I found the program to be tremendously moving. My emotions during the
program ran the gamut from anger to profound sadness about "man's inhumanity to
man." It was also a valuable lesson in the roots of anti-semitism. I am not
Jewish, yet you really didn't have to be to understand the extent to which Jews have
been persecuted. It was also very telling when the filmmaker and the archivist
reached an impasse as to whether or not the contributions of the Jewish community
would be honored at the celebration. It was sad that the archivist lacked the
backbone to stand up for the Jewish community. The program was outstanding. Once
again Frontline has done a tremendous job of informing and enlightening the PBS
I just finished viewing the moving new documentary SHTETL by Marian Marzynski. I
can not help but relate my own experiences from a recent trip to Poland. I was a
member of a Jewish community based trip touring Warsaw, Krakow, Lublin and several
smaller towns as well as shtetls. From the moment we arrived, our group felt
unwanted and not welcome. The trip was whirlwind, trying to see as much of what
was Jewish Poland as possible. My wearing a yarmulke (kipa) and our frequent stops
to recite prayers and light candles for the lost lives seemed to cause several
negative reactions; The unfriendly faces greeting us in many of the locations, the
hard times we were given to view some of the important Jewish sites, the rushing in
and out of the Warsaw Cemetery for fear of a local gang of intimidating looking men
and the shouts of Jews go home and Jew! as our group walked from place to
place - yes, even in Warsaw. What a wonderful feeling a modern harmless Jewish
person walks away with. Mr. Marzynski's film portrays, unfortunately, reality in
how Poland still approaches anti-Semitism. No, I'm sure and hope that this is not
the norm in Poland. However, lets take a true look and see what's out there -
from SHOAH to SHTETL to my own experiences this past year. How can one ignore
that? I can't say I walked away from Poland with many positive feelings. As far
as these accusations that Marian Marzynski didn't find the true killers in Bransk,
did it cross your mind that these Polish men could have been lying? Why should
they admit to killing or helping to murder Jews? Many of the Polish residents our
tour group stopped to talk felt an obligation to inform us that their own
parents/family hid Jews during the war. My G-d, can you only imagine...if all the
people that told us that were actually telling the truth, I don't think we would
have had so many innocent lives taken away. Mr. Marian Marzynski - your well shot,
emotional and accurate documentary is deserving of a hearty BRAVO!
As an American student on our European trip few years ago, we stopped in Poland.
Among other places we have visited Auschwitz. I was totally unprepared for the
horrors I found in this place. Our Polish hosts and my Jewish friends from the tour
spent good deal of time explaining to me the history of this troubled land and the
complexity of polish-Jewish relationship.
The anti-semitism was not to difficult to detect in Poland, mainly among older and
uneducated people. Poles on the other side complained that American Jews were
bitterly anti-polish. Some feedback letters to the Frontline, I'm afraid, are
proving their point.
I was looking toward Shtetl, but my reflections were mixed.
On one hand Poles have to accept the fact that some of them help Germans in their
extermination task. They also have to fully acknowledged Jewish contribution to
this land and its past and present culture.
On the other hand, the attitude of young Israeli students doesn't bode well for the
future of this relationship.
The movie Shtetl left me with a bad taste. It attempted to be an objective piece of
journalism, but the intellectual mismatch between professional historians,
co-creators of the Holocaust Museum on one side and old, sick, uneducated peasants
and a boy taken for a ride on the other side, was this film undoing.
I felt, I was manipulated.
Today I read the following letter from Mr. Man Elchanan,
President of the Committee of Emigrants from Bransk (Poland).
The letter was published in soc.culture.polish on May 4th, 1997.
It tells a completely different story about how the Jewish
citizens of Bransk fared before and during the war than
the story Marzynski tells in his film 'Shtetl'. I think it is wise
to pay attention to Mr. Elchanan's letter on your home pages
concerning 'Shtetl'. If what Mr. Elchanan writes is true - and
I see no reason to doubt this beforehand - it would at least be misleading to call
the film 'Shtetl' a documentary. Marzynski's
personal perspective as presented in the film would do gross injustice to the real
Polish-Jewish relationship in Bransk, and
hinder a coming-to-terms of Jews and Poles today.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
After watching PBS-financed film SHTETL, broadcast
April 17th, I have to express my objections regarding
manipulations of historical facts.
This film misrepresents relationship between Jews and Poles,
who lived together for centuries. Poland gave Jews freedom
and opportunity when they were expelled by other nations.
Marzynski in his SHTETL, passionately distorts historical
facts, especially from the Holocaust period.
Marzynski deliberately conceals such essential information
as more Polish people were executed for rescuing Jews in Poland
than in any other occupied nation in Europe, and more people
willingly took this risk despite the fact Poland was the ONLY
country in Europe where the Nazis declared death as a penalty
for giving a Jew ANY kind of aid.
However, Marzynski admits that 5,000 of the 11,000 trees at
Yad Vashem honor Poles who helped Jews, but this trace of the
truth blends with Marzynski's manipulations of historical
I believe that Marzynski's SHTETL will be withdrawn from
any future broadcast on Public Channels, so that new generations
will learn from respectful sources of historical data and will
not be exposed to lies, half-truth, prejudice and hatred.
I think the show "Shtetl" was very enlightening and educational. It
is important to show history, educate people so we will not allow any people
of any race or ethnic group to be destroyed.
I was saddened by now much people's pride keep them from trying to
respect and understand other's differences. We are all human and if the
situation would have been reversed and the Jews would have been killed or
their families if they had harbored Polish people would they have come
forward ? It had to do with who has the power at the time, it isn't religion
or what color the person's skin but who has the power and their fear of
another becoming more powerful.
It was sad to see people still arguing over who is right. We have
all been labeled as a part of some group but it is each individual who
chooses the way they act based on what they believe of have been taught.
Friction was created between the Jewish people and the Polish
people when the Jewish people ran the businesses of the town, all through
history we can see how people hate to be subservient it their eyes to anyone.
No one wants an injustice done to himself or his family, so people are always
at odds doing in the name of justice or love what they think is right.
It makes me wonder if there can ever be peace on earth. Do people
really want peace on earth? If we really do they would start to respect
others and try to understand others at the same time trying to correct our
own faults. At the same time we need to be aware that there is a genuine evil
in the world. We need to remember we don't know what we would do if we were
put in similar situations of the people we condemn, we are all capable of
unconditional love and heinous violence.
I look forward to reading other people's responses to this program.
AN OPEN LETTER:
Before I plunge into my critique of the film which I must share, a little background:
Marian and I, as we discovered, had shared a parallel odyssey: both born in Poland; both rescued by Poles at the risk of their lives, and we have followed similar callings over the years, both as producer-directors (myself with CBS-TV, as broadcaster, as producer-director on Broadway, in the resident theater, and in film).
Now, here it goes:
1. Of all the "rules" in the media including literature and documentary filmmaking, as well as in literature, not to mention the academe, one has been iron-clad: personal diaries, biases, opinions and commentaries do not mix with objective, historical, documentary approaches-- as any well-trained and honest journalist would posit. While I wish Marian well-- both personally and professionally-- this film presents a travesty of the above named rule. Marian, as producer-director as well as the interviewer (and I assume the writer, as well) swings back and forth between his personal World War II ordeals, on the one hand; and the "story" of Polish-Jewish relations in the Polish town of Bransk, on the other hand.
2. A documentary film on the subject of the Holocaust imposes grave responsibilities on the filmmaker. It not only must be absolutely honest, and free of personal interweaving comments, but it must place the particular story within the larger context, to wit here: Polish-Jewish relations, lest it become demagogish. Granted that a particular story might portray some ruffians who'd denounced Jews, but it must also include those who had risked their lives under the threat of an immediate execution. It was thanks to the latter that both Marian and I are alive today, including, as an authority within Yad Vashem (Dr. Joseph Kiermisch), stated: perhaps as many as 100,000 (multiplied by 2-5, say friends or family members who'd assisted the savior) Poles have saved Polish Jews.
If figures are not categorically reliable (witnesses have not come forth; many have died), then some 60 percent of Righteous Christians horned by Yad Vashem, are Polish Christians.
Yet, Marian (like Claude Lanzmann) seems to have selected merely a number of common Poles in one place to make a point. It oozes a preordained point of view; worst yet, it fails to place those incidents within a larger context of terror and the thousands of acts of heroism to save Jews-- often total strangers.
To have exercised objective responsibility, would have been to have, at the end of the film, two authorities and historians of the period, of the ilk of say, Wladyslaw Bartoszewski (one of the founders of "Zegota," the underground Polish organization which saved thousands of Jews by hiding them-- until recently Poland's Foreign Minister); and say, Elie Wiesel.
3. The film is unabashedly self-indulgent: an array of shots of filmmaker: Marian on the train, Marian interviewing; Marian listening (sure, you need a few reverse shots); Marian walking-- in the portion of the film which should have spoken for itself.
4. Marian's Polish-English-Polish interpreting has been sorely inadequate, often wrong-- particularly in the voice-over sections when he had much time to do it properly in the studio.
5. Most offensive, however, has been Marian's patronizing attitude toward the Polish protagonist, Zbyszek, who must have come across as a pillar (despite his young age) of restraint and civility. His attempts to voice his views were often quashed by Marian who'd cut him off while putting his own arm around the Pole in a patronizing manner. The session with the Israeli teenagers who'd just returned from Poland was appalling: one teenager bemoans the fact that "a couple" of Poles had risked their lives to save Jews-- "why not more?" in that town. It is sorely partisan if not downright dishonest, to allow such a comment to stand without the filmmaker-- no matter by what means-- to challenge such a naive comment by presenting the reality of the German terror, or by directly asking that teenager whether he would have risked his own life and that of his family, to save a stranger in the face of a swift execution or public hanging.
6. The film is far too long as it indulges in petty details of the present-day lives of some survivors.
7. I have toiled for years (please see enclosures) to effect a better
rapproachment between Jews and Poles-- persons of good will dedicated to peace
on earth. In my view, you will get a lot of flak from the film's comments by
the knowledgeable public of objective mien. And so, I write this with a heavy
Joseph S. Kutrzeba, Ph.D.
Rego Park, NY
I write to express my reactions to several comments I have just read in FEEDBACK, but I will give my general impressions of the documentary first. I thought Shtetl was the perfect project/initiative to present on television during Yom Shoah. In fact I had no idea what it was or what it contained before I flipped on the television last night and heard Hebrew and decided to watch. Thus I feel I had a relatively unbiased opinion on what the film might portray before I came to watch it. What I saw was amazing. Zbyszek Romaniuk's journey through Poland, America, and Israel searching for Jews with memories of his town, and confronting Poles (in Poland and America) with their horrendous past, was fascinating. However, I think the most moving and thought provoking aspect of the film was what was missing. To all of our dismay, Zbyszek failed to even mention Jewish existence in Bransk, which thrived in the small village for over 400 hundred years. FOUR HUNDRED YEARS! Jews lived, worked and associated (however marginally) with Poles for centuries before the Shoah, and Zbyszek claims the citizens of Bransk are not yet ready to deal with this. What was omitted from his remarks rings more loudly and eloquently than anything he could have said. Unfortunately, I think it impossible for Poles (including Zbyszek) to reconcile their past with Jews in America and Israel and any where in the world if they cannot even begin to contemplate their role in the Shoah (both positive and negative) or utter the word "Jew" without fear of being castigated FIFTY years after the event.
Moving on to comments:
Joseph Kutrzeba states in his letter: "Yet, Marian (like Claude Lanzmann) seems to have selected merely a number of common Poles in one place to make a point. It oozes a preordained point of view..." To this I must agree and argue. Poles living in or near shtetls throughout rurual Poland were exactly that -- Common. Who is not shocked by the scene where we encounter Jack and an elderly farmer/peasant arguing over the peasant's association of greed with the Jewishness of Jack's family. This farmer does not need to justify the Shoah verbally, he has done so through his ignorance and his actions. There is no Polish intelligensia in these villages who can excuse or rationalize Polish response and complicity to Nazi atrocities in the face of German occupation and the Final Solution. Marian should not be criticized for portraying a seemingly slanted view of Polish citizens, but commended for exposing the true nature of Anti-semitism that prevades much of Poland to this very day.
