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.

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Read more at Haaretz

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

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror