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The story echoes a real event in the town of Jedwabne, about 160km (100 miles) north-east of Warsaw.
An investigation ordered by the Polish government has found that on July 10, 1941, at least 340 Jews were killed, some burned alive after being locked inside a barn. The investigation found Nazi occupiers and local people colluded in the massacre.
Some argue the film harms Poland by creating the impression that events like the massacre in Jedwabne were the norm in war-time Poland. The reality, they say, is that such events were an extremely rare aberration.
“‘Aftermath’ is mendacious and harmful for Poles,” the right-wing Gazeta Polska newspaper said in a review. “It will bring dreadful results for the nation, particularly abroad.”
“(Its rendering of history) will be received literally … and that’s how Poles will be received: as a dehumanised rabble at least jointly responsible for the Holocaust.”
In Ostroleka, a small town in northeastern Poland only 60 km from Jedwabne, local authorities cancelled screenings of the film. The town’s council is dominated by a right-wing opposition party whose members have criticised it.
Arkadiusz Czartoryski, a member of the national parliament with the Law and Justice Party, who lives in Ostroleka, said that a work of fiction was the wrong way to address such a complex and difficult issue.
“In my opinion the movie is not even 1 percent in line with the facts,” Czartoryski told Reuters. “Making movies that are aimed at presenting reality, and are not like this, may paradoxically do more harm than good.”
The Soviet-installed Communists who took power after the war conducted a purge of officials with Jewish ancestry in the late 1960s. Many of the Jews who had survived the Holocaust responded to the purge by emigrating.
Today, Poland’s government and all mainstream political parties renounce anti-Semitism. A museum dedicated to the history of Polish Jews is under construction in the capital. The president regularly meets leaders of the Jewish community, who now number about 8,000, according to official figures.
But there are still signs of anti-Semitism on the margins of society. Graffiti by soccer fans routinely uses the word “Jew” as a term of insult directed at supporters of rival clubs.
Many people say the film, by opening up a debate about how Christian Poles interact with their Jewish compatriots, has performed an important service.
“The debate has begun and this is a very positive sign,” Israel’s Ambassador to Poland, Zvi Rav-Ner, told Reuters. “It is good that we can talk about painful issues now.”