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EDWABNE, Poland This is a small rural town in denial, although the facts are now clear.
On July 10, 1941, shortly after the Nazis occupied this poor farming town in northeast Poland, hundreds of Jews from Jedwabne and surrounding hamlets were assembled in the town square, where some were brutally killed, while others were beaten and finally forced to run down Cemetery Road to Bronislaw Sleszynski's thatch-roofed barn.
Kerosene was then poured on the barn and it was set alight, burning more than 400 people alive.
The story was nearly forgotten until 1999, when the historian Jan Gross assembled evidence that Jedwabne's pogrom was not, as local legend had it, the work of Polish townsmen acting on orders from occupying Nazi soldiers. Instead, documents and eyewitness accounts showed that Catholic Poles organized and carried out the massacre of their Jewish neighbors.
The entire nation undertook an extraordinary examination of collective conscience, and a reappraisal of the long-accepted view here that Poland, which lost six million people three million of them Jews in World War II, was a victim and not a perpetrator as well. The debate culminated in a trip to Jedwabne by Poland's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, to apologize for what Poles of one faith did to Poles of another.
Last month, however, the public prosecutor who reopened the investigation of Jedwabne in 2000, Radoslaw Ignatiew, closed the inquiry, saying that he could not find sufficient evidence to implicate anyone still alive. In trials in 1949 and 1953, more than a dozen Poles were convicted of killing Jedwabne's Jews.
The prosecutor's report says some 400 Jews died in the barn, at the hands of local Poles. Bones and charred remains were exhumed, and contemporary accounts inidcate that half the adult men in Jedwabne, as well as women and children, took part in the pogrom, some watching, some helping to round up those who tried to escape and others killing Jews with their own hands.
Despite those damning details, to most local people, the closing of the investigation seems like vindication for their firmly held view that there is little or no need to apologize for the past.
"The Jews were cooperating with the Russians," an elderly man leaving Jedwabne's church shouted at an interviewer. "You can ask what the Jews did to the Poles, but no one asks."
Poles were forced by the Nazis to kill the Jews, he said. "Siberia," he added, asserting that Jedwabne's Jews were killed for helping the Red Army deport Catholics to the East during the brief Soviet occupation of Jedwabne.
"It's the Germans who put the Jews to death and it's a lie that it was the Poles who did it," said the town's priest, Father Edward Orlowski. He claimed to have proof the real killers were a German unit commanded by a Jew turned Nazi general.
The Catholic Church's leader, Cardinal Josef Glemp, has done nothing to rein in Father Orlowski. Instead, he attended a Mass to honor the Jedwabne Jews, then asked Poland's surviving Jews to apologize for having brought Communism to Poland.
Others outside Jedwabne take a different view. Andrzej Krajewski, a Warsaw philosopher, was rebuffed when he tried to bring a group of psychologists to work with the people here to confront what he termed their naturally defensive reaction.
"Jedwabne became a symbolic place, and they became more linked to it than all other Poles, even though in fact most of the people in Jedwabne today were not there in 1941," Mr. Krajewski said. "It's safer to deny that it happened," he said, "because if you admit it was wrong you have to go the next step and say who did it."
In a newly built house about 100 yards from a monument at Mr. Slezsynski's barn, Dorota Ramotowska, a 24-year-old hairdresser, said that the massacre should be forgotten. Over tea in her comfortable living room, Ms. Ramotowska offered a jumbled explanation. The killing was wrong, she said, then added: "It was a long time ago, and it's not necessarily true."
"Besides, the Jews were also responsible for things against the Poles," she said. Her husband's late grandfather, who was tried in 1949 for complicity in the pogrom, and other aging relatives told a story quite different from what has been reported, she said.
Michal Chajewskis, Jedwabne's newly elected mayor, said bluntly that it is time to finish "this circus."
"If the Poles were so guilty of this crime, then why was the evidence not presented before?" he asked. Besides, he said, Jedwabne was only one of more than two dozen towns in the region where anti-Jewish pogroms were carried out in the summer of 1941.
"You can't keep talking about this interminably," said Krzysztof Moenke, the principal of Jedwabne's school. "Even the Institute for National Remembrance said it was at the instigation of the Germans."
Ms. Ramotowska said that when tour buses visit in summer, and she sees fingers pointed at her, she feels as if she were responsible for the pogrom. She is inclined to leave Jedwabne, a place tainted by a deed for which, she said, she is not and cannot be responsible.
"Of course the truth has to be known," she added, "but then you have to deal with the past and go on. You can't keep picking at the wound."