Maidanek fence in winter Maidanek, December 2005

I Remember :
The Shoah Foundation’s Attempt to Address Poland’s Complicated Past

by Rachael Binning
December 15, 2006, uploaded 3/19/06

student research paper for
UCSB History 199RA, Fall 2005, Prof. Marcuse

Student Reseach Papers index page; Marcuse Courses page

Description of
I Remember

Introduction (back to top)

           In 1993, after directing Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg founded The Survivors’ of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, with the mission “to overcome prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry--and the suffering they cause--through the educational use of its visual history testimonies”[1] Since the Foundation’s creation over ten years ago, almost 52,000 Holocaust survivors’ testimonies have been recorded, which make it the largest visual history archive in the world. When the Shoah Foundation was formed Spielberg and his partners had no idea what an overwhelming response there would be to its cause. Because the response was so positive the Foundation was able to expand its goals, which now include to “preserve and provide access to the archive; to build and support educational programs; and to develop educational products based on the Foundation’s testimonies.”[2]

           With these goals, in 2002 the Shoah Foundation released the Broken Silence film series, which was intended for viewing throughout the world, but specifically catered to Argentina and Uruguay, Hungary, Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic. In this series “each director worked with the Shoah Foundation, researchers, and historians to build a documentary about the Holocaust that would resonate most effectively in his own country, language, and culture.”[3] It was the Foundation’s vocal intention to allow each country to have creative control and ownership of its film while also effectively utilizing the Foundation’s testimonies. Therefore it was publicized that a native director was purposefully chosen to direct each country’s documentary.

           For Poland, a country with a long and complicated relationship with Jews and the Holocaust, the film I Remember (Pamietam) was created. The film was directed by the internationally acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda and the historian consulted for the film was Anthony Polonsky, an authoritative and respected figure on the Holocaust[4]. On the DVD release of Broken Silence, the Polish film I Remember is described as follows: “Academy Award Honoree Andrzej Wajda directed this Polish-language documentary about four survivors who were either helped or betrayed by their Polish neighbors.”[5] It is the Foundation’s goal that this film be publicly aired as well as used in classrooms to educate Poles and students about the Holocaust and the background behind the relationship between the Poles and the Jews.

          Despite the Foundation’s intentions, it is questionable whether the Polish film I Remember properly confronts the issues Poland has with racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry. By studying Poland’s history and its current historical, intellectual and educational debates it is possible to analyze and assess whether I Remember properly deals with Poland’s areas of weakness, namely Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the war.

Description of I Remember (back to top)

           In order to understand the movie’s intentions it is essential that a detailed description of I Remember be given. The film is approximately an hour in length and solely uses black and white film. As noted before, the structure of the film revolves around four survivors’ testimonies. All of them are male and visually appear to be at least sixty-five to seventy years in age. No commentary, archival photographs or film is used. Instead the film is interlaced with footage of teenagers participating on the program “March of the Living.” “March of the Living” is an international program that brings Jewish teenagers to Poland every year on Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau.[6] Throughout the film, as the survivors are telling their story, the camera fades from the image of the survivor to an image of a participant on “March of the Living.” Through this technique a deeper sense of story and attachment is created in reference to the aging survivor, although no other visual reference is made to his past.

           The introduction to the film is approximately a minute and thirty seconds. The opening credits are very plain, white typeface on a black background. They first introduce the film as a product of Steven Spielberg and the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and then clearly introduce Wajda’s connection to the film. The opening scene is of a group of young adults walking around the concentration camp Auschwitz while deeply contemplating and thinking. They look extremely sad and reflective. During this scene classical music is played that further invokes feelings of sorrow. The four survivors are introduced and each one briefly talks about a seemingly happy and carefree aspect of their life before the war. One of the survivors even mentions, “When I look back on it now it seems like it was a very fun time.”[7] The introduction ends with a shot of the “March of the Living” participants walking under the sign “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to “Work Makes You Free,” at the entrance of the former Auschwitz concentration camp.

           The film is divided into four sections; each survivor gives his testimony in full, one after the other. The first survivor to give his testimony, Leszek Allerhand, currently lives in Zakopane and is one of the few Jews who remain in Poland today. He is a gentle looking man with thin, soft, white hair. He is wearing a dark turtleneck shirt with a dark blazer and is very unimposing. Throughout his testimony a special effort is made to connect the image of his face with the face of one particular young man participating on “March of the Living.”  The video of Leszek’s testimony continually transitions to momentary images of this boy. In general, Leszek’s testimony seems to focus on the universality of feelings. Leszek tells the story of how in the ghetto he fell in love with a girl, but she was hanged. As he tells this story fleeting images of a young woman, presumably the age his girlfriend was, are shown. This technique is used to make the story more relatable to a much younger generation and therefore more impacting. While talking about the loss of his girlfriend Leszek says, “Ghetto or no ghetto, Jew or non-Jew, love, feelings, desire – it’s all the same.”[8]

           Leszek then continues to tell the story of how he escaped from the ghetto with his mother and hid with his “aunt,” who was not Jewish, but actually a prostitute for the Germans. Ironically he said that hiding under her bed was the “safest place in the world,” but he was forced to leave after a German reported that his “aunt” had a venereal disease.

