A film about a Polish village whose residents help massacre their Jewish neighbours in World War Two has forced Poles to confront one of the most troubling episodes of their past.
Most historians take the view that during the war the vast majority of Christian Poles were victims of the Nazi aggression that killed millions of Jews. There are many documented cases of Poles risking their lives to save Jews from Nazi death camps.
“Poklosie”, or Aftermath, touches on a subject that many Poles prefer not to discuss - cases where Poles were complicit with the Nazis in rounding up, and in some cases, killing Jews.
Jewish groups have joined Poland’s artistic community and many younger, liberal Poles in applauding the film for lifting the lid on a taboo. Others say it is blackening Poland’s name by portraying its people unfairly as Nazi collaborators.
“It’s our moral duty to make this film. It’s a moral challenge to struggle with the topic,” Dariusz Jablonski, the producer of the film, told Reuters in an interview.
“This is one of our last historical taboos and I have a feeling that it’s a topic we’ve been avoiding. That’s not how it should be.
“Even if this terrible crime concerns only 1 percent of the Polish nation, it doesn’t matter, because we want to know about that.”
Before World War Two, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community of some 3.2 million. Most of them were killed by the Nazi occupiers. The Nazis built death camps including Auschwitz and Treblinka on Polish soil.
Poland’s sensitivity about this period was illustrated this year after U.S. President Barack Obama mistakenly referred to a “Polish death camp”. Poland’s foreign minister demanded the White House apologise for this “outrageous mistake”.
“Poklosie” tells the story of how a Polish man who had been living in the United States returns to his home village and finds himself reluctantly drawn into uncovering what happened there during Nazi occupation.
The man discovers that, at the instigation of the Nazi occupiers, local people - including his own father - herded Jewish villagers into a building and burned them to death. They had then taken over their dead neighbours’ houses.