Polish performer burns barn to commemorate pogrom

Mon Jul 12, 2010 10:28am EDT
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WARSAW (Reuters Life!) - A performance commemorating the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom, in which Poles burned alive several hundred Jews locked in a barn, sparked criticism among Polish and Jewish groups on Monday.

Polish performer Rafal Betlejewski burned down a barn in the village of Zawady in central Poland on Sunday night in what he said was his crusade against Polish anti-Semitism.

Poland was home to Europe's biggest Jewish population until World War Two, when most of its Jewish citizens perished under the Nazi occupation. The death of at least 340 Jews in Jedwabne continues to be a trauma for Jews and many Poles.

"Poland is a completely different country than it was 80 years ago when there was a big and significant Jewish minority, which participated in Poland's cultural, social and scientific development," Betlejewski said before the performance.

"These people are gone after the Holocaust and later waves of emigration, and I miss them more and more. This performance is addressed to Poles first and foremost, to those ignorant who know nothing about Jews' input in Poland's history," he said.

But many Jewish groups have opposed the project saying it was tasteless, brutal and sensationalist.

"I feel deeply that we cannot fill many empty cards in the Polish-Jewish history by burning down a wooden shack," said Piotr Kadlcik, a Jewish community leader in Poland. "An absolute majority of my colleagues were negative about this idea."

Poland's National Remembrance Institute said after a 2001 investigation the Jedwabne pogrom was inspired by Poland's Nazi occupiers.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Paul Casciato)

<p>Polish performance artist Rafal Betlejemski burns down a barn in the village of Zawady, near Tomaszow Mazowiecki, central Poland July 11, 2010. Betlejemski burnt the barn to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom in which, according to the investigation of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance Poles burned alive more then 300 Jews locked in a barn. REUTERS/Agencja Gazeta/Filip Klimaszewski</p>