           Interestingly, when describing himself as a child, Leszek refers to himself as “a kind of Jewish monster.” He describes himself as having “red hair, pale, skinny with frightening eyes and a long nose,” a stereotype of Jews that still remains today. He mentions this because when he left his “aunt” and was trying to hide in the non-Jewish outside world there was an instance where “Polish thugs” called him “Jew Boy” and enthusiastically turned him over to the German officers while a crowd of aggressive spectators formed around him. With luck, he and his mother were able to escape before entering the concentration camps because the group of Jews and German soldiers he was traveling with were dying and his mother was finally able to bribe the remaining German officer with her wedding ring. Having nowhere to go, they then went to the Korczak cemetery and literally hid in the graves. Leszek ends his testimony by stating “every day was a victory of survival.” His testimony ends with footage from “March of the Living” and with shrill and intense music that invokes a sense of fear.

           The next survivor to speak is Stanislaw Jonas, a slightly more formal looking bald man who now lives in New York. Stanislaw’s story begins when his family escaped from an Aktion, an assembly and deportation of Jews to the concentration camps, with the help of a Jewish police officer. He speaks about how while in the ghetto all one thought about was escaping to the other side, but once outside life was even more dangerous. He says, “The worst killers in the ghetto were hunger and disease. On the Aryan side it wasn’t hunger or disease, but the people themselves.”[9]

           The family that Stanislaw and his family lived with did not know that they were Jewish, but when they found out, Stanislaw was forced to leave. Stanislaw in particular had a hard time hiding his identity because he would frequently hum Jewish songs that he learned in the ghetto. Stanislaw does not seem to have negative feelings towards the woman who forced him to leave after his identity was revealed. Instead he says understandably “she was a very decent woman, nevertheless, she was scared. So we had to leave.”[10]

           Throughout Stanislaw’s story there is a constant pattern where he hid with families who he believed cared about his well being, but ultimately, when danger increased, he was forced to leave the relative safety of these homes. A particularly emotional part of his testimony occurs when he speaks about overhearing Poles discuss that the Jews were being burned and that this was a good thing. When he repeated this to one of the Polish women he was staying with, she scolded him. At this point in the testimony, Stanislaw looks extremely sad and as if he is trying hard to hold back tears and it takes him a moment to recover from what he has just said. Stanislaw talks about how his time in hiding “was a time of intense religious feeling for me.” He was praying a lot then, not only to God, but also to Jesus. He closes by relaying the impact from his trauma of hiding. Even today, while living in America, if someone asks him whether he is a Jew, he sometimes says no.

           Stanislaw’s testimony is especially powerful because of the emotion he conveys while speaking. It is difficult to watch such a formal looking man struggle so much while telling his story. Several times throughout his testimony Stanislaw must pause to collect himself before continuing. In addition, the same techniques used in the previous testimony are applied here, such as the inclusion of momentary clips of young adults and the use of powerful music.

           The third survivor, David Efrati from Israel, presents a less formal air than Stanislaw. Immediately he begins using gestures and sound effects to aid the telling of his story. What is immediately noticeable from David’s testimony is how distinctly different he views himself from the Poles. When talking about Poles he continually refers to them by using the pronoun “they” and he mentions “I met a lot of Poles.” It is interesting that the Poles David keeps mentioning with distancing terms are actually many of the parents and grandparents of the Polish people viewing this film.

           David’s testimony talks a lot about images of Poles, Jews, and Germans. He mentions that at one particular instance while hiding during the Holocaust he heard someone crying, but was not afraid “because a German doesn’t cry. Only a Jew cries.”[11] His opinion towards the Poles is that the majority of them were apathetic, though there were some who were good and some who were bad.

           Luckily, David encountered what he considered were good Poles. When looking for a place to hide, David ran to the house of his good Polish friend, Stasiek. Not only did Stasiek’s family take him in to their house, clean him and feed him, Stasiek’s father was hiding other Jews in a basement down the street. Sadly these Jews were discovered. Unfortunately, before they were killed the Jews informed the German authorities that Stasiek’s father was responsible for hiding them and so his father was killed as well. Despite all of this Stasiek did not throw David out. Eventually David chose to leave Stasiek’s house, but not because Stasiek forced him to.