In his letter, Tom Killian states: "This is the question the film should have
addressed. Americans enslaved black people and exterminated Indians: "good"
people did these things! Isolating the Holocaust as a unique horror only
muddies understanding, dividing the people of the world upon a single
event." Unfortunately, I think this statement is a bit reductionist and
escapist. I think the words of Theodore Adorno, describe the
incomprehensibility of this event best when he writes: "The Holocaust
paralyzes the metaphysical capacity". The Shoah is a UNIQUE EVENT in
history. Other tragedies in human history can be unique in their own
right and for this reason should not be compared to the Shoah. On the
contrary to Tom's point, approaching the Shoah with other atrocities in
mind (such as slavery, treatment of Native Americans, oppression of
women, the murder of millions under Stalin, Armenians in Turkey,
Japanese internment during World War II.....) is
what muddies understanding. If the Shoah is approached from this
perspective it can be explained and excused and even denied. Then we
conclude INCORRECTLY, the Shoah was the result of a handful (or maybe
only one) paranoid Nazi leader, that the Jews remained too passive in the
face of increased Nazi aggression, etc... These are all excuses and do
not confront the deep dark issue of the Shoah -- had Hitler and Nazi
Germany realized their goal I would not be alive today.
PBS should be severely rebuked by all its viewers for its blatant stereotyping, prejudice, exploitation of rumours, historical distortion and total disregard for the documented history of the German occupation of Poland in Marian Marzynski's SHTETL.
There is far too much wrong with this so-called documentary to list all its flaws. It is so transparently manipulative and dishonest, one can only wonder whether it is PBS policy to automatically accept any anti-Polish bias without question.
A study of Poland's resistance to Germany, of her unflinching battle with the Allies on every front, and of the terrible human and material losses suffered during the occupation should be required of everyone at PBS who so carelessly approved Mr. Marzynski's indulgence of his hatred and contempt for the Polish people. Indeed, they might profit from this elementary advice from How To Study History, a textbook often recommended for students taking introductory courses in history:
You must be especially careful about historical opinions that are so commonplace that they have been accepted as inviolable truth and inevitable assumption. The more fashionable and cliche ridden an historical judgment....the more you must be on your guard. For those discriminating viewers and serious students of history, well-researched documents may be requested at the address below.
Mrs. Hanna Sokolski
President Canadian Polish Congress
206 Beverley Street
Toronto, Ont. M5T 1Z3
I teach documentary film-making among other subjects at a Cambridge, Ontario high school. I am grateful for Joseph S. Kutrzeba's incisive, lucid critique of the serious problems with Marian Marzynski's film Shtetl. Any one seriously interested in engaging the topic of Polish Anti-Semistism must read Dr. Kutrzeba's critique to see why students of the genre would find his work unacceptable. Fellow documentarians serious about the craft of documetary film-making should be thankful you gave Kutrzeba's response much deserved prominance in your feedback section. Recently I was in Nepal, Katmandu and learned from several Nepalese shop-owners that Jews are disliked by poor villagers in the Himalayas of Nepal, because the Jews, more so than other groups that visit Nepal, penny pinch and nickel and dime the villagers in order to gain the most trifling financial advantage. Using Marzynski's standard of journalism I should find a group of Isrealis who are merciless in their penny-pinching of poor villagers. I should ignore other Israelis who leave extra money for the poor and still others who leave them gifts, because after all I am convinced that Jews are heartless and ungenerous when it comes to money and this one particular group of Jewish tourists stands an excellent chance of proving my thesis. I'll train my film camera on this group and remain oblivious to other Nepalese-Jewish interactions in the mountains that might contradict my thesis. In an interview after the Boston screening of his film, Marzynski, revealing that cracks in the film's integrity are supported by cracks in his own, made the incredibly arrogant statement that Zbyszek did not have the moral fortitude to withstand the backlash of his fellow villagers who suspected his unholy alliance with a self-indulgent documentarian. Zbyszek is morally questionable because he won't incur the wrath of his citizens who contradict Marzynski's portrayal of war-time Bransk. Poles in war-time Bransk are morally questionable because promises of death to them and their families dissuaded them from more actively helping Jews. Poles should have been stronger than that.
Did Marzynski bother to find and interview the survivor of even one Pole who was killed because he or another Pole helped a Jew? Elswhere in the interview, Marzynski offers "their was a scandal that the sister of my mother married a non-Jew." Of a small group of non-Jews residing in Warsaw who married non-Jews, he states: "they are totally mentally screwed up." For marrying non-Jews? Do I detect signs of personal and familial discrimination creeping into Mr. Marzynski's speech? Biographical criticism remains out of fashion for the most part, and so I admit that I should not allow my impressions of Shtetl to be tainted by impressions of the man Marzynski. And I would have left the character and integrity of the film-maker out, if it had not been for that pathetic scene in the classroom with the Israeli teenagers. Why didn't more Poles help the Jews, asked a girl? Many more did! Many died because of those who did! Marzynski just didn't find room for them on his storyboard. I decided to write this letter when Marzynski arrogantly placed his hand on Zbyszek's shoulder. Taking on the role of victim, witness, lawyer, and judge, he handed down his verdict: Zbyszek and countrymen (or should we just say citizens of Bransk!) - Guilty on all accounts of not being heroic enough in saving my fellow Jews from the holocaust." Marzynski at one point makes the incredulous statement that Shtetl is about the human soul. It's not. Nor is about anti-semitism. If it were, greater Europe and Russia would have provided a wider more varied example of systematic anti-semitism across cultures. After all, so many Jews existed in Poland because they found greater liberties in Poland than elsewhere in Europe. Such a study might have even shown Poles to be compassionate in comparison to their European neighbours. No, his film was about finding evidence to support his personal conviction that Poles didn't do enough to save
Jews because they lacked moral courage. He set up his laboratory in Bransk, a
village rife with evidence supporting his idea, and made no effort to find
information that might contradict his thesis. I encourage educators to use
Shtetl in the following lesson plan that will bring together the subjects of media
studies, history, and ethics. Supplies needed include: a reputable text on
documentary film-making, Shtetl, Joseph S. Kutrzeba's citique of Shtetl and a copy
of the novel Lord of the Flies. Having studied all these texts thoroughly, change
another question that Marzynski is so found of. Instead of asking how Poles would
act if threatened today with death for aiding Jews in a re-visited holocaust, ask
how YOU would behave if threatened with death for aiding Jews during a re-visited
holocaust. For Marzynski and his students, the question might be phrased thus:
You are a Jew living in the state of Israel. Your country has been invaded by a
barbaric foreign power determined to liquidate the Palestinian people who live
among you. There are posters warning you and other Jews that you, your family,
even your entire village will be killed if you are caught helping a Palestinian.
It's late at night, and you hear a knock on the door. It is a frightened
Palestinian boy seeking a place to hide. What would you do? In his Nobel Prize
winning novel about a subject Marzynski pretended to, but failed to, explore,
William Golding cautions us against answering this basic question too quickly,
because confronted with the dilemma in real life, we might be surprised by how we
What a shame that Dr. Joseph S. Kutrzeba felt "Shtetl" was too self indulgent. Imagine the horror of his aesthetic displeasure! I assume he will make a film now, employ all of his "old" contacts in the media to tell "his truth" in an aesthetically please way. It is so reassuring that he and Marian worked in the media. His anti-semitism REAKS through his letter.
Isn't it amazing that Dr. Kuzreba finds a rulebook on making documentaries about
the holocaust: "A documentary film on the subject of the Holocaust imposes grave
responsibilities on the filmmaker." Where is such a rulebook found? How would he
characterize the slaughter of an entire village? Is he Jewish? DOes he care?
Dr. Krozeba says, "The film is far too long as it indulges in petty
details of the present-day lives of some survivors." Ah, this is petty, Herr,
He complains about the filmmaker: The film is unabashedly self-indulgent: an
array of shots of filmmaker: Marian on the train, Marian
interviewing; Marian listening (sure, you need a few reverse shots); Marian
walking-- in the portion of the film which should have spoken for itself."
I guess "Marian" had no right to have a P.O.V. in this film, given that his
family was obliterated by your countrymen and he himself had to assume the identity
of a Christian to survive the war.
Maybe in the future, "Doctor," someone will make a small film about the holocaust
that is palatable to your fine sensibilities.
I cannot remember watching something so compelling as Shtetl. As a 35 y.o. gentile who was brought up in a largely Jewish section of Brooklyn, I could remember many a camp survivor. Most were immigrants from Poland, Germany and Romania. The most amazing thing to me was their love of life. Each day, they worked and raised families and played. How they were able to cope with the images that they saw, is incomprehensible to me. Shtetl showed how after 50 years, the denial and the lack of support led to the deaths of so many innocent people. For if the Poles really want to be free after 50 years of communism, they must learn to admit their terrible contribution to the Holocaust. And too, honor those who helped the Jews escape certain death. Thank you PBS and Frontline, for allowing me to glimspe into the lives of those wonderful people in Bransk. I will never forget it.
I have just finished reading some of the reactions to Shtetl already posted. I find it appalling that many respondents characterized the Jewish reaction as a cycle of blame and victimization. The Holocaust was the most despicable event of modern times. We need to learn about it so that it never happens again to anyone/anywhere. More programs chronicling the oppression of other ehtnic groups are necessary. As a Jew, I feel these reactions are blatantly anti-semitic and the respondents would be satisfied if the Holocaust was never mentioned again.
I have to agree with one of your respondants that words such as like or dislike do not enter into the judgement of this film. It was, simply, very disturbing.
The fact that some people think "SHTETL" was subjective, in whatever direction, is of course true. The fact that some people thought it was objective is also true. How could this be? Becuse caring, sensitve, people made it.
There are facts about the holocaust known to any explorer of history. The numbers killed, where they were killed, etc. How this makes any particular person feel is going to be different.
The students in Israel feel the way they need to. The fact that they poo pooed the Polish heroes who helped to save Jews. Because again the idea that these Poles are heroes is also subjective. To the Jews who were saved, thank G-D, these Poles are heroes. But to a lot of Poles, and other antisemites they were traitors.
As far as Jewish history is concerned, most of the poulation on this planet have been harming Jews in some fashion. Since Avraham Avinu (Abraham our father) the Jewish people have been on the run. With maybe a six hundred year break during the time of both Temples.
Maybe the majority of Polish people resented the Jews. But I ask you, didn't the President of The United States of America turn back a ship load of Jews seeking assylum from the Third Reich? Isn't it true that no country in North America would take them?
At the present time antisemetism it is still going on. Even in Israel itself.
Now think back to those Israeli teenagers. Maybe with these thoughts in
mind, one can understand their attitude with a bit more objectivity.
I found Shtetl very moving. Zbyszek Romaniuk is definitely the hero of the film. He begins struggling with difficult issues during the narrative, and I feel he is not finished struggling with them by the time the story ends. This is a satisfying story, and the rest of the details of the film, though interesting and at times provocative, are secondary.
I have read some of the letters on the Frontline Web site from Jews and Poles who are decidely angry after watching Shtetl, and I wish they would reflect more on the meaning of the film. People all over the world seem to be clamoring to be seen as the victims of injustice, and to proclaim the innocence of their own folk. It is a natural temptation for anyone, and Romaniuk wants to do this, too, by all means. But he is not able to do so comfortably, hence his struggle. After seeing this film, I remember that I too have to be less sure of who is guilty and who is righteous, and to surrender myself to what Romaniuk goes through. Now that the filming is over, I hope the historian and the man Romaniuk continues to struggle to face unpleasant things and to weigh the truth of different claims, as we all should in humility.
