More accusations of Polish Judeophobia

Jewish resistance film sparks Polish anger

A film starring Daniel Craig [James Bond] about a Jewish underground resistance movement that took on the Nazis has prompted a storm of protest in Poland. Defiance, directed by Edward Zwick, which recently opened in Poland under the title Opor (resistance), has been booed at cinemas across the country and banned from others because of a local perception that it is a rewriting of history and anti-Polish.


The story is of the ‘Bielski Partisans‘, a group of WWII resistance fighters led by three Jewish brothers called Bielski who hid out in the woods in what is now western Belarus but was then part of Poland. Not only were they resistance fighters but they also protected many others from being captured by the Nazis.

Poles, it seems, are not happy at the romantic / heroic portrayal of the partisans on the basis that, whilst they may have been fighting the Nazis, they also did some bad things against Poles in conjunction with their Soviet pals.

But many Poles, particularly nationalists, continue to believe that the Bielskis’ partisans also took part in a brutal 1943 attack led by Soviet partisans on the village of Naliboki in which 128 people were killed, despite historical investigations that have exonerated them.

The film has been the subject of much negative media in Poland, not least from Rzecpospolita and Gazeta Wyborcza. Media outside of Poland will yet again be led to the conclusion that anti-Semitism is still a problem Poland has to come to terms with.

It would be interesting to hear the Polish side of this story because so far, if you only read foreign media, the impression is one of sour grapes – the only people allowed to be heroes of Polish resistance are Poles (not Jewish ones) who were nice to all Polish people but killed lots of Germans or Soviets.

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30 thoughts on “More accusations of Polish Judeophobia

  1. Lara says:

    I live in the States, but my husband is from Poland so I asked him about this. He said that there was a lot more to Poland’s experience in WWII than the Jewish experience, and that Poles are tired of being defined as the country of the Holocaust, antisemitism, and little else.

    His point is that we see many movies about the Holocaust, but where are the movies about the Polish military when the government was based in England, or the Polish underground? The fact that Poland as a nation was always fighting against Germany and Russia and never collaborated, like France, is brushed over or not addressed. Many of the residents of Poland when Germany invaded were of strong German descent, so they were not concerned. The complexities of the situation, including the previous border shifts, are rarely taken into account.

    Also, most of the Western movies about the Polish/Jewish experience during WWII are produced from the American Jewish perspective, not from the Polish Jewish perspective. His father’s Jewish family stayed in Poland and so he is less ready to condemn Poland for its recent history. My husband points out, and I agree, that US education on history of any kind is pretty weak. The fact that Poland was considered a safe place for Jews for centuries prior to WWII is not widely known here. His final point is that history should be studied before creating historical entertainment (although that never stopped Hollywood that I can tell).

  2. It’s my understanding that the critics screening in Wroclaw was difficult to hear from all the laughter erupting from the audience. I figured a lot of the problem was the overt romanticism in the way the movie portrayed the movement (like making an Ewok village in the forest that was somehow invisible to German planes).

  3. Ania says:

    So I couldn’t resist. Will try to be good.

    Here is something more on the topic: Poland is and was not only a country of Poles and Jews, but also other nationalities:

    and, this war having been the way it had, Polish Jews murdered Polish Catholics as well – note the characterisation by religion, instead nationality, it used to be this way:

    – this source is nationalistic in my opinion, but of course if Jews can be nationalistic then why not others as well…

    there is as well the topic of other murdering, like the Soviet destruction of 15 million Poles in the East. This source is far right, but non-nationalistic (they consider women to be happiest at home, and minorities to be just as good citizens as others)

    Then there is the slaughter of Poles in Ukraine, quite unmatched in my opinion:

    And then there is the forced labour in Germany… so it’s not just complex history with the Jews, but all the neighbours.

    I think that there is a big issue to be considered – the old borders of Poland contained many nations, not all of them speaking Polish. Jews may not necessarily differentiate – when the UPA was cleansing Polish villages, they may have killed some Jews in the process, and now the survivors remember the aggression very vividly – and remember that it happened in Poland. This came to my mind on a trip to London several years ago – and old woman came to me when she heard me speaking Polish with my sister, and tried to tell me something, but I could not understand one word. So I think that we Slovians and the Baltics possibly look all the same to Jews.

    another issue is the Prometeusz organisation,,,
    that was aimed against the Soviets. And the Soveits retaliated by cutting the members off any support from other countries, by throwing the Antisemite accusation – you can trust that it will never be checked. Too stinky.