           David was fortunate to have had several positive encounters with Poles. After leaving Stasiek’s house he came in contact with a Polish woman who was especially kind to him. David dramatically managed to escape from a cattle car traveling to Treblinka before returning to the safety of Stasiek once more.

           The final person on the film to give a testimony is Henryk Mandelbaum, a sweet and gentle looking man now living in Gliwice. It is almost impossible to believe that this old man was once a member of the Sonderkommando, a group of men who were forced to dispose of corpses at the gas chambers, at Auschwitz. He continually refers to his time in Auschwitz as “a real hell.” He gives detailed descriptions of how the Jews were tricked into entering the gas chambers, the killing process, and his role within the gas chambers. He also refers to the notorious rebellion of the Sonderkommando at the crematorium at Auschwitz. After the rebellion was subdued all of the Sonderkommando, including himself, were lined up and every third person was shot.

           Besides the detail given to the description of his experiences in the crematorium, it is interesting how Henryk seems to mentally separate himself from the Jews and victims who were killed before him every day. Perhaps as a protection device, when talking about the Jews who were taken to the gas chambers, he refers to them as “they” and “these.” He says, “They were tired and so mistreated.”[12] There is a deep sense of distinction between himself and these Jews, as if they were on two different levels. A sense of guilt is also inferred when Henryk mentions that he could not give them any advice that would help them escape from this hell. Clearly he is still dealing with the moral implications that came from the actions he was forced to perform.

           The film concludes similarly to how it began, with images of the four survivors and the participants from “March of the Living,” while classical music is being played. An interesting and important addition though are images of Pope John Paul II looking emotionally distressed and of him at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The film ends with a brief description of “March of the Living.”

           In a press statement concerning the release of I Remember the Shoah Foundation states Wajda’s intention for the film:

He cut original footage of the famous “March of the Living” throughout the film as a symbol of hope and improved dialogue between young Jews, Poles, and Germans. Also included are clips of Pope John Paul II praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to underscore the director’s statement that “The film focuses on the dramatic and specific relations between Jews and Poles in Nazi-occupied Poland. An emotional story of a few people, whose experiences describe the facts, as well as the atmosphere and spirit of what happened.”[13]

Based on this statement it is clear that Wajda, and those who contributed to the film, considered the issues that need to be confronted when creating the film. However, whether they confronted these issues strongly enough is up to individual interpretation.

Polish-Jewish Relations (back to top)

           There are several limitations to properly assessing this video as a non-native Pole. First, there is the issue of translation. Oftentimes the meaning and subtle references of a language are lost when translated into another language. More importantly, however, is the lack of sensitivity or understanding one has concerning the issues of a country. For Poland the most pressing issue that needs to be confronted is the relationship between the Poles and the Jews, before, during, and after the Holocaust. By studying the history of this tense and difficult relationship one will more easily be able to understand, and therefore assess, the success of the film.

           The history of the relationship between the Poles and the Jews is long and complicated. According the Polish historiography, the years 1500-1650 are known as the golden age for Poland. While European countries such as Spain, Portugal, and England were casting out their Jews in bouts of extreme religious intolerance, the Polish Empire was accepting of Jews and other religions. Because of this many Poles look back to this time period when referring to themselves as a tolerant people.[14]

           Since this time the fate of the Jews in Poland has gone up and down, in large part depending on who was in charge of the Polish Empire. In the 19th century, when Russian Czars were in control, the Pale of Settlement was created, an area of northeastern Poland where a large number of Jews were settled and then confined. By the time of the Holocaust Jews and Poles viewed themselves as completely foreign to each other. Therefore it was much easier for the Poles to look the other way when the Nazis killed three million Polish Jews, who were oftentimes their neighbors.

           The understanding of the Holocaust is complicated by the fact that so much of it took place on Polish soil. Early in the war Poland was annexed both by the Germans and the Soviet Union, and throughout the war the borders were constantly changing. The Germans built their concentration camps and death factories on Polish soil, largely because so many Jews were located there, but also because of the Polish indifference concerning the Jews. Poland was home to the largest Jewish population in 1939, but ninety percent of Polish Jews died in the Holocaust.[15] In addition to the death of three million Jews, three million Poles were killed, leaving them as victims as well. This put the Poles in an interesting position because they had the opportunity to help the Jews while also being in a situation of persecution themselves. In Poland it was understood that if a Pole was caught hiding a Jew the punishment was death for the individual hiding the Jew as well as for all who collaborated, which often included the Pole’s family.

