Controversial Film ‘Aftermath’ Confronts Poland’s Relationship With the Holocaust (INTERVIEW)

November 7, 2013 1:54 pm 38 comments

'Aftermath' USA Poster. Photo: Wikipedia.

‘Aftermath,’ a Polish film that began a limited run in New York last week and will be making its way to Los Angeles, tells the story of two Polish brothers coming to terms with their village’s role in the Holocaust.

The film grapples with the issue from the Polish point of view, an angle that wasn’t fully embraced in the country upon the film’s local release in 2012.

Before World War II, pogroms in Russia had brought many Jews to Poland, but the population of three million was decimated by the Nazis, in many cases with Polish complicity. What traces were left of the community could only be found by Poles in the haunted ruins of Auschwitz or the Warsaw Ghetto.

‘Aftermath’ elicited a harsh response from many Polish nationalists and right-wingers, who accused it of being “anti-Polish” propaganda and an attempt to rewrite history. Some local cinemas even banned the film and actor Maciej Stuhr, in a disturbing case of life imitating art, was, like the brothers in the film, on the receiving end of death threats and accusations of being Jewish.

Dariusz Jabłoński, the film’s producer, told The Algemeiner that the struggle to create the controversial movie took seven years, and the financial backing from investors in four countries.

“It was a very good script. When I was reading it I was attracted by its power and its unusual mix of being a thriller that had an important message,” Jabłoński told The Algemeiner in an interview.

“As a producer, if you come across a script like this you feel a responsibility. No matter how difficult it was I felt I was called to do it.”

Jabłoński’s interest in Poland’s Jewish communities began while a film student in Łódź during the 1980s, but wasn’t truly ignited until historian Jan T Gross’s book “Neighbors”—among other scholarly works published during that period— was published in 2001.

“We were all taught during Communist times that Poles were the main victims of the war, that six million Poles were murdered, and only after the transition [from communism to democracy] did we learn that half of them were of the Jewish religion,” he said. “Communism didn’t allow us to have many discussions about this Polish-Jewish relationship. We didn’t know much about Jews at all. Today there are many people who  find their Jewish roots, because it was not normal to have this discussion before 1989.”

“In 2001 when Neighbors was published we learned that, yes, we were victims, but some of us were perpetrators–and it was a deep shock.”

The book recounted the covered-up slaughter in Jedwabne, a once half-Jewish village in northeastern Poland where hundreds of Jews, including children, were murdered in a savage pogrom in 1941. It sparked a controversy in the country, but one limited by the reach of the medium by which it was disseminated.

“They were published, they were known, but they were historical books that reached a limited audience,” Jabłoński said. “So that’s why I put this film on my table, because I know that a feature film, especially one made by a popular director such as [Aftermath's director Władysław] Pasikowski will reach a wide audience. It is pop culture. It is for a wide audience, for a younger audience, which is crucial.”

The DVD has sold more than 100,000 copies “an enormous amount in a country where 5,000 is considered very good,”  Jabłoński said. The film is being distributed in the U.S. by Neil Friedman’s Menemsha Films, which had a record five Academy Award nominations in five years from the foreign films it represents.

‘Aftermath’ benefits from its slow-boil pace, the tension bubbling up until, in a shocking finale–it boils over. Cinematographer Pawel Edelman, from The Pianist, created a saturated atmosphere , but Jabłoński says that much of the film’s force comes from the fact that Jews have a limited presence in the film.

“We chose to not have even one note of Jewish music. We thought it was crucial that the film be for Poles, about Poles,” Jabłoński said.

Yet Jabłoński says he is not satisfied with the level of debate he’s seen on the internet and in other forums where the controversy surrounding the film has maintained an afterlife.

“I hoped for more because I felt that much of the criticism was very brutal or vulgar. So I was disappointed that we didn’t discuss beyond this. Much of the discussion said that the film was a lie or false, that it wasn’t any good artistically, but I was hoping that the discussion would go beyond that. [Jedwabne] was not the only pogrom. We know that there were at least 30 villages or small towns where those things happened.”

“There were many heroes, many Poles executed for trying to fight the Nazis, for trying to save Jews. But in order to be really proud of those people we must also recognize the bad, that we had the largest number of Jews murdered of any country,” he says.

