On the eve of the Second World War, approximately 1,000 Jews lived in Jedwabne, representing roughly 40 percent of the local population. The Jews earned their living largely from artisanship, especially in the garment industry. Most Jewish children attended traditional Hadarim, and the town had a public elementary school attended by children of the Jewish community. Jedwabne had Zionist parties as well as an underground Communist cell with Jewish members.

In September 1939, the Wehrmacht occupied Jedwabne; they handed control of the town over to the Soviets a few days later, in accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. During the period of Soviet rule many young people were conscripted into the Red Army and sent to work deep inside the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities transformed the elementary school into an army barracks to house the Soviet troops that was stationed into the town.

On June 23, 1941, the Germans re-occupied Jedwabne, and the following day, local Poles began to terrorise and attack the Jewish population. They broke into Jewish homes, plundered Jewish property and murdered more than ten Jews. According to eyewitness survivor Szmul Wasersztein two of the Polish thugs were brothers Wacek and Mietek Borowiuk. They killed Chajca Wasersztein who was 53 years old, Jakub Kac and Eliasz Krawiecki.

Two Jewish women, Chaja Kubrzanska who was 28 years old and Basia Binsztein, who was 26 years old, both committed suicide with their babies in the Jedwabne pond. The riots continued until the local priest convinced the members of his parish to cease their attacks. The German authorities imposed economic restrictions on the Jews and forbade them to conduct commerce in their shops.

Dozens of refugees arrived in Jedwabne from surrounding localities such as Stawiski and Wizna.On the morning of July 10,1941, some of the Poles of Jedwabne and farmers from nearby villages with the permission of the German police, rounded up the Jews of the town, together with the refugees - 1,600 people in all - in the marketplace, ostensibly in order to clean the area. Local thugs armed with axes, clubs and various other instruments of torture forced the Jews to run through the narrow streets. Dozens of Jewish men were forced to carry a statue of Lenin and bury it on the edge of the town; they were then buried along with the statue. The others were held the entire day in the hot sun without water, and when evening fell, they were herded, abused, and terrorised, as they were driven into a barn, owned by Sleszinski,which was then set alight.Nearly all of the Jews in the barn perished.

The number of Jews murdered that day differ wildly in accounts from 340, rising to 900, and 1,600. Those that fled from the burning barn were murdered with extreme brutality by the Poles, wherever they were caught. Szmul Wasersztein was among the few who managed to escape and he gave testimony regarding the massacre.

Approximately 100 Jewish inhabitants remained in Jedwabne, concentrated in two houses in a ghetto located in the town's old market; 15 of the Jews were accused of being Communists and murdered several months later. On November 2, 1942, the ghetto was liquidated and the remaining Jews of Jedwabne were transferred to the ghetto in Lomza and the Zambrow transit camp.

Of the pre-war Jewish population of approximately 1,000, only 7 survived.


The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust - Volume 1 - YVA Jerusalem 2009

Yad Vashem - Testimony of Szmul Wasersztein, April 5, 1945

Holocaust Historical Society, September 25,  2019