           The end of the war did not bring an end to anti-Semitism in Poland. As Jews returned to their native land several pogroms took place. In the years after the war a sort of civil war within Poland took place, which resulted in a pro-communist regime. During these years “Anti-Semitism in Poland was far from dead and ideas about zydo-kommuna--that the Jews were responsible for the woes of communism--still carried weight in wide circles of Polish society.”[16] This negative attitude towards Jews also stemmed from the fear that Jews would return from the Holocaust to Poland and try to reclaim their property and belongings.

           In 1948, when the Stalinist Communist regime was fully in power, an official re-writing and refocus of the Holocaust began to take place. Stalin and his government found the issue of genocide to be inconvenient for the newly established Communist regime.[17] This culminated in the repression and marginalization of the Holocaust. Jews were no longer referred to or even mentioned when the subject of World War II was taught. Instead it was taught that six million Poles died, further emphasizing Poles as victims. Because of this there were many Poles who were never taught about the vibrant Jewish population that existed before the war as well as the persecution they endured.

           Since then the truth concerning Poland’s past and the history of its Jews slowly began to be acknowledged. However, the relationship between the Poles and the Jews remained tense and strained. A country that before the war housed over ninety percent of the Jews today only holds a few thousand. In recent years an emphasis on Poland’s dark past as well as Polish-Jewish relations has been brought to light through several key works that resulted in international debates. These debates have been immensely important because they have forced Poles to re-analyze their participation in the war and their relationship with the Jews.  In addition, the truth about Poland’s history and past is finally being made known nationally. This is especially important because for years after the war many inaccurate assumptions had been made towards Poland, which further increased the Poles’ defensive attitude. While these debates continue to take a place, a much more accurate portrayal of Poland’s participation in the Holocaust is currently being taught.

           The first work that instigated a passionate discussion about Poland and the Holocaust was Jan Blonski’s 1987 article “The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto.” In this article Blonski did not accuse his country of complicity in the Holocaust, but instead he accused them of the sin of anti-Semitism.[18] As a Pole proposed,

Instead of haggling and justifying ourselves, we should first consider our own faults and weaknesses. This is the moral revolution which is imperative when considering the Polish-Jewish past. It is only this that can gradually cleanse our desecrated soil.[19]

Further he suggested that if the relationship between Poles and Jews had been more friendly before the war, it would have been considerably more difficult for the Nazis to implement their plan on Polish soil, for if the Nazis went after the Poles as they did the Jews a much stronger reaction would have resulted.

           Blonski believed it imperative that the Poles acknowledge their guilt and then apologize to the Jews, who had been waiting so long for an apology. Ironically, he looked to the Catholic Church of an example of how to behave because “the new Church documents do not attempt to exonerate the past, they do not argue over extenuating circumstances. They speak clearly about the failure to fulfill the duties of brotherhood and compassion.”[20]

           The reactions to Blonski’s article contained responses both in praise and defense of his argument. In general it seemed that only a minority of the Polish intelligentsia wanted to come to terms with the problematic aspects of the Polish-Jewish past, while the rest of the society became perhaps even more defensive.[21] This defensive attitude was further illustrated by the initial reaction of Poles to Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah. Before the film was released in Poland it received negative attention from the Polish press, and the Polish government even delivered a note of protest to the French government.[22] Once the film was aired in Poland there was a general sense of shock in response to the interviews conducted with Poles who lived near the concentration camp sites and continued to hold strong feelings of anti-Semitism even at the time of the interviews.

           A more recent and controversial debate has ensued over Jan T. Gross’s 2001 exposé Neighbors, about the 1941 massacre of an entire Jewish community in the village of Jedwabne. His book described graphically and with great detail the massacre of an entire Jewish community in the poor, rural town of Jedwabne by what Gross considered “a bunch of ordinary men.”[23] What made Gross’s argument even more controversial than Blonski’s was that “he concluded that not only had Poles stood indifferently aside and served as informants, they had actually participated in genocide.”[24]

           Much negative press arose concerning the validity of Gross’s facts and the methodology he used to gather and interpret these facts, but more importantly a debate among Poles and Jews worldwide re-ensued. Gross’s afterword mentions that despite critical responses, the dominant reaction to Neighbors was:

An outpouring of thoughtful and searching articles about the need to rewrite Poland’s twentieth-century history; about facing up to the larger consequences of anti-Semitism that gave rise also to complicity with Nazi crimes against Jewish neighbors; about responsibility for misdeeds so difficult to contemplate in a community that was itself victimized by outside oppressors.[25]

The response to Neighbors was so great that several books were written in reaction to it. The Neighbors Respond, edited by Antony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic, contains a compilation of essays responding to Gross’s book on the Jedwabne massacre. Interestingly, Polonsky, a premier Western historian on Polish history, also edited “My Brother’s Keeper?,” a collection of essays in response to Jan Blonski’s article. It is important to point out that Polonsky is also the historian for I Remember.

