How the Non-Jewish Director of the First-Ever Holocaust Movie Resisted Communist Pressure to Write Jews Out of the Story

Sept. 17 2019

On Sunday, the 1947 Polish film The Last Stage was shown at a Tel Aviv theater. Its director, Wanda Jakubowska—a Gentile Polish Communist—was imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1943; after the war, she became one of her country’s foremost filmmakers. Using former prisoners and townspeople from the nearby hamlet of Oswiecim as her cast, she filmed the movie at the camp itself. Later Holocaust films would splice in its footage and even imitate some of its shots. Ofer Aderet writes (free registration required):

The film centers around a Jewish heroine, Marta Weiss, who is deported to the camp with her family. [Upon arrival], she translates the commander’s instructions for the other prisoners and is chosen to serve as an official interpreter. Later she exploits her position to help her fellow inmates smuggle supplies and information, and eventually escapes with a friend, Tadek, in order to tell the world about the plan to “liquidate” the camp. But the two are caught and sentenced to execution. . . . Marta Weiss is based on . . . Mala (Malka) Zimetbaum, a Polish Jew who moved to Belgium with her family as a child and was deported to Auschwitz in 1942.

Reexamination of the film all these years later clearly reveals its historical weaknesses; after all, it’s a Communist propaganda film. Praise for the Soviet Union, Stalin, and the Red Army is woven in. They are depicted as the prisoners’ only saviors—without any mention, of course, of Stalin’s cooperation with Hitler at the start of the war. . . . In the film, all resistance to the Nazis is led by Communist women.

Nor is there anything about how Jewish prisoners were harshly discriminated against by prisoners of other nationalities; this wouldn’t serve the message. . . . Also, in the film one hears Polish, Russian, German, and French, but no Yiddish. This is no coincidence. Produced under the auspices of the Soviet Union, the film deliberately avoids any mention of the uniqueness of the Holocaust and instead emphasizes the universality of the war’s victims. In this, the film betrays the truth. Most of the 1.1 million victims at Auschwitz were Jews.

But unlike other works produced under the Communist regime, the Jews aren’t completely absent from this one, thanks to Jakubowska’s stubborn insistence. Describing it years later, she said she was pressured to alter the plot and remove any mention of Jews.

Read more at Haaretz

More about: Auschwitz, Film, Holocaust, Poland, Soviet Union


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount