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Church in Poland apologises for Jewish massacre

The Catholic Church in Poland has apologised for the killing of about 1600 Jews in a massacre during the World War II.

A special service was held in the capital, Warsaw, at which the congregation was told that the church felt deep pain and regret over the killings.

The country's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has welcomed the apology.

He declined an invitation to join the ceremony, however, because it was held at the beginning of the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

German forces had been blamed for the massacre at Jedwabne in 1941 until a book by a Polish-born historian said local Poles carried it out.

Jan Thomasz Gross' book Neighbours suggested that Jews were bludgeoned, beaten and stabbed by their Polish fellow villagers, after which those still alive were herded into a barn and burned to death. The book has fuelled a debate about whether the Poles had acted on their own or were forced to co-operate at gunpoint by the Germans.

The All Saints Cathedral in central Warsaw was packed with worshippers and most of Poland's bishops were also present.

Making the apology, Bishop Stanislaw Gondecki said that the Jews were victims of a crime and that there had been "Poles and Catholics" among the perpetrators.

"We are deeply disturbed by the actions of those who caused Jews to suffer and even murdered them in Jedwabne and in other places over the ages," he said.

Poland's National Remembrance Institute is currently supervising the exhumation of the mass grave in Jedwabne to determine the exact number of victims and how they died.