           The Neighbors Respond contains vital arguments about the ongoing debate over Poles, Jews, and the Holocaust. A huge moral debate ensued over Poland’s past actions, its current treatment of the Holocaust, and the issue of collective guilt. In an article titled “Obsessed with Innocence” Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, an associate Professor in the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Warsaw, put the responsibility of what Poles know about the Holocaust and themselves on to historians, for it is they who construct school curricula.[26] The problem is that many historians in Poland feel that in order to be taken seriously they must first be uncontroversial, thereby going no where near the issue of the Holocaust. Tokarska-Bakir argued that this must not continue because the last witnesses to the war are dying. Antoni Macierwicz also criticizes historians, but from the opposite position of saying too much about Polish involvement in genocide:

Instead of establishing facts, [Polish historians] join in the campaign against the Polish nation by trying to burden the Poles with the blame for the Holocaust under German occupation while ‘forgetting’ that the real perpetrators were the Germans.[27]

Clearly, there still remains a strong sensitivity towards the position of the Poles during the Holocaust.

           Several of the Polish intelligentsia responded with strongly self-critical articles. In a particularly passionate and ruthlessly critical article, Jerzy Slawomir Mac defined sixty percent of all Poles as compromising of the sub-species “Homo Jedvabicus.” He defined Homo Jedvabicus as:

Characterized by spinelessness, hypocrisy, an ostrichlike inclination to stick one’s head in the sand, a hysterical fear of unpleasant truths, and an inability to cope with the challenge of shattering the myths of Poles as suffering and heroic during the Second World War.[28]

But, although several intellectuals may have adopted strong feeling of self-criticism and regret, it must also be noted that Mac defined sixty percent, a clear majority, of Poles as having these negative characteristics until as recently as July 2001.

           The publicizing of the Jedwabne massacre also initiated several public responses by politicians within Poland. During the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek made a critical point regarding the Poles’ historical treatment of the Jews. He said that if Poland has the right to be proud of the Poles who heroically saved Jews, then they also has the responsibility to acknowledge the guilt of those who partook in their slaughter.[29] On the sixtieth anniversary of the massacre the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, discussed the issue of collective guilt. In his speech he said that although “every individual is accountable only for his own actions,” a nation is still a community, a community compromised of good and bad individuals and a community of many generations. Therefore today the Polish community still has the responsibility to face the truth of its past.[30]

           In conclusion to these debates it appears that a majority of the Polish intellectuals and elite have acknowledged the dark side of Poland’s past. From this acknowledgement stems the need to properly educate the Polish population about the events of the Holocaust and the Poles' relationship with the Jews. However, before the issue of education is discussed, it is important to discuss another popular trend within much of Poland today: the intense fascination that typically younger Poles have with Jews and Jewish culture.

Philosemitism in Contemporary Poland (back to top)

           In recent years there has been a massive rise in interest in Jewish culture among Poland’s younger generation. In the 1990 introduction to “My Brother’s Keeper?” Polonsky noted that this interest is surprisingly widespread. Books on Jewish subjects are rapidly bought and usually sell out, plays with Jewish themes are well attended, and visiting Israeli dance companies are met with extremely enthusiastic responses.[31] On a Chicago based radio show called This American Life, Erin Einhorn, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, talked with host Ira Glass about her experience with this phenomenon while she was in Poland.[32] Einhorn lived in the Jewish quarter of Krakow for a year while trying to learn more about her family’s relationship with a Polish family before, during, and after the Holocaust. While there she learned how strong Polish interest was with Jews, especially among the younger generation of Poles. Her Polish roommate had Hebrew letters tattooed on her shoulder, Erin attended Krakow’s annual Jewish Cultural Festival, which was predominately attended by Poles, and when she went to a trendy nightclub, songs from Fiddler on the Roof and chava negilah were played.