I say this remembering that my family were Polish Jews, and fully
aware of how they died and who killed them. All my relatives who were
alive in Europe after 1938 perished. My great-grandfather Yehezkel
Prager, of blessed memory, left his religious community as an old man to
join a Warsaw resistance cell, and was betrayed by an infiltrator and shot
After watching the program last night, I went to the Internet to read what was there. I am an American Jew and Israeli and part of my father's family came from and died in Poland.
I read the letter from the American Polish group and the letters exchanged between Romaniuk and Marzynski. It appears antisemantism is alive and well not only in Poland but the United States as well. I think the greatest problem reflected in the letters is dealing with the truth. How can it be said the movie wasn't truthful when it is the people's own words that condemn them?
I saw old men and women struggling with a past that seems to haunt them; a past that is screaming inside of them to be told for better or for worst. I saw people on both sides yearning to be free of something many of them never understood or even wanted to understand.
Thank you for remembering the six million and a way of life that is lost forever. We may not be able to turn back the clock but let us never forget the blood of the innocents nor those who risked their lives to save them.
"There is no business like Shoah business." No matter how corrupted the history of your "documentary." No matter how insightful to hatred. No matter what damage it is bound to cause to relationships between people whose money you use to broadcast it. No matter how disrespectful to those who perished in the Holocaust. Your insatiable lust for the almighty buck and your ill-will propels you. When you wallow in the profits from "SHTETL," think of the human suffering which made your profits possible. You might also stop to ponder what you, or your immediate ancestors, did to alleviate the tragedy of WWll.
I just came across the postcard by which FRONTLINE advertises SHTETL. Below is the text:
"When a young Gentile in Bransk, Poland, begins searching for the remnants of the town's Jewish heritage, fellow residents feel threatened. Fifty years earlier, the 2,500 Jews who lived in the village, or schtetl, were sent to Treblinka's gas chambers. When Zbyszek Romaniuk, front, is joined by Nathan Kaplan, a Polish-American Jew whose father had lived in Bransk, and filmmaker Marian Marzynski, who survived the Holocaust as a hidden child, neighbors become suspicious and fear the Jews will return to reclaim their property. FRONTLINE follows these pilgrims as they uncover a deeper understanding of who they are, where they came from, and how the watershed events of the Holocaust continue to shape their lives.
A FRONTLINE film commemorating
National Holocaust Remembrance Week
Wednesday, April 17, at 8 p.m. on PBS
(check local listings)
Producer - Marian Marzynski
Executive producer - David Fanning"
A lie immediately in the first sentence. The young Gentile in Poland was preserving Jewish history in Bransk out of his interest and humanity. Any human person would have been grateful. Who would the local residents be threatened by? The 2,500 Bransk Jews that died in the gas chambers? Or perhaps you insinuate that they did not die? Are you deniers? Revisionists? The Bransk Jews came to that area only in the last quarter of the XIXth century, about 100 years ago. They came as poor immigrants and went through the horrors of WWI. But by 1939 they already had properties? Apparently, life was not so bad, after all, in that "anti-Semitic Poland."
You forgot to say that the ungrateful Jew, this film's maker, the monster Marian Marzynski (still holding onto his good Christian Polish name) was hidden and saved from death by Polish Catholic nuns.
What a way to commemorate National Holocaust Remembrance Week. By hatemongering and fraud on history. What poverty of your minds and souls and integrity and ethics! What audacity you have. You fancy yourselves that you follow and uncover understandings of how your convoluted movie shaped those "pilgrims" lives. Why did you not insist on historical accuracy? It is your obligation to the public which funds you. You lack humanity to uncover any understanding of the horrors of WWII. The only understanding, you executives at PBS have, is of the pleasure you ill gotten profits can get you. Shame! Shame! Shame, on all of you!
Dana I. Alvi
Polish-American Public Relations Committee
Shtetl: A Review
The film entitled "Shtetl," aired on PBS-TV on April 17, 1996, was yet another in a series of one-sided, tendentious portrayals of Polish-Jewish relations during World War II. It can be criticized from several perspectives.
While it sets out to examine the fate of Jews in Bransk, it also seeks to achieve a different result. By switching the scenery suddenly from the rural Bransk to the splendid skyline and the suburban mansions of Chicago, the producer consciously and deliberately seeks to convey the most negative image of Poland as a poor, underdeveloped country.
In the same vein, the most frequent and memorable images of people one retains from he film are the uniformly senile, poor, child-like, and tearful peasant men and women whom the producer and narrator insensitively interrogates, with the camera shifting its focus from their shaking hands to other parts of their bodies in various stages of dishevelment. In this instance, while searching to uncover cruelty of others, the producer/narrator perpetrates an insidious cruelty of his won. He admits that, at their age, these poor people are hallucinating; therefore, of what worth is their testimony. Yet he goes on to ask them questions which might lead these mentally weakened octogenarians to perhaps incriminate themselves. This is a shameful performance on the part of the producer.
In the area of Jewish-Polish relations, the producer's purpose is to condemn, not to understand. The scene portraying the meeting between Mr. Romaniuk and the Israeli high school seniors is particularly revealing. The young students indiscriminately condemn all Poles, and especially the Polish underground forces during World War II, for being anti-Jewish and, in the latter case, for killing them on sight. Apart from the fact that there are volumes of documentary evidence to the contrary, this scene clearly reveals that these students, too young to have had personal knowledge of the events, have been taught to see Poland and Poles in the most negative light. If teaching indiscriminate hate of others is the educational policy in Israel, and perhaps Jewish communites outside of Israel as well, then the hope for some kind of Polish-Jewish understanding, understanding, not to speak of reconciliation, has no basis.
If indoctrination of the young to hate, rather than to understand, is an educational policy of Jewish leaders, then we are dealing here with a deliberate manipulation of human emotions to achieve an objective. The question is what is that objective? And what means are used to attain it?
While we can only speculate about what possible good such a policy could achieve, we can evaluate the means used to pursue it. It is quite clear that both the education policy of Israeli youth and the impact of the film on the television audience will sow distrust and intense dislike, even hate, between the two ethnic groups. If similar policies were to be pursued, say, by Poles (or the French) in relation to Germans, Lithuanians, Russians, and the Ukrainians, and by all the latter with regard to Poles, Europe would probably be already in flames, again. This is exactly what happened among the Serbs, the Croats, and the Moslems in the early 1990's, on the eve of the recent wars among these nations.
Most Europeans learned the lessons from their history and, in spite of the undeniable and in some cases unspeakable cruelties which they visited upon one another in the past, have begun to forgive, though not to forget, the past. Criminals should be apprehended and punished. Entire nations, however, may not be held responsible for the deeds of the few, nor can they be held hostage to "you did not do enough." Forgiveness, though difficult, is liberating and it alone contains the promise of a brighter future.
At the conclusion of the film even Mr. Romaniuk, the historian of Jewish culture in Bransk, is also portrayed as an anti-Semite. Thus, even the best of them do not pass the test. Dishearteningly, Mr. Shamir's remark, that Polish children dring anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk, may have deeper roots than we suspect. In the end, the film, which begins with one man's desire to revisit his roots and to sort out honestly the good and the evil, is transformed by the producer into a message of discord, division, and hate. What a loss.
If I were given an opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the Jewish community, I would wish to start with the lady in whose presence the Polish villagers from Bransk killed her mother. The lady, whose name I do not recall, began by saying that she would prefer to talk about those Poles who saved Jews, not those who killed them. (However, under the unfailing guidance of the film's producer, she concentrates on describing only the painful details of ther mother's and brother's murder). I would begin with a profound and sincere apology to her for what other Poles did to her and her family and then, with equal candor on both sides, proceed to examine both mutual hurts and mutual hopes. I would do this not to accuse but to honestly expose and confront the past as a way to reaching a mutual understanding. I would pursue this objective for its own noble sake, as a good in itself, for we truly honor the dead not with lies but with truth, not with hate but with forgiveness. And there are many to honor and much to forgive.
Witold J. Lukaszewski
April 18, 1996
As an addendum to the film, there have been several recent developments in the shtetl of Bransk, Poland. Zbyszek was voted out of office in his latest bid for re-election as vice-mayor, and is pursuing graduate work in Jewish Studies in Bialystok, a nearby city. The road to the Old Jewish Cemetery has been blocked off by the purchase of the land for a factory, rendering access and further restoration nearly impossible. There have been recent desecrations of gravestones in the Jewish cemetery.
Interestingly, the vandals have left alone the gravestone Zbyszek erected at the site where 70 Jews, including my grandparents and aunts, as well as two Poles, were shot and buried by Germans. The Germans had declared that after the Jews were murdered, the Poles could have what was left of Jewish property after the Germans had first pick. Two Poles "jumped the gun" and were shot and buried there with the Jews. For the sake of those two thieves, the Poles leave alone at least that gravestone to those who died in the sanctification of G-d's name. I had wanted to put up another gravestone, but the Lauder Foundation told me they are usually desecrated, unless someone is there to watch it.
In only a 3-hour documentary of such a big and complex subject, much has been left out. Yosel Broide's heroic partisan activity in the woods around Bransk, the children that righteous Poles saved, the children that Poles turned in to the Germans, the "rounding up" of escaped Jews by Poles in surrounding villages, and the shooting of the last Jew of Bransk in the middle of the market square in broad daylight in 1947 (no witnesses came forward)-- all of this is documented in the Bransk Yizkor Buch.
While many of us would like to see the attrocities and the courageous
actions more fully brought to light, that is not the purpose of Shtetl.
Marian Marzynski's subject is _not_ how we Poles and Jews dealt with
the Holocaust then, but how we are dealing with it now.
I want to thank you for having the decency to devote 3 hours to such a wonderful film. I was mesmorized by it. It was thought provoking and heart wrenching. Both sides of my parent's families were killed during the holocaust. My father's parents came from a small shetl in Poland that was completely wiped out. And my mother's side was killed in Babi Yar.My children will be taught never to forget and with your generosity and help,maybe others won't either. Thank You!
Zbyszek Romaniuk is a man caught between the desire to understand and the fear of knowing. What he is doing through his historical research is important to the collective knowledge of his community. His town may not be able to hear what he has to say right now. But if he finds other young people to teach, if he waits for another like himself to appear from amongst the younger townsfolk, he will pass on what he has discovered. In time, people will want to hear. We are incomplete without our history.
I watched Shtetl with a great anticipation of a balanced view of prewar Polish-Jewish relationship. Regrettably, Shtetl was anything but that.
First of all, in my opinion Shtetl was not a documentary. The producer went out of his way to promote his particular viewpoint which should not happen in a documentary.
Secondly, there was too much of trying to convince Romaniuk to represent producer's and others point of view. I can understand that some may want to do it but it should not be producer's attitude because such attitude gives an impression of bias. An impression of bias was reinforced by the fact that a translation from Polish was sometimes very incorrect and in few cases it was cut in situations where it represented views that were in disagreement with producer's attitude toward the subject.
Next, I was puzzled why a producer, which proved to be insistent in many situations, did not bother to explore the problem of why those who helped "the gooseman" did not have the trees in Yad Vashem.
Finally, it seems to me that if it is all right to present
a "documentary" that promotes a certain viewpoint why it
is not all right to present a program that would offer
a viewpoint contrary to the one presented in Shtetl.
I am referring to program called ZEGOTA which was shown
only on a believe two public TV stations. Would you know
I just wanted to let you know that I was totally captivated by your film about the Polish-American Jews. I am not Jewish or Polish-American. I was just flipping channels and landed on yours and could not turn it off. The story was so interesting and incredible. My mind cannot fathom how people could treat each other like that! The ending was so disappointing too. I really thought that the young Polish man had learned something from all of his research, but in the end he turned his back on everything he had learned. How sad. I only saw the last two hours of the program, but I would like to have seen the whole thing. Can you tell me if it will be replayed at some other time? Most people cannot stay up until 2:00 am on a Sunday night. I think it should be on during prime time, and I wish everyone could be MADE to watch it. Thank you for the education.
