Jedwabne is a small town in the countryside of north-eastern Poland. In 1939 its population was over 2,000, half of them Jews.
On the morning of July 10 1941, a unit of probably up to a dozen armed German police arrived and went to the local authority offices to liaise with the mayor. Then many of Jedwabne's Jewish population - men, women and children - were rounded up and herded into the market place. Evidence suggests that the rounding-up was mainly done by local Polish men under the orders of the Germans, who distributed wooden clubs for the purpose. The men were also ordered to guard the Jews and prevent any of them from escaping.
The Jews were kept all day in the hot sun, humiliated and abused. Like Jews in a neighbouring town a few days before, they were ordered to kneel and weed the paving stones. They were also ordered to dismantle a statue of Lenin which had been put up in the square during the recent Soviet occupation of eastern Poland. During that occupation, many Poles had been deported to Siberia by the Soviets. Now, in 1941, both Jews and Poles might well wonder whether the Germans, the new occupiers of Poland, were going to deport them too.
Towards the evening the Jews were brutally driven through the town to a local farmer's barn (close to the Jewish cemetery), where they were shut in. Evidence also suggests that some were murdered on the way. The barn was then doused with inflammable fuel and set alight.
In 1949, under Poland's new communist government, a trial was held of almost two dozen men, all Roman Catholics living in Jedwabne, charged with 'collaborating with German authorities in capturing 1,200 individuals of Jewish nationality who were then mass burned by the Germans in Bronislaw Sleszynski's barn'. It was noticeable in the trial reports that many of the men (mostly in their 30s and 40s; the youngest was 19, the oldest 52) changed their testimony from earlier statements made to interrogators. Before the public prosecutor their admissions were more limited. Some said that they had been beaten while being questioned, and had therefore said things which were not true.
Twelve of the men were given prison sentences from 8 to 15 years. (In 1950 an Appeal Court acquitted two of them. The rest were released in an amnesty after Stalin's death in 1953.) Another, tried separately, was sentenced to death: he had procured the fuel used in the burning. He was a man of German birth working for the local police, and was regarded by the court as not having been forced by the Gestapo to do what he did. His sentence was later reduced to 15 years in prison, though he may not have served the full term.