    And the last major issue is this:
    Look at the Jews who stayed in Poland – they walk talk and act like Poles. Most people don’t even realise that they speak to a Jew. So had the war been less ferocious, we would have been one nation now. Jews were even creating in Polish.
    And there were the marriages – take my humble example.
    My Father is Polish on his paternal side, straight line szlachta łanowa.
    But take a closer look:
    Great Grandfather Józef married a Tatar Muslim woman – I’ve got a photo.
    Grandfather Zygmunt married a half-German woman, I’ve got all the documents
    My Father married my Mother, who is half-Jewish. Her Mother is a Proletarian, worked as a weaver, and her Father was Jewish – this side of my family has strong dark curls.
    Grandfather was the son of a marriage of Jews who lived in Limanowskiego street, part of the Lodz ghetto. They made slippers. Great-Grandmother was not happy at Grandpa’s choice of bride, and only came to like Grandma near death – maybe she wanted a nice Jewish girl instead of a blonde bimbo.

    So I wish to conclude this way – I think that I am a typical Polish mongrel. Everybody I know is half this half that and has szlacheckie origins.
    So don’t tell me that my nation is Anti-Semitic: we don’t just claim to be OK with Jews, we marry them.

  4. Steven Woodruff says:

    All I can add ,
    is that I had to hide my copy of “the painted bird” and “the future is ours comrade” from my Polish in-laws and many other Polish relatives. They are so offended by these books, I’ve been hiding my copies deep in the basement of the villa in Wrocław for 13 of my 15 years in a Polish family.

    Please don’t let it get out that these are two of my favorite books of all time, and I still to this day can’t get over how my taste in fictional work can offend so many Polish people :)

  5. Pawel says:

    “It would be interesting to hear the Polish side of this story because so far, if you only read foreign media, the impression is one of sour grapes – the only people allowed to be heroes of Polish resistance are Poles (not Jewish ones) who were nice to all Polish people but killed lots of Germans or Soviets.”

    Scatts, I don’t get this paragrapgh. You mean the only people allowed in Poland or in America/Western imagination?

    To add something vaguely related: I think many many aspects of the past reality are now simplified, and simplified, and simplified some more – so that little remains of the reality. This is my thought after seeing the film, and reading Scatts’s post.

    I guess the view on this matter is shapaed by what one thinks is more important, that
    a/ there was a group of Jewish people who didn’t calmly let themselves be gassed, and chose to do something
    b/ this group of people was also plundering villages and murdering villagefolk

  6. Jacek Wesołowski says:

    From what I’ve read the claim that they murdered anyone has been falsified. They were a hundred kilometres away from the village in question at the moment of the massacre, or something like that. They did take food by force. And they kept escaping from Wehrmaht, rather than fighting them. I guess it wouldn’t be fair to blame them. They were struggling for survival.

    I agree that the centre of the problem is that it’s a (reportedly) shallow movie that takes a complicated piece of complicated history and turns it into a straightforward fairy tale. If someone took, say, the Warsaw Uprising, and turned it into an action-packed love story with a happy end, everybody would complain, too. However, I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m just guessing.

    As for Jewish heroes of the resistance, there is a moving film about Janusz Korczak. I remember the main complaint about it was that the ending wasn’t literal. It depicts an urban legend that is almost certainly false (it says the train carrying Korczak and his pupils to a death camp was diverted and its passengers freed).

  7. richardlith says:

    Thye problem is that the ¨Antlanticist¨ scheme of history (to use Norman Davies’ term), is the sort taught in schools in the US, and to a lesser extent the UK. This aims to fit a reasonably coherent framework of ¨US/UK forces good, German forces bad¨ onto to history of WW11, reinforced by decades of war films focusing on the British or US military experience.

    However, what happened in the territory stretching between Berlin and Moscow in WW2 is inconveniently complex. The Antlanticist strand holds that the Jews, for example, were the greatest victims, and that non-Jews were bystanders or collaboratores.

    The fact that just as many non-Jewish Poles and Jewlish Poles dies does not fit in with the Atlanticist framework.