           After interviewing young Poles, Einhorn concluded that this now very homogenous and somewhat bland country has nostalgia for its multicultural past. Ironically the Poles of the younger generation associate Jews with a simpler and more innocent time. In addition she concluded that “this young culture wants to try to distinguish themselves from the previous generations and try to show that we’re different, we’re Western, we’re capitalistic, I don’t know, ethnically different.” Other historians have made similar conclusions. Ewa Berberyusz believes that in the currently mono-ethnic and mono-religious society of Poland, Poles feel a strong loss for their colorful past, for a time when there was a diversity of nationalities and religions.[33] Rafael Scharf noted that some see it as odd that the Poles shunned Jews and Jewish culture while they were in Poland and are only now beginning to embrace it, when Jews are no longer there. Scharf believes that if this interest is genuine than it should be seen as positive, for it is better late than never that the Poles begin to recognize and appreciate the Jews.[34]

           The resurgence of discussion about the Poles and the Holocaust and the Jews has led to a much-needed reform movement within the Polish educational system. In 1997 the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw concluded that the current Polish educational system still reflected the postcommunist educational system. On January 27, 2000 the Polish government signed the Stockholm Declaration, which committed itself to teaching the subject of the Holocaust in schools.[35] Holocaust education is now taught in lower and upper secondary schools, and many academic institutions now offer courses on the Holocaust and Jewish culture. In addition, the Polish government has made a large effort to work with outside organizations, such as the Yad-Vashem Institute and institutions that organize “March of the Living,” a program that brings Jewish teenagers to Poland to view concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Recently, in January 2005, in commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, prominent leaders from throughout the world attended ceremonies at the former concentration camp.[36]

           The new Holocaust curriculum, which is largely based around a pamphlet written by Piotr Trojanski and Robert Szuchta, focuses on three basic problems:

“Why was the Holocaust possible?
How did it happen?
What can be done to prevent it from happening again?”[37]

Szuchta believes that the Holocaust “should be taught in such a way as to make students realize that it is still possible for the crime of genocide to recur.”[38] Perhaps because of the new emphasis on Holocaust education, Trojanski has noticed a decrease in anti-Semitism in Poland, especially among young people. In addition to statewide mandates about how the Holocaust should be taught, individual teachers work with non-governmental organizations to further educate their students about the Holocaust. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) noted in a report on “Education on the Holocaust and Contemporary Anti-Semitism” that in 2001 the Institute Pamieci Narodowej (IPN) offered teachers in Jedwabne training to develop a course titled “The History and Culture of Polish Jews with an Emphasis on the Jews from Podlasie.”[39] Through this program the Jedwabne schoolchildren visited Jewish memorial sites in Jedwabne, toured the former ghetto in Warsaw, and participated in a panel discussion on “Polish-Jewish Relations.” The IPN found the project to be a success, and believes that the participating schoolchildren now have a greater understanding and knowledge of the history of the Polish-Jewish relationship.

Conclusion (back to top)

           Based on information about Poland’s history, the debates that have taken place, the relative current attitude of the Poles towards the Jews, and Poland’s school curriculum on the Holocaust, it is possible to analyze whether the Shoah Foundation’s educational film I Remember specifically caters to the issues that Poland needs to address. After basic research it becomes clear that the Shoah Foundation did put thought into creating a film that fit Poland’s needs. The first step the Foundation made to address these issues was hiring Andrezej Wajda as director and Antony Polonsky as the historian for the film. Wajda, one of the leading Polish film directors in postwar cinema, is known to deal with controversial periods of Polish history and is unwilling to compromise when dealing with difficult subjects.[40] Antony Polonsky, a well-known and respected historian on Polish-Jewish history, was deeply involved with the debates concerning Blonski’s article “The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto” and Neighbors. Based on their respected previous works it is clear that both Wajda and Polonsky are knowledgeable about the recent transformation of the Polish self-image and are not afraid to confront this issue.

           Upon initially viewing the film it is not immediately clear whether the film confronts the issues that need to be addressed in Poland. Although all four survivors speak of instances when Poles were kind, indifferent, and malicious, the film does not seem to specifically address the issue of the Jewish-Polish relationship. It also becomes clear that while the Shoah Foundation may have stated that they made the film with the intention of a Polish audience, this Foundation also intended to air the film throughout the world. In other words, the film contains large universal elements and is not so specific to Poland that it cannot resonate with non-Polish viewers. The film does not particularly attempt to explicitly confront the current issues of debate in Poland today.

           After a second, much more detailed and educated viewing of the film it becomes clear that the film is for the most part a great success. When viewing the film, non-Poles must take an understanding of the sensitivity of the subject matter in Poland into account. Although it has been several generations since the Holocaust occurred, the wounds from this time are still open. Only recently has Poland begun to tackle the issue of the Holocaust so the population in general is much less educated on the subject matter than many countries. When in Poland, the Jewish reporter Erin Einhorn encountered many young Poles who had never met a Jew before meeting her. For these Poles their only image of Jews was based on the extremely stereotypical film Fiddler on the Roof. Based on these encounters it becomes clear that a majority of the Polish population is extremely ignorant about its past.