Thousand Oaks, CA
Congratulations on your airing of Shtetl, one of the finest documentaries I've seen on television. My wife and I, both Catholic gentiles, recently returned from a five-year stay in southern Germany. During this time, we watched the Germans continue to struggle with their recent history, specifically the Nazi period and the holocaust that resulted. In the rural area where we lived, many of the villages still have small Jewish graveyards. These cemeteries, minimally maintained, are usually planted with sycamore trees and their grave-markers end abruptly in 1944/5, leaving no doubt when the local Jewish community simply ceased to be. I thought of these places, as I watched that extraordinary young man, Zbyszek Romaniuk, trying to create something similar in Bransk. In one German village near us - Mingolsheim - the residents have only just recently placed a small marker plaque on one of the cemetery's perimeter walls. The plaque acknowledges the atrocities that destroyed their Jewish community and, while stopping short of full apology, accepts some responsibility. It is telling to me, that, with such clear culpability on the part of the Germans during the holocaust, it has still taken some 50 years for some German communities to acknowledge their role. In Polish towns like Bransk, where the story doesnít seem so clear-cut, maybe it will take even longer for them to come to terms. If the townspeople of Bransk someday decide to commemorate and reclaim their lost Jewish heritage, then Zbyszek Romaniuk will have laid much of the necessary groundwork for what the Germans call Trauerarbeit - grief-work. One can only hope.
Shame to PBS to finance and broadcast the racist propaganda. Racism does not necessary mean "anti-african", "anti-semitism", "anti-polonism" or "anti-lebanesism". Any kind of broadcast of national, religion or origin-based hate is racism. Marian Marzynski, veteran of communist propaganda (why you forgot to mention his long activity in polish communist TV anti-american broadcast activities and his earlier very high position in polish communist party propaganda department in his summary, tries to revive polish-jewish hate dispute.
This "document" is not about anti-semitism at all. It is even not about anti-polonism, which is presented marginally. It is about using hate propaganda for somebodys personal gains. For such paid warrions it does not matter, in fact, if they are lying about Poles, Jews, Americans - if theirs price was paid.
"Shtetl" was broadcasted same day when jewish nationalists,
probably supported by teens from Israeli high school
showed by Marzynski, murdered another several hundred
innocent arab children and women.
I've watched the Shtetl, read the script on WWW and read the preceding letters.
I'm a Pole born in Poland a few years after WW2 and living now in the US. I have no problem with accepting Marzynski's right to make the film he made. I have no problem with recognizing the terrible events that happened 50 years ago in Poland including ugly crimes committed by Polish people. As a Pole, I'm ashamed because of those Poles who hurt the Jews.
What I object to is the PBS's decision to air that program during the Holocaust Rememberance Week. Here is why:
The events described by Marzynski were marginal to the history of Holocaust. Even taking Bransk as a sample: of 6,000 Jews only 200 escaped and tried to save themselves. Marzynski is only interested in the latter. Somehow the fate of the other 5,800 escapes his, and the viewers' attention. What happened to them? Who killed them? Is this unworthy of recalling?
Multiply the shtetl of Bransk by one thousand and the author's very personal interest becomes part of history. No wonder Israeli high school students don't see a difference between the roles of Poles and Germans during WW2. For them, both were perpetrators. Marzynski's film will only reinforce those stereotypes. If PBS's purpose is to perpetuate ethnic animosities among younger generations, congratulations Gentlemen: you've succeeded.
First, I would like to commend PBS, Mr. Marzynski and Mr. Romaniuk on their efforts in the film "Shtetl". Secondly, after reading the other reactions to this film as posted, I would have to agree with many in saying that the film was biased and not an accurate HISTORICAL portrayal but more of a collection of stories and opinions.
I am neither a Jew or a Gentile, I am of Eastern Indian descent but an American citizen (from Wisconsin). I have, however, had the opportunity to have been raised in a Jewish neighborhood in the States and been exposed to their culture. As an adult I have lived in a neighborhood primarily composed of Germans and Polish. My background is quite well rounded and very diverse, but filled with a mixture of peace and love, prejudices and stereotypes, and an understanding and tolerance for diversity.
After viewing the film, I found myself wondering about one thing - Why is it that people of Jewish descent seem to define themselves as Jews before anything else? I would first consider myself to be an American, then as an Indian, then as an Agnostic (raised that way). It seems to me that the Jewish people define themselves first as Jewish then as ? Is being Jewish a religion? A nationality? A way of life?
This question came to me during the questioning of Zbyszek by the Israeli students. I was confused as to their accusations that Zbyszek could never understand or sympathize enough for them. I think that they showed intolerance of Zbyszek's efforts. Mr. Marzynski also showed intolerance and misunderstanding of Zbyszek's personal reasons for omitting mentioning the persecution of the Jewish people during the town's celebrations.
It seemed that these people (Mr. Marzynski and the Israeli students) felt that everything about the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jewish people had to be accepted, without question.
Though I would tend to agree, that history forgotten is history repeated, I feel that when teaching tolerance and rememberance-a steady, subtle and patient method would be more effective than demanding understanding (as I feel that Mr. Marzynski and the students were).
I definately agree that the Holocaust is a terrible moment in history. There
is no excuse for
persecuting people based on such reasons as color of skin, religion or
the Jewish people MUST REMEMBER that they are not alone in history's darker
pasts. The English
conquered the world with arrogance and violence. In my own country of India,
on religion is taking place today. And I would welcome a reasoning behind
the violence in the
Middle East, as I cannot see the Jewish citizens applying a "do not forget
the past" philosophy
in their attitudes and actions toward the Palestinians. I know that hatred
and violence exist
on both sides, however isn't it the bigger person who puts down their gun and
This show should have been named "Polak Hunters". Have we run out of Nazi's to chase down? It is disgusting when you go so low as to intimidate 90 year old Polish men from a small backwards farm town. You were the prosecutor, judge and jury with each one of them, shamelessly focusing in on one old man's hands shaking to imply he was not telling the truth. Poland has been conquered time and time again, the Polish people suffering each time. To try and blame them 50 years later is absolutely unbelievable. I guarantee you that each one of those brainwashed Israeli teenagers would have gladly pointed to the Polish historian had the Israeli secret police burst into their room demanding to know which one was the Pole!
I only expected to watch the first hour of Shtetl but found myself engrossed throughout the entire 180 minutes. The blend of personal stories with the filmmaker's remembrances, insights, and opinions worked well for me as few films on the Holocaust have. It brought to life the culture of Shtetl life as well as the climate produced by war and deep seeded hatreds. I was especially moved by the escape story (re-enactment, really) told by the gentleman from Baltimore whose father owned a prosperous goose business; as well as the woman from Georgia who, in showcasing her mother's silver candlesticks and Shabbos tablecloth, conveyed the richness of Jewish life in pre-War Poland; and of course, the unburying and repositioning of the Jewish gravestones in Bransk by Zbyszek and his friend.
It was interesting to follow the converging journeys of Nathan, Marian, and Zbyszek. The film was both provocative and evocative. It left me considering several questions. Such as how can good people do such despicable things (Nathan's question). How could Zbyszek so carefully resurrect the history of Jewish life in Bransk yet omit it in the town's anniversary celebration. And has the climate changed much if so many of the righteous gentiles have yet to come forth with their stories (Marian's questions).
I thought Shtetl was powerfully thought-provoking. Thank you for bringing it to public television.
As a person who has spent a lifetime never losing my horror of the Holocaust, I found your show deeply troubling and distressing. It started on such a positive note; this young Gentile man preserving the Jewish history, only to have the conflicted ending with his public pronouncement that he is a good Catholic and Christian. Four hundred years of Jewish history gone forever. We are doomed to repeat our same mistakes. I understood his fears, but I was so hopeful that he would be able to withstand the ignorance in his community. The citizens of Oklahoma City are commemmorating the bombing victims of last April. The roots of anti-semitism are so profoundly deep that their own Polish neighbors could find nothing to commemmorate or celebrate their generations of contribution to the community of Bransk. I am overwhelmed with sadness that the grass covered the history, the stories, the lives of the Jewish people and nothing is left. How terrible and shockingly sad.
I am very disappointed and disgusted with the "Shtetl" documentary, as it was shown on Frontline. It is very disturbing to see yet another in a growing number of programs, which strive to portray and augment the ordeal of Jews in the Holocaust by ignoring, demeaning, and accusing their most immediate neighbors at the time of Holocaust - the Poles.
The movie "Shindler's List" uses similar techniques to achieve that goal, but at least it shows one thing: the horror of war and the bestiality of the German troops, who were, as I always thought, the enemy.
I do not quite understand why "Shtetl" would focus on injustices done to the Jewish people by the Polish people, while not acknowledging the conditions present at the time. The terror was instituted by the Germans, a fact that was conveniently omitted in this program. The program depicts the current-day hatred and accusations of Jewish towards Polish people, while they both were, in reality, pions kicked around by the German boot. I was very surprised not to see or hear any bitterness towards the Germans, which were the true oppressors.
While it is likely true there were Poles who did cooperate with the Germans, and who did kill Jews, this just confirms that any society can be broken down, if subjected to enough terror. "Shtetl", on the other hand, concludes that such behavior proves the hatred and indifference of all Polish people towards Jews.
These Holocaust programs, while meaningful to Jews and Poles, also present a very confusing picture to other people not aware of what had happened. The half-truths, lack of careful explanations, and other insinuations are very easily misinterpreted, and lead to hair-raising conclusions. For example, hearing about the "Polish concentration camps", an uninformed viewer may (and does) assume they were build and staffed by the Poles for the purpose of extermination of Jews. Similarly in "Shtetl", after seeing an old man rave for close to 15 minutes of being cheated out of 2 zloty by a Jew 60 years ago, one may assume the general hatred of Polish people towards Jews.
I applaud attempts to show, explore, and restore Polish-Jewish relations, but if one tackles this problem, it should be done professionally and objectively. This program has done neither. This program, as shown, ranks as a mediocre high shoolish production, containing little substance, opinionated commentary, gratuitous cheap shots, bad language translations, poor choice of material, and promotion of victimism and racism in the worst possible way.
Here is a list of comments and questions I came up with after watching "Shtetl":
1. Why did Marian choose not to talk to more intelligent, or at least a wider variety of people, and instead focused on old and senile, or young and naive, such as Zbyszek ? Was he afraid of an informed discussion, and would much rather ridicule and play off of emotional statements made by the above ? Was it really necessary to humiliate these people ? One of the most humiliating moments has to be when Jack Rubin hands the 20 dollars to the old man from Bransk - I am still sick when I think of this scene.
2. Why did the program not explain why so many Jews lived in Poland in the first place ? It was not by pure chance, but maybe because they were tolerated much better in Poland, than in other European countries.
3. Why was Marian so patronizing towards Zbyszek ? It is especially visible after the "discussion" with the Jewish students, and before the town celebration. Zbyszek should deserve a little more respect, both from Marian and the students. After all, he was interested in Jewish culture, and did try to do the right thing in the cemetery.
4. Why was the translation so atrocious, especially during the "discussion" with the young Jewish students ? As pictured, Marian was, in fact, the instigator of the heated debate by his translation disservice.
5. Why did Marian do such a very poor job at conducting the meeting with the students, which turned into an exchange of pathetic accusations from both sides ? Why humiliate Zbyszek, and at the same time show how close-minded the young studends really are ? Did this serve to promote any dialog between the two, or, as we have seen, put bitterness where there may have been none ?
6. Why was there so much coverage of petty and irrelevant material ?
The geese story and the discussion with the man cheated out of 2 zloty
comes to mind.
First, let me congratulate you on the production of the Frontline program, "Shtetl". My wife and I sat riveted for three hours viewing a subject with which we were already familiar. What made this program first rate was the genuineness of the presentation. I believe that the public appreciates programs that are not "Hollywoodized" productions. The story was told in a clear, concise manner.
For the past five years, I have been researching my ancestors in Poland as part of an effort to publish the genealogies of my wife's family and and mine. Last October, we visited Poland in pursuit of this this objective. While we visited numerous shtetlach, ranging from tiny villages to Warsaw, we did not experience overt anti-Semitism. However, I cannot attest to the covert nature of the current Polish psyche.
