‘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.