“In my opinion, if you start a discussion with revealing a truth that is very uncomfortable, then you have convinced people of your clear intentions, and secondly you have a moral right to ask others: what have you done?”

‘Aftermath’ is now playing in New York at Lincoln Plaza, and opens in Los Angeles Nov 15 at the Royal & Town Center.

38 Comments

  • Seeing all of these comments here and given the history it does look like poles have a lot to work on when it comes to prejudice. While there were polish people who helped save jews, many showed their hatred even after the war. I had a polish girlfriend in 2009 whos father stopped going to church for a year after he found out jesus was jewish. I know that her father was polish , but to live your whole life thinking jesus was polish and not jewish that’s pretty stupid.

  • the film is must see!!!!!!!!!!!!!!special young people this happend in mamy small cities in Poland Plock,kutno Makuw Mazowiecki-the cemeteries were distort by Pols after the war I was there in 1989 ck Plock kolo Warszawy read a book by Syncha, Jacob Guterman “kartki z pozogi”
    published in polish French German and this year in English the manuscript was located in 1978 in Radom written Jewish

  • RE: “Just accept the truth about your country and do what you can to improve Poland’s reputation through deeds, not words.”

    The film is a big lie, so is Mr. Gross’s book. Große Lüge.

    You probably know very little about Poland’s history, and civilization and cultural heritage of the Polish nation. And you probably know very little about the reality of the war on Polish territory.

    Please ask Germans and Russians to accept the truth about their invasion of Poland in September 1939, and about their crimes committed on the Polish nation, about their complicity in extermination of Polish elites.

    Please ask the French and the British to accept the truth about their betrayal of Poland.

    Yes, if you knew the truth you would not have written this arrogant comment.

    NOTE to the Moderator: you removed my previous post, so I am resubmitting.

    • While there is no question that the Polish people suffered terribly in World War II, it’s also true that they would prefer to ignore the fact that over 3 million Jews were among the 6 million usually cited as “Polish” who were killed by the German Nazis, and that those 3 million represented almost 90% of the Jews living in Poland. Most Europeans, Poles included, conveniently portray the murdered Jews as nothing more than part of what we today refer to as “collateral damage” of World War II, and refuse to accept that the Holocaust was a separate war, a Nazi state-sponsored and organized genocide, waged with the specific purpose of exterminating every Jew – men, women, children and babies – from German occupied Europe. Unlike substantial and armed national resistance groups like Poland’s Armia Krajowa, Jews had little or no means of self-defense and were often themselves victims of local brutality. Yes, about 15,000 Polsh people, including members of the heroic Zegota organization, took a contrary stand to rescue Jews – out of a gentile population of 20 million.

      It does no good to deny history by masking the Holocaust behind the horrors and betrayals of World War II. The whole truth, not just the convenient truth, needs to be told. Even now, when there are almost no Jews left in Poland, we once again hear Jew-hatred rearing its poisonous head, only because the truth has been exposed by a film-maker. The story of the villageers in this film is certainly fictitious, but there is nothing fictitious about similar actions in places like Jebwabne. Epithets like “arrogant” cannot hide the rampant anti-semitism of that time, and it seems there is no shortage of people in Europe willing to expose their own hatred of Jews on the internet.

  • E Pluribus Wombat

    This is the same kind of hatred Art Spiegelman discovered when he published “Maus”. Poles rose up to course scream that none of them ever harmed any Jews in Holocaust and it was Spiegelman who was ‘racist’. Of course – the antisemites always pull this. History has made its judgment on the Poles and if they don’t like it, too bad.

  • Several years ago, here in NYC, we had a Polish woman Jenny, who worked for us in the home. One day after working for us for several years, she disclosed to us that she was actually Jewish, but that she could never tell her husband or her children.

    She told us that in her neighborhood in Poland, there were ordinary neighbors who were murderers of Jews; there were ordinary neighbors who told the authorities of Jews who were hiding, but did not personally murder them; there were ordinary neighbors who neither murdered nor identified Jews. She did not mention neighbors who saved Jews.

    Undoubtedly there were righteous Gentiles, but they were few and far between and were in the minority.

    We had no reason to doubt Jenny’s words, as it would have no bearing on our fondness for her.

