Bringing 'Darkness' To Light

Agnieszka Holland's Holocaust Drama Shortlisted for Oscars

In A Dark Place: Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar-nominated ‘Into Darkness’ focuses on a Polish sewer worker who helps Jews escape the Holocaust.
courtesy of sony pictures
In A Dark Place: Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar-nominated ‘Into Darkness’ focuses on a Polish sewer worker who helps Jews escape the Holocaust.

By Eva Fogelman

Published January 25, 2012, issue of February 03, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

American audiences have become dulled by the depiction of the Holocaust in Hollywood movies that are increasingly celebrity filled and philosophically bland. But viewers familiar with Agnieszka Holland’s spellbinding and justly acclaimed “Europa Europa,” and her less well-known Oscar nominee, “Angry Harvest,” know that her portrayals of characters and their relationships to each other during the Holocaust are morally and emotionally complex. Holland’s films, which grapple with human behavior during the barbaric years of the Third Reich, are not propped up by commercialism and, though touching, avoid simplistic clichés of good and evil.

Now between limited theatrical releases, her latest film, “In Darkness,” is on the shortlist of five nominees for an Academy Award for best foreign language film. In it, Holland, a Polish-born writer-director, depicts the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish Catholic petty thief and sewer worker in Lvov. Socha’s story starts out like that of opportunistic Oskar Schindler; Socha’s initial motivation is to benefit from the plight of Jews fleeing the liquidation of the Lvov ghetto by hiding them — for money — in his sewers. It soon emerges, however, that, as was the case with Schindler, Socha is more than merely venal; he develops a deep relationship with “his Jews” and is ultimately their rescuer.

“In Darkness” is an adaptation of Robert Marshall’s 1990 book “In the Sewers of Lvov,” skillfully condensed for the screen by David F. Shamoon, and revised again during the course of production. A number of characters in the film are composites; some are omitted entirely. While the details of the narrative were modified by the filmmakers, and scenes were added for dramatic effect, the film’s basic accuracy was confirmed by Kristin Kerem, who was a youngster in the sewers.

To shoot a film mostly in dark tunnels was a challenge for Holland and for Jolanta Dylewska, her director of photography. Her ingenious directing, together with Michal Czarnecki’s spot-on editing, skillfully moves the story repeatedly from darkness into light and back again into darkness. This darkness protected the hiding Jews not only from certain death, but also from seeing the cruelty that was pervasive in life above the sewers: the humiliation of the Jews, the random killings of both Jews and Poles, and the hunting down of Jews for 500 zlotys apiece.

When Socha comes to the sewers to bring his Jewish charges food, water, news and dry clothes, the flashlight he uses to go through the tunnel is symbolic of the light and hope he provides in the darkness.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.