The major concern among the Polish population appears to be that Jewish descendants of former Polish-Jewish citizens will return to reclaim the homes and businesses of their ancesters. This is coupled with some feeling of guilt with respect to what happened during the Holocaust. Much of this was portrayed during the showing of "Shtetl".
It should be emphasized that there is currently a resurgence of interest in a former Jewish culture that no longer exists in Poland. This interest is manifested among young Poles who have now been informed by grandparents that hey are of Jewish heritage and even among Young Poles who are curious about an almost extinct Jewish culture. However, this is occuring in major Polish cities rather than towns.
My views on current-day Poland is included in an InfoFile which may be
accessed by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Len Markowitz, President
Jewish Genealogical Society of Philadelphia
This was without a doubt the greatest piece of revisionist history I have ever seen. I have yet to witness so many half-truths in a single television program. This was a purpuseful attack on the people of Poland. It served no other role except for that. It was contained a powerful political agenda, but lacked substance and fact. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I realize that it is easy to blame the Poles, when their country is in hard times. It is especially then blaming the Germans, we would not want to upset the Bundesbank, now would we? I always thought that PBS was above that type of pandering to popular trends, I suppose you have shown me how wrong I was. I am simply disguisted.
I found this program you did on "Shtetl" the most moving program you (PBS) have done in over two decades. It brought tears to my eyes over the fear, the pain, and the tragedy the Jews of Poland - Bransk, in particular, had to bear. It portrayed most eloquently the bitter price of hatred and how it demeans the demeaners rather than those intended to be demeaned, leaving them soulless and without redemption despite whatever religious fervour they claim. I can only hope that a new generation in Poland and everywhere else through out the world can abandon once and forever this bitter harvest of hatred toward one another, however different. This evil has visited us far, far too many times in my lifetime.
I watched the last night Frontline programm. I think I didn't learn anything about POlish Jewish relationship. The three hour show didn't have any historical and educational values.The show simply tells a story about some famillies. That's all. Mr. Mierzynski is not a historian but tries hard to make it as all the stories have historical value.I think it is very dangerous to show programms like that beacause they are bias.I wonder how much money PBS has paid for that show and why it was broadcasted? My main question to Mr. Mierzyski is why the Bronsk society of 80% of Jews and 20% of Poles haven't found any common ground to assimilate and grow together after living at this same place for 430 years? Which group stayed "discriminated" and didn't want to form one Bronsk society tolerasting each other religions? That would be an interesting programm Mr. Mierzynski but You would have to know the HISTORY.
My Compliments. A gripping program that treated the complex subject of Jewsih - Polish relations in an an appropriate, non-simplistic manner. I was particularly saddend to read the sectarian responses by Polish-Americans that are in the Feedback section. I believe that this underscores the endemic nature of the institution of Polish Anti-semitism. It is indeed fortunate for many Polish Jews that there were thousands of Polish citizens whose humanmity out weighed their ingrained prejudice. One point that was not emphasized in the program is the phenomenon of persistance of Polish Anti-semitism in the absence of Jews! Keep programs like these coming. We will need more and clearer statements of the facts as the voice of survivors fade and the baying of the deniers and revisionists increases.
After watching PBS-financed film SHTETL, broadcast April 17th, I have to express my objections regarding manipulations of historical facts. This film misrepresents relationship between Jews and Poles, who lived together for centuries. Poland gave Jews freedom and opportunity when they were expelled by other nations. Murzynski in his SHTETL, passionately distorts historical facts, especially from the Holocaust period. Murzynski deliberately conceals such essential information as more Polish people were executed for rescuing Jews in Poland than in any other occupied nation in Europe, and more people willingly took this risk despite the fact Poland was the ONLY country in Europe where the Nazis declared death as a penalty for giving a Jew ANY kind of aid. However, Marzynski admits that 5,000 of the 11,000 trees at Yad Vashem honor Poles who helped Jews, but this trace of the truth blends with Murzynski's manipulations of historical records.
I believe that Marzynski's SHTETL will be withdrawn from
any future broadcast on Public Channels, so that new generations
will learn from respectfull sources of historical data and will
not be exposed to lies, half-truth, prejudice and hatred.
I am what is called a "cradle Catholic." I saw the film "Shtetl" at a local theater a couple months ago here in Sacramento. In dealing with such an emotional subject, one can't make a film that will please everyone. In the work I do, there is always the question of Catholic "guilt" for persecution of Jews and how that needs to be acknowledged by Catholics before Catholic-Jewish dialogue can proceed to the next level. Many Catholics have said to me, "I didn't oppress Jews. Why, then do I have to hear about the past?"
No one is going to solve that issue here either. Some Poles seem to be upset that
the film puts them in an unflattering light. They question whether this is a
result of a slanted viewpoint on the part of the filmmaker. Some even allege a
Jewish "conspiracy" to defame Poles. One correspondent here alleges that Israeli
teenagers have been "indoctrinated" to hate Poles. But the fact is, several Poles
in the film, including several Polish-Americans who called into a Polish-language
radio show in Chicago, expressed outright prejudice against Jews. Does this mean
all Poles hate Jews? No, as several Poles in the film were friendly to Jews.
The fact is that there were millions of Jews in Poland before WWII and today how
many? This is important historically. There are those who would not tell this
story at all. But I look to a man who is perhaps the most famous and influential
Pole of all time, Pope John Paul II, for wisdom in this controversy. Over a period
of time he has increasingly called for contrition on the part of the Church and
Catholics for the wrongs against other peoples committed by and/or in the name of
the Church. He has reached out to Jews and Israel in an unprecedented way. Are
there some of your Polish correspondents that would prefer His Holiness didn't do
those things? I'm sure, in the same way as I have discomfort in the knowledge that
some of my Spanish ancestors cruelly persecuted Jews in the Inquisition.
If some Poles feel that "Shtetl" paints an unfair picture of Poles, by all means
they should bring forth facts that show the number of righteous Poles there were.
If anything, the hero Romaniuk was enough evidence for me of the other side of the
coin. I wept when I heard him reading the Hebrew on the Jewish gravestones, and
speaking quite passable Hebrew to a Holocaust survivor in the U.S.--indeed better
Hebrew than many Jews speak today. I indentified with Romaniuk, as I too am a
Hebrew-speaking Catholic interested in being a bridge between two often hostile
worlds. I thank God for the dialogue that is represented by the showing of
"Shtetl" and the response from your viewers, as this is the way toward increased
Liaison to the Jewish Community
Roman Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, California
As a Polish-American and academician who is empathetic to Jewish issues, I find that, again, PBS and the American Jewish community is racially anti-Polish. The Polish-Jewish community is consistently painted in positive colors while the Polish-Christian=Gentile [believing or not] is portrayed negatively. My hunch is that there were as many "evil" Jews as there were "evil" Poles. After all, the Poles were not the authors of the Holocaust! I challenge PBS to portray the Polish community objectively--it seems that subjectivism has ruled the day--before it receives my support, financial or moral.
Rev. Stephen E. Malkiewicz, OFM
As a viewer and sometime historian, it is clear to me that there are no simple answers here. Every person in every time has his/her own agenda at any given moment. Nationalism, anti-semitism, and any number of -isms provide convinient methods of justification and self delusion that hide the relativly simple question that can be asked by each person in their heart of hearts 'what is right'.
Those who suffer inequity, and those who hide inadequacy with predjudice can always find a convenient target with a label that makes it easy to externalize their plight. Self ignorance and intolerance are the underpinnings of the history of the blood letting of man.
While "Shtetl" is an important document, a more significant question can be asked:
individual is it alright to kill, rape, steal from or maim another individual in the
name of anything. The answer by any person who places another before him, and sees
him himself, is of course no. And who are we but a reflection of the other?
To hang on to the -ism, the image or the illusion that is created by our inadequate
retellings of what has happened condemns us all to see the other, and so ourself
a glass darkly. And that darkened glass is stained by the blood of the past and the
future. No one in "Shtetl" was liberated or redeemed, each has reaffirmed and
their beliefs. Words, ideas, beliefs remain the chief oppressors, the cataract
us and our experience of life.
I am a Polak. A Bohunk. A coal miner's daughter. I have been trying for ten years to engage in a Polish-Jewish dialogue. In Poland, Israel, the U.S. I am now a grad student working on Polish-Jewish relations.
I've heard both sides. Jews -- I don't know why -- take me for a Jew. I know what some Jews say about Poles when Poles leave the room: How stupid Poles are. How Poles need to be taught, and Poles' limited ability to understand, to be ethical beings.
Watching "Shtetl" last night, I felt physical pain. "Shtetl"'s greatest value, to me, was as a demonstration of how film can be used as propaganda.
After watching "Shtetl," I felt I just had to quit. To quit trying for communication, for Poles and Jews to see and take up our unique duty and opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate our shared tragedy, our shared humanity. Humanity, folks -- the state common to us both. It ain't easy. It ain't slick. It's a hard, hard karma.
But I saw in "Shtetl" as I hadn't before, how much some Jews love their hatred of Poles. It's almost erotic. The scene in the Israeli classroom had enough superior sneering and gang bang feel to be an S&M movie.
As I watched the camera intruding, without context, into the lives of impoverished and toothless old peasants who have never had any power and who are hardly prepared for their fifteen minutes of international fame, I thought, we really can't trust these people. They can't tell the truth about us. We have to forget them, utterly. We have to go it alone.
As I write this, I realize I can never find peace with that position, the
position of someone who embraces their own ethnicity as having some kind
of unique patent on righteousness.
Danusha Veronica Goska
With regards to Shtetl and some of the comments submitted by viewers, I question the purpose of the program. It appears to have been produced to re-agitate anti Polish sentiments amongst viewers. My comment is that it must be understood that Poland was under Nazi occupation. It's fate was to be that it would not exist as a Polish nation, it's people exiled to Siberia.
It was a matter of survival for every Pole as it was for every Polish-Jew, nobody was to escape the wrath. Yes, anti-semite feelings were prevalent to some degree in Poland, but also it must be remembered that Poland was the home of 3 million Jews due to the fact it was the most tolerant and hospitable to them of the European nations. I don't believe Polish anti-semitism was much different than what exists now here in the U.S.A. or any nation with high "minority" populations.
Poland and it's people are becoming the hate target for
people who are losing focus of who the real enemy was, that
being the German S.S. and Nazi's. They are the ones
responsible for the elimination of 6 million Jews and
Christions alike during their time of terror. It is my
fear, and not unwarranted, that history as we know can
repeat itself. In this case it will be a lynch
mob who act first then ask questions later. The world vs
I am tired of the tendentious and biased presentations of Polish-Jewish relations in which PBS seems to specialize. It appears to be orthodoxy de rigeur at PBS that Polish "victimization" of Jews be the only viewpoint presented (while, incidentally, being strangely silent about the real criminals, the German occupiers). The same image was presented in SHOAH, after which time Polish and Polish-American organizations expressed their willingness to collaborate with PBS in producing more balanced and historically sensitive presentations of this tragic epoch. But here we go again: PBS again runs an independently produced documentary which presents Poles badly, makes the appropriate noises about scholarly objectivity by acknowledging that various Polish and Polish-American historians challenge the accuracy of the image, and then goes on. If PBS ever presented a documentary on the POLISH Holocaust (I use that term deliberately because, pace those who would in revisionist fashion limit the term to Jews alone, Nazi persecution of civilian populations in occupied countries began first with CHRISTIAN Poles) then one might acknowledge something of PBS' search for balance and historical honesty. But when PBs presents for the umpteenth time another "documentary" about the "victimization" of Jews by Poles and again can never find the resources, personnel, time, or interest to look at what Richard Lukas legitimately calls the "forgotten Holocaust," then PBS' claims to promoting real discussion ring hollow.