    • REALLY ?Im Polish ,left Poland in 1971 NEVER EVER SEE, HEAR ANY THING LIKE THAT.In 1969 Polish government ask Jew population in Poland to live Poland if they are not happy here .Allot of JEW got passport and left to Israel.3 years later many cam back to Poland because they where not happy there ether . THIS JEWISH LADY IS A LAIR.
      Yes is true peoples die’s in concentration camp but there where not Jew only , Polish, English. French,blind,def, homosexual etc. All together 6,000,000.00 peoples die’s in concentration camp in Poland…But what about Gipsy ? whole nation almost disappear out of this earth .Do any one hire them crying, wont compensation from German government?..No Jew are the only one nation whose always cray and complains.Enough is Enough this is almost 68 years after world war 2 ..Top of that Hitler was Jew, why Jewish people always blamed Polish people we didint do any thing to them , many Polish dies to protect Jewish people .But that was never enough !!!

      • While there is no question that the Polish people suffered terribly in World War II, it’s also true that they would prefer to ignore the fact that over 3 million Jews were among the 6 million usually cited as “Polish” who were killed by the German Nazis, and that those 3 million represented almost 90% of the Jews living in Poland. Most Europeans, Poles included, conveniently portray the murdered Jews as nothing more than part of what we today refer to as “collateral damage” of World War II, and refuse to accept that the Holocaust was a separate war, a Nazi state-sponsored and organized genocide, waged with the specific purpose of exterminating every Jew – men, women, children and babies – from German occupied Europe. Unlike substantial and armed national resistance groups like Poland’s Armia Krajowa, Jews had little or no means of self-defense and were often themselves victims of local brutality. Yes, about 15,000 Polsh people, including members of the heroic Zegota organization, took a contrary stand to rescue Jews – out of a gentile population of 20 million.

        It does no good to deny history by masking the Holocaust behind the horrors and betrayals of World War II. The whole truth, not just the convenient truth, needs to be told. Even now, when there are almost no Jews left in Poland, we once again hear Jew-hatred rearing its poisonous head, only because the truth has been exposed by a film-maker. The story of the villagers in this film is certainly fictitious, but there is nothing fictitious about similar actions in places like Jebwabne. Epithets like “arrogant” cannot hide the rampant anti-semitism of that time, and even now it seems there is no shortage of people in Europe willing to expose their own hatred of Jews on the internet.

    • Was her experience during WW2 or afterwards?

  • Johannes Pfaeffle

    Pole: In 1939 most of the Poles must have been brain dead. They thiught they were going to ride their horses to Berlin.Bloody Joe outfoxed them all and if it weren’t for the Nazi Army crusadeagainst communism, The Russians would now be on th English Channel.

    Joh.

  • I have known Polish intellectuals whose attitude towards Jews and Judaism does not permit them to see Jews as Poles. To be Polish you must be born Catholic. If it is then pointed out that Jews lived for over a thousand years in Poland, they married locals, became Polish – this argument is rejected absolutely. A Jew is a Jew, not a Pole. Hurtful as this may sound it goes part of the way to explaining the enthusiasm with which far too many Polish people embraced the Nazi death squads and murdered their next door neighbors down to the women and children with whom they had lived for untold generations. The truly frightening thing is that if, the essential sameness and equality of people of different faiths is unrecognizable to most Poles of intellect – why would anyone assume that they are somehow different in their attitudes today?

    • Oh really ?

      Polish 1st lady is Jewish. Show me an other country (exceopt Israel) where the 1st lady is Jewsh.

      Show me an other country which had

      -Rotfeld (Jew)
      -Geremek (Jew)
      -Meller (Jew)
      -Bartoszewski (righteous among the nations)
      -Sikorski (Jewish wife)

      5 foreign ministers with such a background ? Not even the USA.

    • WHAT A B.S..SO MANY INNOCENTS PEOPLES WAS KILL ONLY BECAUSE THEY COVER AND PROTECTS JEW . ONE OF THEM WAS MY GRANDFATHER.HAW DEAR YOU PUT THOUS B.S IF WHOLE YOUR LIFE YOU LIVE IN US AND YOU DONT KNOW ANY THING ABOUT POLISH PEOPLE… BUT WE POLISH PEOPLE HAVE NO PROBLEM TO LET JEW GO TO THERE COUNTRY ISRAEL OR IN THAT MATER ANY WHERE THEY WONT!! THEY DONT HAVE TO STAY IN POLAND IF THEY ARE UNHAPPY THERE ..