           Therefore, when Poles view the film I Remember and hear the testimony of four Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland, they gain a much greater and more realistic understanding of the lost Jewish culture of Poland than they would from Fiddler on the Roof. It is important that Poles hear these testimonies because many of their parents and grandparents were silent about the subject of the Holocaust, and until recently it was considered taboo to talk about.  It is also important the survivors mentioned instances when Poles betrayed them and when Poles saved them. The film distinguishes between the experiences of Poles and of Jews during the war. Although the war was a horrible time for the Poles as well, the film makes it clear that the Jews were in a much direr situation.

           Much can be inferred from the title I Remember. While the title most clearly refers to the survivors’ testimonies and their personal memories of the past, it can also be interpreted as a statement about Poland’s decision to finally remember its past. The film is a reminder of the controversial and dark times that Poland suppressed from its memory for so many years. The titleI Remember makes the film’s intent clear; it is important for Poland to acknowledge both the good and bad aspects of its history.

           When the Shoah Foundation suggested the idea for a Polish film on the Holocaust, it embarked on a difficult and complex project. The five countries that the documentary series Broken Silence was made for all have intricate and complicated ties to the Holocaust, and Poland certainly had an extreme sensitivity to the subject. Whether it really was the Foundation’s goal to create a film that specifically addressed the current state of Poland or whether its real goal was to create a film that more generally addressed the issues of the Holocaust, the film should be considered a success. Now it is up to Poland to utilize this film, and other materials like it, to further improve Poland’s educational system, thereby decreasing prejudice, intolerance, and bigotry--the three things the Shoah Foundation aims to eliminate.

Bibliography (back to top)

  • Drobnicki, John A. “A Touch of Controversy.” The Polish-American Journal (February 1991), <>.
  • Erin Einhorn, interview by Ira Glass, This American Life, originally aired Sep. 20, 2002 Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International, 2 Dec. 2005, <http://www.>.
  • Gross, Jan T. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. United States: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Iordanova, Dina, review of The Political Films of Andrzej Wajda: Dialogism in Man of Marble, Mann of Iron, and Danton, by Janina Falkowska, The Slavic and East European Journal 41, no. 4 (Winter 1997): 712-713.
  • I Remember, prod. James Moll, dir. Andrzej Wajda, in series Broken Silence, Heritage Films/ Cinemax Reel Life/Universal, DVD.
  • Kirshner, Sheldon, “Polish Schools Begin Teaching Holocaust Studies.” The Canadian Jewish News, 28 February 2002.
  • March of the Living International, “Home,” 1 Dec. 2005, <>.
  • Mendehsohn, Ezra, review of “My Brother’s Keeper?” Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust, by Antony Polonsky, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 67, no. 2 (April 1991) : 346.
  • Naimark, Norman M. “The Nazis and ‘The East”: Jedwabne’s Circle of Hell.” Slavic Review 61, no. 3 (Autumn 2002) : 476-482.
  • “OSCE/ODHIR Publishes Two Reports on Hate Crimes and Education on the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism.” Press Release for OSCE, 2 June 2005, 15 Nov. 2005, <http://www.>.
  • “Poland, 27th of January – Liberation of Auschwitz,” Yad Vashem, Education: The International School for Holocaust Studies, 15 Nov. 2005 <http://www1. education/ceremonies/liberation/map/poland.htm>.
  • Polonsky, Antony, ed., “My Brother’s Keeper?”: Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust. London: Routledge, 1990.
  • Polonsky, Antony and Joanna Michlic, eds., The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy Over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004.
  • Szuchta, Robert. “Teaching About the Holocaust in Poland.” An End of Intolerance 5 (June 1997):
  • The Survivors’ of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, “Home”, 10 Nov. 2005, <>.
  • The Shoah Foundation, “Five-Part ‘Cinemax Reel Life’ Holocaust Documentary Series Broken Silence Presented by Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation, to Debut Exclusively on Cinemax April 15-19,” Broken Silence Press Release, April 9, 2002, ed. Janet Keller, 1 Dec. 2005 < Press/04_09_02_ BrokenSilence_ HBO-Cinemax.pdf>.
  • The Shoah Foundation, “Testimony to Tolerance Initiative Debuts at Jackson –Hinds Library System, Press Release, May 4, 2005, eds. Jamie Holcomb and Janet Keller, 17 Dec. 2005
  • Wojciech, Roszkowski. “After ‘Neighbors’: Seeking Universal Standards.” Slavic Review 61, no. 3 (Autumn 2002) : 460-465.
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Andrzej Wajda,” 2 Dec. 2005, <>

Notes (back to top) [jumping back to the footnote reference is one number off, sorry]

[1] The Survivors’ of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, “Home”, 10 Nov. 2005, <>.