Dr. John M. Grondelski
Seminary School of Theology
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ
I find the political arguement as to the guilt or innocence of the Polish people rather pointless. Can't both be true? Some were anti-semetic and aided the Germans, while others indeed risked their lives to save Jews. Every culture has its good people and its bad people and everything in between. Perhaps it is true that the Poles were more anti-semetic than many other peoples, but it is important to focus on individuals, not condemn or exonerate an entire nation.
For me, the most interesting thing about 'Shtetl' was the chance to physically see Bransk first hand. As a third generation American Jew, I have heard stories about Shtetl life since I was a boy. But this was the first time I ever actually saw what these places looked like, with the small houses, the livestock everywhere, the dirt roads, etc. And people often spoke of 'hiding in the forest' to escape the Nazis. Now I know what it looked like -- and although I can't explain it, this makes it more 'real' for me. I could imagine my ancestors walking in those places.
Thank you for another great Frontline.
Gerald M. Katz
Bravo to Frontline for their support in this movie. I found it too full of emotion and less on history though. I was shocked by the reaction of the Israeli students. They should have praised the historian for what he has done. Instead they grouped him a Pole and all the hatred they have been raised on regarding Poles was taken out on him. To hold to his convictions after he had personaly been ridiculed is awe-inspiring. The question is what have we learned as a people. Unfortunately, the students, with all their "facts" can only see their side. This is exactly what spawned the underlining anti-semitism in Poland and throughout Europe. We must teach are children not hatred towards those how sat idle but remorse. The guilt is theirs, not mine. The hatred theirs, not mine. If the situation were reversed, I hope I would save the persectuted, though this was a time of war and occupation. Unless you were there, only then can you say what you might have done, to say anything else is absurd.
It is improtant that we learn from these tragedies, only then
can we hope to prevent this from happening again.
One person CAN make a difference...In Poland, more than one did...
This is evident in the numerous Jews that survived!
Frontline has every reason to be extremely proud of "Shtetl". Poignant and honest, immensely interesting and informative, but , best of all, an impartial examination of a piece of recent history.
It is disappointing to learn that members of the Polish community in America are angry with the story's treatment of the attitude of the Polish people during the war, but as the movie makes clear in its visit to Yad Vashem in Israel, 5,000 of the 11,000 names liisted in the Path of the Righteous Gentile are Poles. As one who's been there, nothing is more moving in that memorial than to be reminded that even in the face of great personal danger there are human beings of noble character having the courage to protect those who are despised and hunted.
I am a Jewish communal professional living and working in Baltimore. I found myself absolutely captivated by both the artistic and historical treatment of the community of Bransk in Shtetl. I am even more impressed to see that PBS has utilized the Web as an educational resource to allow for follow-up study and research. What a marvelous marriage of multi-media technology! Thank you for sharing with us both sides of the controversy that has resulted from this program, for an important aspect of helping us learn from history--here in the USA as much as in Bransk--is the fact that people learn and understand history differently.
This will now be a regular stop on my travels on the Web. I am so glad that I
have had this opportunity to share my thoughts!
I doubt that there is an "objective" way to present Jewish-Polish relations around the time of World War II. Shtetl presents history through the eyes of Jewish survivors and understandably does bring out prejudices of its authors. Zbyszek Romaniuk's letter to Marian Marzynski describes these better than I could.
What I find particularly disturbing about the program is its
author's notion that helping a Jew did not require much.
Note, for example, Mr. Marzynski's untranslated comments during a class session in
which he said that to help a Jew you only needed to have
a house. In fact, being caught even talking to a Jew meant
possible death not only of the "transgressor" but of his
whole family. What Mr. Marzynski is doing is demanding
heroism of ordinary people. In doing so he -- and others -- must
be very sure of their own actions in similar circumstances. I, for one,
After Schindler and Shoah, I thought there was nothing more that could be added. But for three hours I sat immobilzed and mesmerized. I was moved by the humanity of the principal figures. Especially the young Pole, for whom I was rooting in the sequence of the Town Meeting. The disappointment I felt (in his youth and pragmatism) did not overshadow my recognition of that "pintele" which burns behind those dark eyes, and I know that one day, the sparks will ignite into a true statesman, of whom there are far too few.
The closing shot of his tending the graves gave me hope. The stones will tell.
I am a Gentile. I have been a serious student and teacher of the Holocaust experience for a long time. At the present, I am coauthoring a Holocaust memoir with a survivor of Nazi Germany (Wiesbaden/Frankfurt, 1925-1943) & Theresienstadt (June 1943-May 1945). Much of my previous research and interest, however, has been on the Holocaust in the East, particularly the six principal extermination camps, all located in Poland. So, it's fair to say that I know something about this evening's presentation, and the history which underlies what happened in Poland from September 1939 until the end of the war (and after).
Without discussing my own ample biases, suffice it to say that I found the Shtetl program this evening to be the single most remarkable work on the Holocaust, in general terms, and of the Jewish-Polish experience in particular, that it has ever been my privilege to view. The footage is remarkable, the balance is genuine, the two principal 'characters' affecting in their honesty and nearly primal attempt to reach for the truth, a truth which, in the end, is 'unknowable' to all of us. Facts yes - dates, times, names, events, perhaps even such an illusive element as 'human motivation.' But as - to use a phrase from this evening's program - 'memory is tinted by moral judgment,' so are we all victims of our own predispostions, if not outright prejudices. I found that to be perhaps the most important 'message' in tonight's program.
Everyone associated with this production should take pride in their effort and
the outcome. It is truly a remarkable piece of work, rich in history, but equally
a wonderful exposition on the complexity of the forever flawed, but persistent
human spirit and will to remember. Thank you very much for a wonderful public
Robert A, Warren
Santa Fe, NM
In airing "Shtetl" you have succeded in televising yet another Anti-Polish diatribe in the guise of balanced historical reporting. As in every other so called "documentary" on this topic yours is flawed by incomplete truths, pseudohistorical research and self-serving lack of balance.
I have yet to see in the American media a balanced portrayal of the many centuries of Jewish-Polish relations and save for the last half-century co-existence. This especially applies to the period of World War II and the immediate aftermath.
The pervasive theme of your film is murderous Polish Anti-Semitism. The proof of this is to lie in Polish collaboration with the Nazis. That there were collaborators in all occupied countries is indisputably true and this included betrayal of Jews. This does not exculpate the despicable minority. However the scope of collaboration with the possible exception of Yugoslavia was least in Poland. I however have yet to see one portrayal of French, Hungarian, Czech etc. murderous Anti-Semitism.
Collaboration also existed amongst the Jewish population of every ghetto, which applying the logic of your film would lead us to the absurd conclusion that the Jews were Anti-Semitic.
Your film's preconceived notions are buttressed by the unwillingness of the majority of Poles to harbor the Jews. As you well know the penalty for aiding Jews in occupied Poland was death to the entire household, this was the only occupied country where such a penalty existed. I ask you to look in your own souls to see if you would be willing to risk not only your own life but that of your wife, children and possibly neighbors in order to save another. Unless the answer is yes you have no right to judge people who were faced with just such a choice. I submit to you that the remarkable thing about those times were the great number of people who did take such risks (estimated by some at over 100,000) rather than those that didn't.
On Sptember 17, 1939 the Soviet Union invaded and occupied the Eastern half of Poland. Much of the new Soviet administration was of the Jewish nation (although being communist their religious beliefs were presumably atheistic). During the Soviet occupation which lasted until May 1941 over one and a half million Poles were arrested, deported and/or murdered outright, over 900,000 of these Poles were dead by October 1942. I know of no organized efforts by the Jewish population to save these Poles. Although I have no documetary proof it has been said that the main indigenous collaborators with the Soviets were Jewish. If we are to measure the Jewish population of Eastern Poland by the same yardstick being applied to the Poles in your film does this not make them murderously Anti-Polish?
A former Israeli prime minister once stated that Poles suck Anti-Semitism with their mother's milk. In watching your scene with the Israeli students it is apparent to me that young Jews are fed Anti-Polonism throughout their education. A young lady in the film asks the question of how could thirty million Poles not be able to save the Jews. She may not have been taught these facts and your film certainly made no mention of it but approximately the same number of Gentile Poles as Polish Jews were murdered by the Nazis (about three million each), if the population could not save their own how could they save the Jews?
I realize that my remarks will be represented as being Anti-Semitic, I
however, view them a being symbolic of the indignation I feel when biased
and blanket accusations are thrown at my nation. I cannot justify the
actions of some of my fellow Poles and do not intend to. However, some
self-criticism and examination is in order for both sides of this debate.
Let him who is blameless throw the first stone.
Who's to blame? Everyone but all of us. All of us who were never there. Gentile and Jew. All of us who are always never there, whose names never show up on any final selection,who are forever preserved in innocence by an heroic act that we are never called upon to make.
As the 42-year-old son of a man who left Snyodova early this century, I was continually transfixxed, and alternately horrified, amazed, saddened and enlightened about the view expressed by those featured in Shtetl. I thought I understood much before, I feel I understand much more now about what happened and, more importantly, why. Thank you for bringing it to us.
Once again, Frontline had the courage of its convictions to say it (and show it) the way it was and not bow to financial pressure and strong-arm tactics of those that prefer their abhorrent history be forgotten. What happened to the Jews of Bransk should not be forgotten or spoken of only by Jews and historians. The world needs to be reminded of what happened, and more importantly, what could happen again. Seeing the anti-Semitism that exists today in Bransk stirred up many emotions - anger, sadness - but mostly pity. I pity the people of Bransk, and the Polish- Americans, that prefer to deny what happened rather than accept and learn from what happened in Bransk and throughout Europe. And to the few in Bransk that helped the Jews, their courage and humanity should serve as an example to us all.
Very well done.
While the Holocaust is over, many, many people today still are anti-human being...whether it be Jews, Blacks Solvaks, etc. Those that are the "have nots", whether it is of thier doing or not, blame the "haves". This will never end and therefore I am afraid that hostilities to different races, colors and creeds will never end.
Lester M. Cohen
As a Polish Jew ,who emigrated from Poland just a few years ago I want to offer a few comments.
The true picture of Polish - Jewish relations was never shown in detail after the war in Poland. I went through the Polish education system and although I am giving high marks to the history programs there, the Holocaust and relations between both nations were not fully explored . Although an inquisitive mind could still reach the truth by studying on their own, the general level of knowledge and understanding of Jewish history in Poland is low. The image of a Jew in Poland is still mostly influenced by oneís family and community. The negative views of Jews is part of the culture especially among less educated people. I remember that even here in Canada I heard offensive remarks about Jews expressed by Poles, who hadn't even met a Jew. This doesn't mean that all Poles are like that or that they are the worst anti-Semites. During my years in Poland I met a lot of open-minded Poles, who genuinely wanted to know more about something which is also part of their history and were free from the poison of anti-Semitism.
The official Polish history narrows down the Holocaust to the conflict between Nazis and the Jews. The Polish participation is either presented as that of the rescuer or the powerless witness. I remember that what I was taught at school and what I heard from my fellow Jews were two different things. Poles have to come to terms with the whole picture of the Holocaust and "Shtetl" might play an important role there. Showing it in Poland will be a shocker, but I believe that in the name of truth it has to be done.
I read some of the viewers responses before writing these comment. Some of the them accuse "Shtetl" of not being objective, of concentrating on the most negative aspects of the Polish - Jewish relations. I believe that the film was more an example of an artistic expression rather than a historic document. Marian Marzinski presented his personal journey and it was obvious from the beginning of the film. It was his duty to direct attention to this mostly untouched and highly sensitive chapter of the Polish history using his freedom as an artist.
His portrayal of the small town was very accurate from what I remember from Poland. If anyone has any doubts about it I recommend a book "Obraz Zyda w Polskiej Kulturze Ludowej" ( I don't know if it is available in English ) , which will fully corroborate it.
"Shtetl" as shocking as it is reflects the reality and this must be accepted. The
mutual understanding and dialogue will be built upon the truth. We have to
investigate and reveal it. Otherwise it can happen again.
Once again I am both mesmerized by and broken-hearted from Frontline's usual above-average dose of documentation... "Shtetl" leaves me dumbfounded at the monumental losses sustained and suffered.
