Po-Lin aka the Poland that doesn’t exist anymore


Po-lin. Okruchy pamieci (Germany/Poland, 2008)

Seen: Wednesday, 1st April 2009 (cinema)
Runtime: 82′
Director: Jolanta Dylewska
Narrator: Piotr Fronczewski
Production House: A Jour Film, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Angelegenheiten der Kultur und der Medien (BKM), Bomedia, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, PISF
Plot: A documentary about Poland’s Jewish community in the 1930s.


Impressions In Short
The informative value of this film is huge and I feel it’s a very important film. A lot of work was put into gathering the footage they used and it was obvious. I’ve never seen a documentary about Jewish Poland done quite on this scale before.

More About the Film
Some years back I would have never been particularly interested in seeing this. My high school took us to Auschwitz and that was a pretty striking experience. But even then I didn’t really understand how important the Jewish community in Poland used to be.
The thing that made me go “Er, what?” was when one day I was told that in the 1930s Poland was the biggest producer of films in the Yiddish language (most of them musicals apparently). Today nobody in Poland even speaks Yiddish, let alone makes films in it.
Somehow that random film fact really hit home with me and since then that concept of a Poland so different to the one I know haunted me. Today we are a country of very little ethnic diversity - one language, one religion and very insignificant minorities. Then, we were probably one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe to which the Jewish community very largely contributed.
And that is exactly what this film is about :) It sort of tries to put together an image of what life in that old Poland was like. The footage they used was amazing and I really wonder how they managed to chase it down. What they used was actually amateur footage shot by Jews who emigrated to the USA and then came back to Poland in the 1930s to visit their communities.
They focused on a few small towns and sort of tried to put together an image of the people who lived there and the atmosphere of it. They spoke to the old Poles, who still remembered the Jewish people who lived there. There was one really good question they posed - “do you dream about them?”. Some of the answers to that were fantastic - ranging from funny to sad.
The film certainly cleared some things up for me. I never really understood my grandma (who was born in 1925) and her feelings about Jews. When talking about them individually she would have many very warm memories of them and often a lot of respect. Even in London (where she emigrated), she had some Jewish friends. She would also talk very fondly about all sorts of Jewish food she ate as a girl (a popular theme in the film as well). But when talking about them as a community she was usually very anti-Semitic. She often talked about how what most Jews said about Polish-Jewish relations were lies and as she grew older it became something of an obsession with her. She kept reading loads of books about it, many of them by Jews. Sometimes she would compliment a Jewish author on portraying Polish-Jewish relations honestly, but usually she would say it was lies.
I never understood this. I just totally couldn’t wrap my mind around what she said and how she felt and why. Privately I thought that a lot of Jews were probably right about Polish anti-Semitism and that my grandma was sort of living proof of it. But of course I never would have dared tell her that. And then I never really understood how the venom and the warmth towards Jews could exist side by side like that in her.
And it all sort of makes sense now ;) I don’t think I would be able to explain it, but it just does. I think the film shows how misrepresented Polish-Jewish relations have been over the years (which I sort of knew, but it’s not until I saw it represented like that that I really know ;)). It shows the stuff that people on both sides of the wall try to omit. Like that most Jews in Poland were not rich bankers, but actually often suffered worse poverty than the Poles. And also that most Poles lived with Jews very peacefully and respectfully - not at all like what some Jews will try to have you believe. I don’t think I can properly explain what the film says ;) The devil is in the details. But my grandma makes a whole lot more sense to me now. I kept thinking of her all the time through the film - it was a reality in which she really fitted in.
My one criticism towards the film was that it lacked structure a bit (though it was damn difficult to create one with the style they chose for the film) and it would have watched better if it had been about 20min. shorter. It’s still a very valuable film though.

If the topic interests you at all then most certainly yes. Otherwise probably no.

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