The Oscar-nominated Polish film “Ida,” about a young novice in the 1960s who discovers from a long-lost aunt just days before she is to take her vows that she is Jewish and that her family was killed by a Polish family that hid them from the Nazis, has impressed audiences around the world. However, back in Poland, “Ida” has provoked the ire of the Polish Anti-Defamation League, a nationalist organization claiming that the film is anti-Polish and historically misleading.
The league has launched a public petition and has addressed its complaints to the Polish Film Institute, which provided financial backing for “Ida.” It wants contextualizing information added to the beginning of the film so that viewers will not mistakenly think that Poland was responsible for the Holocaust. In particular, the organization wants it explicitly stated that Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany during World War II, and that although hiding Jews was punishable by death, many Poles did so.
The filmmakers said they have no intention to give in to this pressure from Polish nationalists. One of the film’s producers, Eric Abraham, told the New York Times that he saw no reason to add anything to “a fictional story [whose] context is well known.”
Abraham also said he was not surprised by the reaction of the Polish Anti-Defamation League.
“It is telling that a fictional film about two women traumatized by National Socialism and Stalinism should so get under the skin of Polish nationalists. It’s as if anything that picks away at the scab of the nation’s unprocessed history of Stalinism and anti-Semitism remains a clear and present threat.”
‘A film is not a political statement. It has its own right to tell a true story, which is something that is beyond a particular country and time’
This is not the first time that Polish nationalists have voiced opposition to a film about WWII events in their country. Producer Dariusz Jablonski experienced a vociferous and virulent response from nationalists to “Aftermath,” his 2012 feature film about two brothers who discover in the early 2000s that neighbors in their rural village had been involved in massacring around 100 of their Jewish neighbors during WWII. They learn that their own parents were leaders of the assault on the Jews and that they, like the neighbors, stole the murdered Jews’ land. (Although not explicitly stated, it can be assumed that the story is based on the murder of the Jews of Jedwabne, Poland in 1941 by their Polish neighbors.)
“Of course, I don’t see any sense in adding anything to ‘Ida,’ in the same way that I didn’t agree with demands to make additions to my film,” Jablonski told The Times of Israel.
“A film is not a political statement. It has its own right to tell a true story, which is something that is beyond a particular country and time.”
Jablonski believes that right-wing politicians decided to whip up opposition to “Ida” only after it started getting a lot of positive recognition internationally. Suddenly, there was concern about Poland’s image abroad.
“When ‘Ida’ premiered in Poland, it was well-received by everyone, including the right, and without much emotion. It was considered to be more balanced than ‘Aftermath,’” he said.
Israeli filmmaker Ronit Kertsner, who has filmed several films in Poland, including “Torn” and “The Secret,” believes that Polish nationalists attempting to influence filmmaking are trying to rewrite history.
“I am not necessarily opposed to adding in an introduction to provide context, but that information has to be historically correct and truthful,” she said.
‘In every country where there is not a longstanding tradition of freedom of speech, telling a bitter truth that is different from the accepted one can be difficult’
“But to say that many Poles saved Jews is not truthful. The fact is that not many Poles saved Jews, when ninety percent of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews were wiped out.”
Despite the controversy that engulfed “Aftermath” — including the refusal of some theaters to screen the film, death threats made against the film’s lead actor Maciej Stuhr, and the Polish Film Institute’s demanding its funding back from the filmmakers — Jablonski believes that the Polish public is actually willing to face their country’s Holocaust history.
“More than three million Poles watched ‘Aftermath’ in the theater, on DVD and television. It paved the way for ‘Ida,’” he said.
Jablonski believes that the nationalists’ response to his film, as well as to “Ida,” is not only about the Holocaust or exclusive to Poland.
“There was the same kind of reaction in Russia to [Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominee] ‘Leviathan‘ by Andrey Zvyagintsev. In every country where there is not a longstanding tradition of freedom of speech, telling a bitter truth that is different from the accepted one can be difficult,” he said.