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Polish mass grave dig ends

The bodies of about 200 Jews have been exhumned in the town of Jedwabne  

WARSAW, Poland -- The bodies of about 200 victims of a 1941 massacre of Jews in a small town in eastern Poland have been exhumed.

But the figure was far less than the 1,600 Jews that Polish-born historian Jan Gross said were killed in his controversial book "Neighbors," published last year.

The exhumation, which ended on Monday, has been criticised by Jewish groups as desecrating the dead.

It was initiated by Poland's National Remembrance Institute (IPN), a state body probing war crimes, after the book blamed residents in the Polish town of Jedwabne of conducting the massacre.

"We cannot say how many people were killed in Jedwabne or whether there are any other graves," IPN's top prosecutor Witold Kulesza told Reuters.

"We know how many human remains we found ... We saw bones and ashes of roughly 200 people.

"We did not conduct a full exhumation since we did not pull out the bones from the graves."

Kulesza said there were no immediate plans to search for more graves in the area.

German Nazis were in control of the area at the time of the massacre in July 1941.

The blame for the mass killings had been laid at their feet until Gross published his book and ignited a furious national debate.

Gross's book alleges that Polish villagers went on a murderous rampage through Jedwabne, then herded the remaining Jews into a barn near the local Jewish cemetery and set it alight, killing nearly all of the town's 1,600 Jews.

IPN requested the exhumation, which received a final go-ahead from Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski last month, to establish the number of victims and the circumstances of their death.

Kaczynski said earlier that the limited scope of exhumation was part of an agreement with the Jewish community.

The exhumation, monitored by rabbis and guarded by police, was followed by some Polish Jews who prayed and recited psalms as workers and archaeologists removed layers of dirt.

Some historians and Jedwabne residents argue the killing was committed by Germans or by a small group of local Poles acting on the orders of the Nazis.

Kulesza said prosecutors found cartridges but further investigation was needed to determine whether they came from German army weapons or other types of guns.

"We have excavated two graves, one within the boundaries of a barn and one just outside of it," he said.

"We found bones and human ashes, as well as keys, jewellery and other personal belongings."

During the digging, a workers discovered fragments of a Vladimir Lenin statue.

Some historians believe Jews were forced to haul the statue of the Soviet founder there before they were massacred.

Kulesza told the Associated Press on Thursday the statue showed signs of charring. Witnesses have said many victims were burned alive in a barn at the site.

Local Jedwabne authorities plan to unveil a monument at the massacre site during a 60th anniversary ceremony on July 10, due to be attended by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

• Lenin clue at mass grave site
May 31, 2001
• Polish bishops to mark pogrom
May 2, 2001
• Holocaust victims remembered
April 19, 2001
• Europe remembers the Holocaust
January 27, 2001

• Institute of National Remembrance
• Jews in Poland
• Jedwabne Tragedy
•  Polish Institute of National Remembrance

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