Anna Bikont - Journalist
Anna Bikont is a journalist who writes for Gazeta Wyborzcza, Poland’s second largest newspaper. It was founded in 1989 by a group of journalists and activists from the underground democratic opposition press as the platform for the first democratic parliamentary elections. Adam Michnik - an intellectual and close friend of former Czech President Vaclav Havel from the time when they both were leading dissidents in communist Poland and Czechoslovaki - has been Editor-in-Chief from the beginning. Michnik was a prominent member of the democratic opposition in the '60s to '80s.
After Jan Gross’s book Neighbors was published in Poland in 2000, Anna Bikont started interviewing witnesses of the Jedwabne massacre for the Gazeta Wyborzcza. She became so passionate about her investigation into Jedwabne’s troubled past that she ended up spending four years of her life interviewing: the few survivors and their relatives, now living in the United States, Israel, Costa Rica, and Argentina; the people who risked their lives to hide and save them; and the perpetrators of the violence. She also closely researched old newspapers, letters, trial documents - many facts that often seemed completely contradictory. Her work resulted in the book We in Jedwabne, which is being translated into English and will be published next year by Yale Press.
We are meeting at a coffee shop not far from Anna’s house, in the Ochota neighborhood of southwest Warsaw. It’s a very pleasant sunny afternoon. The breeze slightly moves branches of old trees, and Kasia, my translator, is very moved by seeing houses that were built in the '20s. At the end of World War II, only 15% of Warsaw remained standing after the German bombing in retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising. Anna is wearing a colorful long dress and sandals. Her hair is colored honey gold and I can tell she hasn’t been to a hairdresser in a while. Her bicycle leans against a railing. Anna has the appearance of an aging hippie. She waves and smiles at us and suddenly looks like a young girl. Anna speaks very good English.
Anna is telling me the story of Antosa Wyrzykowska, who hid seven Jews at her farm a few kilometers away from Jedwabne. Szmul Wasersztajn and 16 other Jews survived the killing in Jedwabne. Antosa’s father gave Szmul Wasersztajn a job at his farm; at the time it was still supposedly possible to employ Jews. But later Schmulz had to move to the ghetto in Lomza. When, in the fall of 1942, the ghetto was about to be liquidated, Shmulz managed to escape. He came back to Wyrzkowsky’s farm and begged the family to hide him. Two brothers, Mosze and Borek Olszewicz also escaped from the ghetto and came to the farm asking for food. They were fed and allowed to spend a night. The next morning the brothers begged the family to hide them. Antosa’s husband was planning to go to the market and told them if they hide so well that when he comes back, looks for them, and can’t find them, he’ll allow them to stay. They succeeded. Then, with the approval of Antosa’s family, Moshe brought his fiancée. The next were Izrael Gradowski and his wife, and lastly Jankiel Kubrzanski. There were two hiding places - one dug out under chicken coops for the two couples and the other a hole dug under a pig sty. They could come out only at night. [Ms.] Antosa and her husband were risking their lives and the lives of their two small children; any Pole and his family would be shot by the Germans if caught hiding Jews. The most difficult thing for [Ms.] Antosa was [to keep] feeding all seven people; food was scarce.
Photo: Anna Bikont and Antosa Wyrzykowska