Important for society to learn, perhaps more important for children to find, is the ever pressing reality of how one person can indulge ignorance and hatred upon another-- cultivating that one feeling, fueling it by an intense anger and relentless intellect that shadows cruelty... it grows. Hatred grows... to more people, to more places. It drifts into our land from a distant land... and drifts back out-- ever stronger-- into the next land. "What can we do?" hah!... What *can* we do except acknowledge the presence of power among the "persons." "Shtetl" reminded me of that. I had almost forgotten... as so many, I'm sure.
I have read the "critiques" from others-- the praises, the injuries, the self-indulged behavior of professors, societal members, and ever-so-sorry-for-others people, and I only hope that this is a little more simple than clipping the director for standing on the wrong side of the lens, or urging shame throughout the community of survivors; for it seems to me that this documentary (as so many others on Frontline, in particular) is an almost-objective look at something that encompasses every human being: hatred. That must be the tremorous feeling I have now-- even as I write this letter. It shakes me up to know what it feels like to be so calmly hateful about what happened fifty+ years ago. In fact, I have never felt it until I saw strangers throwing limp, lifeless, naked bodies into ditch after ditch... "where are there parents?" That line in particular hurt me the most.
And so I will end this message with an applause as I wipe away the tear
that is too desensitized to fall from both eyes... keep up the brilliant
display of fact through fictitious means of TV-- and thank you for
reminding me of what it means to be human.
Technology Resource Group, Inc.
SHTETL puzzled me. It is well made by intelligent filmmakers. It was announced that it was made for people like me: non-Jewish. But it is a biased report, presuming the "guilt" of the Poles and "victimization" of the Jews: this is a racist view. There are no Poles and Jews as a monolithic whole.
One might imagine a film showing the events in Bransk compared with similar events in a former Palestinian village now taken over by Israelis. Discussing this with a friend who had not seen SHTETL I came to realize the bias was perhaps intentional: that is the film seen by non-Jews would provoke antisemitism, needed to reinforce the Jewish sense of identity as a persecuted people. This seems far-fetched as a conscious intention, but may be an unconscious underlying purpose.
Let me cite an example. The young historian from Poland was severely criticized by the Israeli students. The only explanation is that the students have been thoroughly indoctrinated to hate Poles. The historian has almost single-handed recovered the Jewish history of Bransk. He unearthed the stolen grave stones and reconstructed the Jewish cemetery: a heroic act for which he should have been embraced by these students. This was shocking! Earlier in the film on the first trip to Bransk the filmmaker was asked by the Chicagoan with whom he traveled, "How can people be good yet do terrible things?"
This is the question the film should have addressed. Americans enslaved black people and exterminated Indians: "good" people did these things!
Isolating the Holocaust as a unique horror only muddies understanding, dividing the people of the world upon a single event. Horror is as old as mankind. Branding one people as evil and another as victim trivializes a fundamental human flaw.
I'd like to share my comments and my emotions triggered by the movie "Shtetl." I had an impression that Marian would like to hear about what a Polish-Christian woman may feel (and that's who I am, I think).
I'd say that the movie is very objective, even though it's quite emotional. The author simply records reality. Contrary to what we may think, it's an extremely difficult thing to do. Most of us "carry within ourselves" a post-war trauma, historical memory handed down to us by our ancestors. It's hard to lift ourselves beyond this trauma and not risk losing our identity or a sense of belonging to our community or nation.
The reality of a small, provincial town is shocking. I still can't quite get over the shock I experienced when I watched the movie for the first time. You have shown both horrible and positive things, and that's why I'm convinced that you've treated the problem in an objective way.
I'd like to say a few words abut the positive things in the movie. The hospitality of Zbyszek's parents, the priest's permission to dig in front of the church buiding (on the one hand, it seems normal, but on the other hand, not everyone would have reacted this way)--these are the positive things. There is also one scene which I'd call "reconciliation:" an American Jew visits a Polish home in which he's treated like a long-lost relative, and listens to stories about his ancestors. The Jew is not bothered by the fact that the house is Christian, and the Christians aren't bothered by his presence. A Jew from Nazareth, Christian son of God, is looking at this scene from a cheap painting which hangs on the wall.
I'm afraid that all sorts of critics will stress only those things which are unacceptable in the reality presented in the movie--the things that shocked me. For example: people who kill others with their own hands, not because they are afraid of Germans (I could perhaps understand such fear: not everyone is born a hero, and I can't be certain how I'd act in times of incredible terror). I wasn't even all that shocked by the indifference of those who witnessed the murder (I classify such behavior as participation in the crime); I was mostly shocked by the crime itself--the murder of the Jews committed by the Poles. This crime wasn't committed only by the Germans, as we were told after the war (this version was the only truth). It was a crime against the Jews committed by the Poles! We may ask: why? In order to obtain "three carrots," a fur coat, a shabby house, or to get rid of a potential rival (the pharmacy episode)?
Today these murderers live quietly among their families and friends. No-one has reproached them, no-one had drawn a swastika on the walls of their houses. This sign of terror and murder can be found in the entry way to Zbyszek's house. And it doesn't look like a joke drawn there by a kid.
The shtetl and its inhabitants. Jews and Poles. On the one hand, we have the local elite: old pictures of Jewish families, which show intelligent, thinking faces. The men are well-dressed, the women are elegant, the children are well taken care of. Even if we assume that in those times people dressed up to the nines on the occasion of their picture being taken, and even if we assume that a beautiful woman from Bransk bought the only pair of elegant high heels because she was going to Israel, the contrast between the Jews and the Poles is too great to overlook it.
On the other hand--the Poles. Ordinary, toothless faces of old men, their hands ruined by physical labor, with broken fingernails. Stupid accusations of an unfair business dealing (8 zlotys instead of 10 zlotys for a deer). Simply poverty and hypocrisy. We know that before the war the poor people envied those who were even a bit more prosperous (all the houses in the main square belonged to the Jews); we know that the illiterate people felt humiliated by the educated ones (all Jewish boys, even the poorest ones, knew how to read and write, knew the history of their nation, studied religious texts, and knew at least two languages--Yiddish and Hebrew). By the way, these Jewish boys often didn't know Polish, which certainly didn't facilitate good relations between these two nations which lived on the same territory. So perhaps I can understand the envy, the sense of strangeness, or even a religiously-fueled dislike: in those days no-one even dreamed of beginning a Judeo-Christian dialogue. But I can't understand at all that the total destruction of the Jewish community didn't shock the Poles, and that it didn't change their way of thinking, or didn't leave any traces. The stereotypes have remained unchanged.
I'm afraid this movie won't be very well received in Poland. My country is ill, even though in the last few years it's been changing. Poland's disease is lack of tolerance. Fighting for its own national and religious freedom, Poland has lost somewhere along the way the most important truth, namely, that others also have a right to live in a religion of their choice, a right to speak their own language, a right to preserve their customs and culture, handed down to them by their ancestors. Every nation, including my own, cultivates certain myths which helped it unite and live through the difficult moments of loss of independence. These myths should be abandoned as soon as possible so that the society may be cured. -- The myth of the Catholic Pole: this myth presupposes that somehow a non-Catholic can't be a true Pole, a patriot. It doesn't apply only to people of Jewish origin. When I was in Poland, I observed horrible lack of tolerance in regard to Uniates (Christians who have Byzantine liturgy). --The myth of the victimized Pole: this myth shows the Pole as a victim of Germans or Russians, and as a victim who is harmed by history most of all. --The myth of the Pole who fights for the independence of other nations: this myth shows a Pole who has a clear conscience in respect to others. The example of Polish-Jewish relations is perhaps the most painful one in this context because of the total annihilition of the Jewish community. There exist other tragic moments of our history. Poles discover with surprise that Lithuanians, Belorussians, or Ukrainians hate them. But haven't we all been--including Jews--inhabitants of one country and one land?
It's true that more and more is written about these issues in Poland. It takes a long time to change one's consciousness. I don't think it's just fashion, as you said in the discussion after the movie. We can't exclude the possibility that some people want to make a career by discussing taboo topics, about which no-one was allowed to talk for years and years. Nevertheless, I suppose that there is a real social interest, a desire to know the truth, perhaps sometimes only something like an "archeological interest" (as it is in Zbyszek's case, I think) in the nation who lived here and was completely destroyed. I `d say that Zbyszek is a kind of "detective," a curious historian rather than a preacher of high morals. Hence my dissappointment with him. It turned out that I was looking in this movie for a symbol of goodness; I was searching for someone whom I could emulate, someone who could be a kind of ideal for next generations, an ordinary Pole who outgrows his milieu and its stereotypical ways of thinking. Has Zbyszek given in to the pressure of his community, or does he lack a moral stamina?
I'd like to compare Zbyszek to Walesa. At first they both accomplished something extraordinary, probably quite by chance, but it's not important. They both became a symbol and were recognized by the whole world--the world that was completely inaccessible to them previously. Walesa met presidents, kings, and scholars. Zbyszek went to America and Israel, bought a top-of-the-line computer, was shown by the media. They were both suddenly taken out of the place which was meant for them to live in, and they "landed" on a different planet. They started to believe in themselves and their being special; they started to believe that they know the best how one should act. They wanted to maintain this special position for any price, even if they had to give up their original ideals which were the very reason why they succeeded in the world in the first place.
I'm very disappointed with Zbyszek, even more with Walesa. I was waiting with bated breath for a few words about the Jews from Bransk on the ocassion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the town (let alone a monument). Similarly, I was waiting for Walesa's speech on the ocassion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. They both lost elections, most likely for other reasons. Can they draw any conclusions from what has happened? I hope so, even though it won't make a big difference to me. In January, the Polish minister of foreign affairs, Rossati (the minister of the government for which I or any of my educated and democratic friends didn't vote) talked about the pogrom in Kielce, finally admitting that the Poles were responsible for it. Was it a political "move," or a moral obligation? I'm grateful to him, but I really wish it had been said by Rosati's predecessor--Wladyslaw Bartoszewski.
Did I like the movie? Actually, I didn't because I understand the term "to like" as an aesthetic category. It's a synonym of visual or intellectual pleasure. Pleasure means calm delight. Therefore the whole thing is not about liking or disliking, but something much stronger. I've been and I still am very moved. Shocked. Your movie makes me restless despite the fact that I've been interested in this topic for a long time. For Poles, who will discover "Shtetl" for the first time, the shock may be unbearable. I'm afraid that their defense system will kick in again; they'll say "yes, but," "yes, but if they," "we have to consider," "it's not our fault," "it's history," etc. It's hard to fight with this way of thinking. I myself reach this painful truth with great difficulty.
I've written an awful lot. I hope you'll have enough time and patience to read this letter to the end. At the same time, I feel like I haven't broached even half of the issues which concern me so much and which are presented in "Shtetl." Thank you for this incredible event--the movie as well as meeting you and participating in the award ceremony. I'm glad "Shtetl" got the first prize because the movie earned it; I'm glad even if all my French friends will be even more convinced that Poles are the worst anti-Semites in the world. Many Poles are anti-Semites: I admit it with pain, and I want to fight with it. But it's not the whole and only truth about Poles. I strongly believe in this.
I thought it was a good film, but not a great film, which is what I have come to expect from Frontline. I had a very hard time hearing and understanding what the film maker was saying in many portions of the film. Consequently, I missed important dialogue. I think subtitles or a narrator's voice-over would be a great addition. Also, I think that the film was a bit too lengthy... I admit to being bored. It could use more editing, to make it more concise. It was a compelling film, thought-provoking and personal. It was a sad commentary on how little we have changed as humans since the Holocaust. It really brought home the point that contrary to what you'd like to think, it could happen again. Racism is alive and well all over the world, as evidenced by the "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia-Herzegovenia/Serbia. All the conditions are present... I wonder what it will take to end the cycle of blaming and victimization? I admire the Polish man (whose name eludes me) in the film for attempting to re-open the dialogue in Bransk and force the people to confront the past. It was a story of courage.