  • jacob mandelblum

    Polish hate for Jews has been traditional…

    Even before the war, the Jewish way of slaughtering fowl
    was outlawed and the Polish Catholic clergy has been, save for very rare and notable exceptions such as the late John Paul II, notorious and strongly JUDEOPHOBIC…
    True : there were Polish people who sheltered Jews and even paid for it with their lives at the hands of the Nazis but they were few and scarce exceptions and not the rule and after all, a single tree doesn’t make a forest..
    Somebody told me once that Polish hate for Jews comes from the days of King KASIMIR the First, who invited the Jews into Poland and entrusted them with most of the official posts because he trusted them more than he did his own people…
    If this is true, then the hate goes back centuries and not just decades…
    What I will never be able to understand is why are still so many Jews in Europe, specially in Germany where they are often called the “Schweinen”….

    • If Poles hated the Jews, Poles would have kileld most Jews long time ago. Instead Poland preserved the Jewish culture and the Jewish nation through centuries. German Holocaust, turned minor Polish Jewish conflicts into a shameful context and ignorant Jews think that when Poles argue with Jews, they want to kill them just like the Germans. It’s a shameful racist insult towards Poland and Poles.

    • “What I will never be able to understand is why are still so many Jews in Europe, specially in Germany where they are often called the “Schweinen”….”
      ABSOLUTELY GO BACK TO ISRAEL AND BE HAPPY !!!

      • After World War II ended there were fewer than 20,000 Jews still alive in Germany who chose to remain there. Most of the other surviving German Jews left, just as surviving Jews in all the other formerly-German occupied countries left. It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 that Jews – and others claiming to be Jews – migrated from countries like Russia and the Ukraine to Germany, which, by that time, had become – again – one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. Notice how few Jews migrated to countries like Hungary, Austria, Poland, Romania, Croatia or Slovakia.

    • Nadezhda Fradkova

      >>>What I will never be able to understand is why are still so many Jews in Europe, specially in Germany where they are often called the “Schweinen”…

      Some Jews emigrated from the USSR and from RF to Germany even.

      Germany used to have special program for absorption of
      Jews from the USSR.

  • “Before World War II, pogroms in Russia had brought many Jews to Poland”? What? Jews were in Poland well before the Russians conquered Polish territory that forced them to absorb Jews. By Russian conquest and migration, the Jews of Poland became the basis of the Russian Jewish population. Not the other way around.

  • Linda Weiss Rose

    Although there were Poles who tried to help the Jews, way too many were complicit it did absolutely nothing. It’s not a coincidence that the largest number, by far, of concentration camps were located in that country. In 1946 there was another major pogrom when many survivors tried to reclaim stolen property. More Jews died in Poland than in any other country. Anti-semitism is still extremely prevalent in this country. Hard to believe because most Jews are gone.

    • hard to believe Jews still spread such lies about Poalnd and Poles.

    • THIS IS NOT TRUE !! BUT I HAVE ENOUGH OF THIS BS.I WILL BE VERY HAPPY IF THOUS POOR JEWS WILL LEAVE POLAND !!!

      • Sorry, ECO, that the film and Jewish campaigns for compensation from state extermination-planners seem wrong to you. Surely, other groups and individuals who suffered loss of assets or lives or both deserve, and clearly receive, recognition and compensation. It’s just that Jews were by far the greatest sufferers of Nazi thefts and murders, as well as the chief focus of Nazi hate-writings and public speeches. Poles and all Slavs were second, as everyone knows. I fail to see how you find something wrong with post-WWII Jewish “compensation”. Poles, by the way, outnumber all others in the garden of trees of “Righteous Gentiles” in Israel. Finally, I fail to believe as you do, that being Jewish is a national (let alone, as Nazis did, racial) identity, as you say “Polish, English, French” victims were — many were Jews, many were not. We call it a religious identity as in R.C. and Eastern Orthodox. I think you might feel better about the enormity of German errors if you thought about the fact that Jews were the Reich’s chief international target, not a national group. I am 25% Polish, 25% English, 25% Russian, and 25% Italian. I am Jewish.