[2] The Shoah Foundation, “Testimony to Tolerance Initiative Debuts at Jackson –Hinds Library System, Press Release, May 4, 2005, eds. Jamie Holcomb and Janet Keller, 17 Dec. 2005.

[3] The Shoah Foundation, “Five-Part ‘Cinemax Reel Life’ Holocaust Documentary Series Broken Silence Presented by Steven Spielberg and the Shoah Foundation, to Debut Exclusively on Cinemax April 15-19,” Broken Silence Press Release, April 9, 2002, ed. Janet Keller, 1 Dec. 2005 < BrokenSilence_ HBO-Cinemax.pdf>.

[5] James Moll, prod., Broken Silence DVD, back of DVD.

[6] March of the Living International, “Home,” 1 Dec. 2005,  <>.

[7] Henryk Mandelbaum, I Remember, Andrzej Wajda, dir., DVD.

[8] Leszek Allerhand, I Remember, Andrzej Wajda, dir., DVD.

[9] Stanislaw Jonas, I Remember, Andrzej Wajda, dir., DVD.

[11] David Efrati, I Remember, Andrzej Wajda, dir., DVD.

[12] Henryk Mandelbaum, I Remember, Andrzej Wajda, dir., DVD.

[13] Broken Silence Press Release

[14] Michael C. Steinlauf “Poland,” in Wyman, The World Reacts To The Holocaust, 83.

[15] Antony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic, “Introduction” to The Neighbors Respond, Introduction, 3.

[16]Slavic Review 61, no. 3 (Autumn 2002) : 477.

[17] Polonsky and Michlic, 5.

[18] Ezra Mendehsohn, review of “My Brother’s Keeper?” Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust, by Antony Polonsky, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs) 67, no. 2 (April 1991): 346.

[19] Jan Blonski, “The Poor Poles Look at the Ghetto,” in Polonsky “My Brother’s Keeper?”, 45.

[20] Blonski, 44.

[21] Polonsky and Michlic, 15.

[22] Polonsky and Michlic, 14.

[23] Gross, 1.

[24] Naimark, 478.

[25] Gross, 123.

[26] Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, “Obsessed With Innocence,” in Polonsky and Michlic, The Neighbors Respond, 76.

[27] Antoni Macierwicz, “The Revolution of Nihilism,” in Polonsky and Michlic, The Neighbors Respond, 102.

[28] Jerzy Slawomir Mac, “Homo Jedvabicus,” in Polonsky and Michlic, The Neighbors Respond, 115.

[29] Prime Minister Jerzy Bezek, “Living in Truth: A Special Statement by Prime Minister Jerzy Beuzek regarding the Slaughter of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941, April 2001,” in Polonsky and Michlic, The Neighbors Respond, 125.

[30] Aleksander Kwasneiwski, “Address by President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski at the Ceremonies in Jedwabne Marking the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Jedwabne Tragedy on 10 July, 2001,” in Polonsky and Michlic, The Neighbors Respond,131.

[31] Antony Polonsky, ed., “My Brother’s Keeper?,” (London: Routledge, 1990),  7.

[32] “Fake I.D,” on radio show This American Life, originally aired 9/20/02, 2 Dec 2005, <>.

[33] Ewa Berberyusz quoted in: “Introduction” in Polonsky, “My Brother’s Keeper?,” 7.

[34] Rafael Scharf quoted in: “Ethical Problems of the Holocaust in Poland,” in Polonsky, “My Brother’s Keeper?,” 196.

[35] Polonsky and Michlic, 21.

[36] “Poland, 27th of January – Liberation of Auschwitz,” Yad Vashem, Education: The International School for Holocaust Studies, 15 Nov. 2005, < education/ceremonies/liberation/map/poland.htm>.

[37] Sheldon Kirshner, “Polish Schools Begin Teaching Holocaust Studies,” The Canadian Jewish News, 28 February 2002.

[38] Quoted by Robert Szuchta, in “Polish Schools Begin Teaching Holocaust Studies” in Kirshner, The Canadian Jewish News, 28 February 2002.

[39] “OSCE/ODHIR Publishes Two Reports on Hate Crimes and Education on the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism.” Press Release for OSCE, 2 June 2005, 15 Nov 2005, <http://www.>, 25.

[40] Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “Andrzej Wajda,” 2 Dec. 2005, <>

paper completed December 15, 2005; converted and uploaded on 3/19/06 by H. Marcuse, last updated: see header
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