children, rather than fall into the murderers hands. They threw the children into the water and drowned them with their own hands. Binsztein jumped in and immediately sunk to the bottom, while Kubrzanska still struggled for several hours. The thugs that gathered around the pond behaved as if it were a spectacle. They told her to lie with her face in the water to make her drown faster. When she saw that the children were dead, she threw herself into the water and died.
The following day the priest intervened and asked to stop the pogrom. He explained that the German authorities would do the necessary themselves. This argument worked and the riots stopped.
From that day on the population stopped selling food to the Jews, and the Jewish situation deteriorated. Meanwhile a rumor spread that the Germans would soon order the killing of all Jews. The order was given by the Germans on 10 July 1941 and the following day the Polish bandits initiated the most cruel pogroms, using terrible torture, and burned the Jews in a barn….
On 10 July 1941 five Gestapo men arrived in town and held talks with the local authorities. When the Gestapo man asked what should be done with the Jews, the answer was unanimous – all Jews have to be killed. When the Germans suggested to let one Jewish family of each profession live, the local carpenter, Sleszinski answered that they had enough craftsmen of their own, and that all Jews had to be killed. Karolek and all the others agreed. They decided to gather all Jews in one place and burn them.
Sleszinski contributed his barn, not far from town, for this purpose. When the meeting ended, the massacre began. Local bandits, armed with axes and special sticks with spikes at their end and other instruments of torture, drove the Jews out of their homes into the streets. As first victims for their brutal torture they chose 75 young and healthy Jewish men and ordered them to carry the big sculpture of Lenin that the Russians had placed in the town center.
It was an impossible task, and the Jews carried the statue while being incessantly clobbered. They were forced to sing as they carried the sculpture to the designated place. There they were ordered to dig a hole in the ground, throw the statue into it, and when they finished they were beaten to death and thrown into the same hole. The second cruel deed was: the murderers forced each person to dig a hole and to bury those who had been killed before him; then they too were killed and buried by those after them.
It is difficult to describe all the cruelties these thugs perpetrated and it is difficult to find parallels in our history of suffering. They burned beards of the old men, murdered babies nursed by their mothers, tortured, beat, forced to dance, to sing, etc.
Finally they arranged a last act – burning. The entire town was surrounded with guards so that no one could escape. Then they stood the Jews up in four lines. The town's rabbi, over 90 years old, and the kosher butcher were put at the head, with a flag in their hands. Then they were all chased into the barn. The thugs beat them brutally. At the entrance were several bandits who were playing music and tried to drown the poor people's screams. They were bleeding as they were pushed into the barn, and then they were doused with kerosene and fire was set to the barn.
Then the robbers went to the Jewish homes looking for sick people and children. The sick were brought to the barn, they tied the children feet, put them on pitch forks and threw them into the smoldering coals.
After the fire they removed the gold teeth from the corpses and defiled them in different forms.