    • Ms. Rose, you may need to brush up on your knowledge of Polish history as well as Holocaust history. While there was no shortage of anti-semistism in Poland during WWII , the gentile Polish people were not responsible for the concentration camps built on Polsih territory. The Nazi German occupiers were totally responsible for that. Poland was chosen for the six mass extermination camps and for many labor camps for two main reasons: (1) Poland had the largest number of Jews in Europe, and the Nazis wanted Poland for “lebensraum” (living space) for its own (Aryan)people, free of Jews; (2) Poland was the most central country in Europe, with a vast network of rail communications to virtually every other occupied country. It was no accident that the Auschwitz camp complex was located near the town of Oswiecim, which was a major railroad junction.

  • ” but the population of three million was decimated by the Nazis,”

    Note that “decimated” means to reduce by a tenth, no matter how frequently it is used incorrectly.

    I’m touchy about this since nearly the entire Polish Jewish population was destroyed by the Nazis.

    • Thanks, Harry. While true, the more common use today is “kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of” as per the dictionary on my computer. But I understand your point and perhaps an even more definitive word could be used.

      Best,

      Zach

    • BY HITLER WHO WAS JEW ALSO!!

      • I though comments were moderated on this site?

      • Normally, as a moderator on a forum myself, bias against groups, mad claims that Jews ruin countries or Hitler was a Jew, are disallowed. ECO has problems for any moderator, but on JOINint, I simply reject repeated and irrational comments, and sometimes (ywice in 7 years) have had to ban the sender. One was a mad antisemite and the other was a mad Israeli settler. I am an equal opportunity banning moderator.

      • Here is just one more example of the myths and legends of the Holocaust. The truth is a lot more complicated. For decades it was claimed that Hilter’s paternal grandfather was a Jew named Frankengerger and that Hitler’s grandmother, Maria Schicklgruber, had borne Hitler’s father (Alois) in the Austrian town of Graz. Even if that had been true, Adolf Hitler himelf would have been, under the Nazis’ own definition, a “mischling” (person of mixed race). That story was disproven long ago, but there are many other such unproven stories about the ethnicity of Hitler’s grandmother. Religiously, his parents were Catholic and there is no evidence that Adolf Hitler ever practised Judaism either. However, a few years ago some of his relatives provided DNA, which indicated a high possibility that the Hitlers had Jewish and/or Berber ancestry (though it would have been several generations earlier). So the true answer is, it depends on your own definition of an “ethnic” Jew.

  • I’m glad to see this film being released in America — if ti gets an Academy Award nomination, it will be shown around the world, and again in Poland.

  • It sounds like Poland is pretty much where West Germany was about 30+ years ago in regards to facing up to its past. The film “Judgement at Nuremberg” also had an overwhelmingly–really totally–negative reception when it was released in West Germany in the 1960s. Progress was finally made in this area in the 1980s and beyond. Austria took even longer to get there, and still hasn’t really gotten there yet.

    • Stop comparing Poland to Germany.

      Germany killed millions of Jews, destroyed Jewish cultural heritage and 99% of German murderers became honorable people after the war. 1500 stolen paintings have been found recently in a German house.

      Most Germans have no clue what exactly happened during the war. Just ask a German if he knows what “Ponary” is. 70.000 Jews have been killed there in a couple of days… That’s way more than all Polish pogroms combined. You will find zero German movies or books about this crime. Germans give crap about it. Germans love to admit the “holocaust”, because is sounds so abstract to our generation. But when it comes to details, you won’t find much stuff in Germany….Definitely tot a movie like Aftermath. Even the holocaust memorial in Berlin is just a nice abstract palyground for Japanese tourists.

      • Just accept the truth about your country and do what you can to improve Poland’s reputation through deeds, not words.

        • RE; “Just accept the truth about your country”

          This film is but one a big lie. So is Mr. Gross’s book. Große Lüge.

          You do not know anything about Poland’s history, heritage, the reality of war in Poland. Once you learn that, then you can talk about improving reputation – to Germans, French, Americans, British, Russians and many other nations – those that invaded in September 1939 Poland and those that betrayed her.

          • Please don’t confuse World War II with the Holocaust. World War II was a war of power and land conquest, fought between armed men, with many civilians killed during the invasions. The Holocaust was a systematic, state-sponsored genocide targeted specifically againt unarmed Jews (and, to a certain extent, Roma and Cinti), with the purpose of total ETHNIC extermination.

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