In new film, director Polanski revisits the horrors of his Holocaust boyhood

‘Polanski, Horowitz. Hometown’ follows Jewish filmmaker as he tours his hometown of Krakow with fellow survivor and photographer Ryszard Horowitz, whom he met in Warsaw Ghetto

French-Polish director Roman Polanski stands on the red carpet of the 45th Deauville US Film Festival, in Deauville, northern France, September 7, 2019. (Lou Benoist/AFP)
French-Polish director Roman Polanski stands on the red carpet of the 45th Deauville US Film Festival, in Deauville, northern France, September 7, 2019. (Lou Benoist/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — Roman Polanski revisits the “horror” of his Holocaust childhood in a new documentary that premiered Sunday in the controversial Oscar-winning director’s Polish hometown of Krakow.

The film follows Polanski as he roams the city with his lifelong friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, photographer Ryszard Horowitz, whom he met inside the wartime Jewish ghetto.

The documentary is about “memory, confrontations with the past, transience, trauma, fate,” said Mateusz Kudla, who directed and produced the movie with Anna Kokoszka-Romer.

“Through these two characters who were lucky, who survived, we also wanted to show the tragedy of all those residents of the Krakow Ghetto who never made it out,” he told AFP.

In one scene of “Polanski, Horowitz. Hometown,” which opened this year’s Krakow Film Festival, Polanski recalls seeing a Nazi German officer shoot an elderly woman in the back, the blood spluttering out like water from a drinking fountain.

“Terrified, I ran through the gate behind me… I hid behind these stairs,” says Polanski, who was only six years old when World War II began.

“That was my first encounter with the horror,” he tells a grim-looking Horowitz.

Horowitz, who was among those helped by German industrialist Oskar Schindler, rolls up his sleeve in another scene to reveal the number inked onto his forearm when he arrived, aged five, at the Nazi death camp Auschwitz.

“Sometimes I’ll randomly glance at it and think it can’t be true, it must be some kind of stupid joke. Is it possible that I was there and that I survived?” Horowitz says.

The filmmakers also captured the moment a visibly moved Polanski met the grandson of Stefania and Jan Buchala, the Polish Catholic peasants who hid him from the Nazis.

Last year, Israel honored the late couple with the Yad Vashem title of “Righteous Among the Nations” for those who helped save Jews during World War II.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski, left, poses for the media with Stanislaw Buchala, right, who received the Israeli distinction of the Righteous Among the Nations on behalf of his late grandparents, Stefania and Jan Buchala, who saved Polanski, from the Holocaust in 1943-45, during the ceremony of bestowing the honor in Gliwice, Poland, October 15, 2020.(Michal Buksa/AP)

The film makes no mention of the multiple sexual assault accusations against Polanski, who is persona non grata in Hollywood and cannot return to the United States for fear of arrest.

“That wasn’t our focus, nor was it our intention to defend or accuse anyone. This film is about a whole other chapter in Roman Polanski’s life,” Kokoszka-Romer told AFP.

Kudla asks viewers to consider the possibility that “perhaps, in this case, Polanski did the right thing by giving (Holocaust) testimony to prevent history from repeating itself.”

The filmmakers expect the documentary to be available eventually online or on streaming platforms.

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