Just a few remarks on the film that you so beautifully photographed, "Shtetl." It is by far the most important film to appear on the sensitive and painful issue of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the Holocaust. As you may know, for many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who lived in Poland, the intensity of their feelings toward fellow Christian Poles is often filled with a bitterness more harsh than the feelings they have toward their German oppressors.
There is a reason for this which has to do, I think, with the fact that the German murderers were abstract, evil shapes with no names or histories. Those Poles who gave up Jews to the Germans, or killed them outright were often schoolmates, best friends, and neighbors. Yet most Poles have the comfort of claiming a "victim" status, and the death of millions of Poles at the hands of the Nazis is evidence of such a status. And there was an altruism among some Poles that resulted in the survival of some Jews.
All of these issues and many more are raised in this film in a manner reminiscent yet different than Landzmann's "Shoah." I found the interviews far more compelling in "Shtetl" and the figures of Nathan Kaplan and Zbyszek Romaniuk are memorable for the various images of Jews and Poles that they portray. The visits of Romaniuk to America and Israel opened up all sorts of questions about the possibility and limitation of a dialogue between Poles and Jews born after 1945.
I wish you much success as I do Marian Marzynski (with whom I hope you will share the e-mail). I remember our meeting and with his mother at Miami of Ohio University and our realization that Lencyza (Linshits) was a part of both our lives.
Abraham J. Peck
I was delighted to see how thoughtfully it was done and how progressively thought provoking it became. Good cinematography, good editing, good pacing. Of course, so much has been done on the Holocaust that I wasn't sure there was a new twist, but this Gentile young man, walking a tightrope between his fascination with and respect for the Jews of Bransk and his Christian/Polish root was different, intriguing, refreshing and even a bit hopeful.
Dr. Anita Turtletaub
Institute for Jewish Development
A poem inspired by a movie
In Oct. 95 I traveled with my father, mother, and sister to Poland. My parents are survivors. The trip was a complex and difficult one but also very liberating at the same time.
The film SHTETL was also a deep and moving experience.
Ironically our tour guide in Poland was a "historian" as was the protagonist in this film. I knew there was something I wanted to say about our tour guide "historian" and SHTETL helped me put it into words.
The Tour Guide
As the tour comes to an end I wonder how our guide feels about the Jews today?
He introduced himself as a historian.
He knew all the facts and dates of Jewish affliction.
But does he feel any anguish in his heart?
I understand that in Poland today there is a renewed interest in the study of Jewish culture, a culture that was a part of Poland for over five hundred years.
In some circles Yiddish and Hebrew are being studied.
Books are being written by Poles on the history of the Jews.
Is this a purely intellectual exercise like the study of Egyptian history and hieroglyphics?
Or, is there feeling for the lost faces behind the old pictures that are in the books?
Does our guide, the historian, sense a loss to his nation in the passing of his Jewish brothers?
Only he can know the answer.
Our tour guide who is armed with the detailed knowledge of Jewish tragedy in Poland would you fight against such injustice in the future?
You brought us to the stone at Treblinka that had carved on its face "NIGDY WIECEJ" " NEVER AGAIN".
But, would you stand up to defend the innocent if you wittnesed persecution?
Only you know the answer.
We must hope the answer is Yes!!
My mother and her family are from a "Shtetl" not unlike the movie's. Viewing the film vividly brought her images to life. I remain stunned by the animosity many Poles feel toward Jews and seek knowledge to help explain this age-old relationship.
One of the interviews takes place with an old "senile" man. Marian hesitates to question him and then decides he must before he closes his eyes forever. This is part of the need for films like this. Hearing and seeing Poles and Jews tell their stories is essential for future generations to try and understand how this could occur. It is simply and beautifully told without the "horrible" scenes so often exposed in other Holocaust films.
My initial reactions to Romaniuk were mixed. Surprise, suspicion, and even a degree of disbelief at first. That may stem from my own history and prejudices. I was born in Bialystok and immigrated to the U.S. in 1939 -- ten days before Germany invaded Poland-- at the age of four. My memories of the war years were darkened by letters arriving from Poland with news of the fate of family members left behind.
SHTETL is a gripping film. The almost 3 hours of film completely held my attention. Although I have seen other shorter films and/or newscasts of the Jewish Journey back to roots in Europe, this was the most riveting. It was not sentimental, it was poignant and hit the heart and mind with the truth. The "surprise" ending of course was not a surprise. After the show, Mr. Marzynski spoke and called the young Pole a hero. I could not agree...Mr. Marzynski and Jack Rubin are the true heroes!
"Shtetl" undoubtedly will interest a Jewish audience, especially Jews with past connections to Bransk, Poland. Most non-Jewish Americans, on the other hand, have little or no knowledge about shtetls or about Polish Jewish relations which took place in Polish villages.
The film is too long (3 hrs.) to sustain interest in a topic having only marginal interest to the public. Polish-Jewish relations indeed are complex and need understanding, but this film's point of view could easily lead the viewer to misinterpret or misconceive such relationship in its past or present form.
The Polish American community will have just cause to criticize the film's portrayal of Poles, often depicted as parochial, narrow and insensitive to Jews. In some scenes, Poles unjustly are seen as deserving objects of Jewish hate and anger.
Thus, in my judgment, "Shtetl" does not appear to be an appropriate film for public showing commemorating the "National Holocaust Remembrance Week," if indeed the Holocaust was part of an intended co-theme of the film. In that case - where are the Nazi perpetrators? Where are the hate and anger scenes against them, which in this instance would be fully justified.
Poles, like Jews, were victims of the Nazis and should have been presented in a more sympathetic context if the film truly was intended for use in commemorating the Holocaust.
John J. Gmerek
Member, Polish Jewish Dialogue, New York, 1990-93.
Chairman, Holocaust Studies Group - NY Chapter, Kosciuszko Foundation.
Maintains liaison with US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I think that SHTETL is not only a wonderful testimony of the endemic antisemitism in Poland but also a powerful documentary that shows more than a history of a Jewish community in a little town, it is valuable anthropologic and inter-disciplinary study on the problematic integration of a minority group and the manifestations of hate, prejudice and discrimination by the majority.
Consultant for Latin American Affairs and Spanish Media
American Jewish Committee
As a registered pharmacist, I was particularly moved by the story of the woman who was slaughtered in her hiding place while holding her baby by the son of the local pharmacist. Pharmacists are community leaders who are very close to the townspeople and are highly trusted and respected and also serve as notaries to serve the people. Since pharmacists are considered doctors in Europe, I am appalled by the behavior of a colleague and am ashamed that he succumbed to the racial ideologies of the average Polish Peasant who was not educated and under the influence of the Church. The world should be aware that prejudices were also rampant among professions. Thank you for including that segment to illustrate the world about anti-Semitic feelings within the professions.
The Jewish People became peddlers of merchandise and money lenders because ownership of land was denied them and they had no other means of survival. The movie illustrated the jealousies of the Polish People towards the "wealthy Jews" who dabbled in banking and clothing. The movie brought home time and again that the term "Jew" is synonymous with money in the eyes of the Polish Peasant. The townspeople constantly referred to the Jews as living well whether or not that was true. As an American the Golden Age of Polish Jewry was not very golden but whatever the Jewish People had in Poland was not very much materially contrasted to what we have in the United States. Spiritually, I am more satisfied with my lot in the United States. The film clearly illustrates that the lot of the Jewish People in Poland was not good and life was a constant struggle. It was appalling to learn that Jewish People were either beaten or jeckled on their way to the Synagogue to observe Shabbat.
The mayor who was unable to include Jews in his dedication was a victim of the peasant culture who would not have been able to remain in the town had he openly displayed his acceptance and acknowledgment of the Jewish contributions to the town. I had mixed feelings about his character: First he openly accepted his Jewish friend, Mr. Kaplan, then he had to be taught more about Jewish people, followed by the wonderful trip to the United States where he was wined and dined by the Jewish Community. The segment illustrated hypocrisy.
The majority of the people of Bransk who were interviewed for the film LIED. Their accounts were so porous that I was sickened by each account. Clearly the film illustrates how the Polish People have not owned up to their responsibilities for helping to slaughter the Jews. The segment about gravestones was wonderful. It showed the utter disregard of the townspeople for the Jewish People with whom they lived and worked side by side for centuries. With or without Hitler, I feel the Holocaust was inevitable. The feelings were there, he was only a tool. Your film portrayed that fact in its many contrasts.
The film clearly illustrated the basis for my prejudice toward the Polish People. For many years, I harbored feelings of guilt concerning my opinions of the Polish People. Upon viewing the film, I feel completely absolved of any guilt feelings. I question whether dialogue between the Poles and the Jews would really help. The feelings are so deeply rooted that the racial tensions will probably never ease. I am truly sorry that I feel this way but I grew up in a community where Jewish People lived and have worked professionally with Polish People and the prejudices have always been present. As a child I was a target and as an adult the situation has not changed although it has become more subtle. Thank you for showing a film that exposes the raw images that must be conveyed.
The film may trigger anti-Semitic feelings but it must be shown.
Maxine E. Cohen
A film that is a documentary should at least mention that "Jagielonski University" in Krakau has even a separate beautiful building for Judaica studies. Over 50 students, all Polish, took last year's Jewish History. Dr. Russak, the head of "Judaica," is a Christian Pole who has worked very hard to establish this department. There were other inaccuracies or omissions. The film itself is too long.
Leon W. Wells
The film is a remarkable exploration of the boundaries of humanity. It is a great and profound work of art in its presentation. Realities seemed more like something imagined as in a literary work and the portraits of the individuals are unforgettable. Suspense was sustained throughout. The Jewish axiom that if someone saves one person, he saves the world applied, at least for a while, to Zbyszek Romaniuk. If he as one person, keeps one Shtetl alive, he keeps all Shtetls alive. I felt so hopeful for humanity when Nathan Kaplan said Kaddish at the cemetery reconstructed by Zabyszek, but my heart fell as the film focused on the movement for the village which bore no evidence of Jewish life. Every cell in my body felt Jewish-- it is really who we are, what we are. External trappings of everyday life dissolve away to reveal that central truth.
Rochelle S. Cohen
Congregation Kol Ami
I teach about Polish Jewry, the Holocaust and Yiddish at Yeshiva University and the Ramaz School. I have visited Poland numerous times and speak Polish.
I was very positively impressed with the film. Its segments will provide a lot of meat for discussion, although I'm not optimistic that the heat and smoke generated will not overwhelm the light.
I found it curious that nowhere in the film is the word Communist mentioned. It seems to me that the Bransk area, like that of Eyszyszki where Yaffa Eliach's family were hidden, was under Soviet occupation before the German invasion in June 1941. The pre-existing hostility and jealousy of Jews on the part of the Christian inhabitants was likely exacerbated by the experience of the Soviet occupation. I would suggest that Jan T. Gross of the Political Studies Dept. at NYU would be a good source for analysis of this aspect as he is a Polish native with Jewish connections and has published a number of books and articles dealing with the experience of Soviet occupation during the first years of the Second World War.
At one point in the film narration, it's stated that Jack Rubin of Baltimore was 16 when the war broke out. That's unlikely if he is now 83 as stated after the screening. He was thus 26 when the war broke out and at the height of his strength and adaptability.
Nowhere in the film did I hear any direct statement about the relative significance of the sheer number of Jews in Bransk, who comprised 2/3 of the town's populace in 1939.
There has been a growing interest in Jewish history and culture in Poland during the past decade. This is reflected in more than 400 publications and the a number of documentary and fictional films on Jewish themes. There has also been a growth in the "Jewish trade" in Poland as some Poles, both civilian and officials, have come to recognize the potential for profit, both material and moral, by "dealing in Jews".
I was told that you plan to issue a one-hour version of the film together with a discussion/study guide. I would like to be put on the list to receive information about them. Also: Will "Shtetl" be available for purchase?
In closing: I was very much impressed with the film "Shtetl" and am
recommending that people make a point of watching it.
Robert Moses Shapiro