    PContemporary Poles hold themselves up as heroes, yet Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Jews all point to examples of Poles killing Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Jews . Conversely, Poles can give endless examples of Lithuanians, Ukrainians and Jews killing Poles (as at Naliboki).

    The Polish view of history and the Atlanticist view diverge of major issues. For Poles, the Warsaw Uprising happend in 1944. For many outside Poland, reared on the Altanticist view of histroy, the Warsaw Uprising happened in 1943 (ie the ghetto uprising, whose memorial Willi Brandt knelt at. Why did bBrandt not kneewl at a memorial to the 1944 uprising?).

  8. […] reports on the negative reactions in Poland to a film portraying a group of Jewish partisans during World War […]

  9. […] reports on the negative reactions in Poland to a film portraying a group of Jewish partisans during World War […]

  10. MaterialGirl says:

    I was waiting for this article!
    Scatts, you have got 1 month delay!
    And like usually you don’t understand much!
    It’s going mainly about “the legs” whole country or government is standing on. Those legs were from early state like egyptian times farmers or slaves.
    Those legs in mentioned article were mainly Polish but Belarusian too.
    But nationality isn’t important!!!
    “Those legs” were farmers, no matter what kind of nationality peasants.
    Did peasants or simple workers categorizes themselves as “I’m polish, I’m belarussian, I’m russian and so on?” Not very much!
    When you work for the offals from sb table you are not so eager to work!
    The awareness of being citizens between polish farmers started in XIX century, when they had got the earthground in really their possesions, but it was not very about beeing polish, because that time Poland was divided between Russia, Germany and Austria.
    They divide people for that who plunder us – doesn’t matter is it an land- or factoryowner as noble men or bussinesman or soldier or clerk of governement or EU!
    And especially in war time there’s hard. In day came Germans, by night partisans doesn’t matter russian, jewish or polish. You as an farmer had to pay the contribution that sometimes othergrow your possibilities. These who came by day said: ” You don’t have food! How it’s possible! You gave food to partisans. You collaborated with them and they shoot farmers”.
    Those who came by night said: “You didn’t have got food? Why did you give food to Germans. You collaborate with them. And they shoot poor farmers”.
    If you tried some resistance=not giving them what they wanted, they always used the violence doesn’t matter what kind of nationality they were!

  11. MaterialGirl says:

    Polandians forgot about yesterday BIG DAY!

    So I had got to pay the tribute to all my grandmas from USA when it started with strike of the weavers in 1908.
    Thank you to all my grandmas with umbrellas from Britain, Holland, Poland and other countries!

    I hope I will find at least one drop of your power in my blood to make the world better.

  12. scatts says:

    We didn’t so much “miss” lajdis day, we were too tied up being suitably nice to our own lejdis to be able to post on here! ;) It goes without saying that we love all Polandian lajdis and if we knew where you all lived would have sent some flowers, for sure!

    Other comments, all very interesting, thanks.

  13. Pawel says:

    We were too busy marching in manifas to post something…

  14. guest says:

    Funny, my comment has been removed. Did I break any house rules? Just wanted to provide people with more insight into the Bielskis “partisans”. Here it is again:

  15. scatts says:

    Nobody has removed any comments. There are two above from people called “guest”

    “The Jews in Hollywood should make a movie about…”


    “Here’s some insight into the Bielskis “partisans”:”

    Obviously the second one is yours and has been there all the time.

    This is the trouble with people calling themselves “guest”. It’s a bit difficult to track things down.

  16. scatts says:

    I have to apologise for the shitty screwed up nonsense that is our formatting of comments these days!!! It’s really pissing me off.

    Apparently, WordPress did something and it messed up our ‘custom CSS’ formatting so now we have to have (edit) on its own bloody line and the comments box has scroll bars, for Christ’s sake!

    If / when we move to our own server I’m hoping this pigs breakfast will be resolved. If I had any idea how this crap worked I’d have fixed it myself already.

    Thanks for not complaining! :-)

  17. Mansfeld says:

    ” so far, if you only read foreign media, the impression is one of sour grapes – the only people allowed to be heroes of Polish resistance are Poles”

    I have similiar impression – when i watch hollywood movies about wwII i feel that the only people allowed to be victims are Jews.

  18. […] [Comments for Polandian] Comment on More accusations of Polish Judeophobia by Mansfeld […]

  19. Sylwia says:

    I agree with Paweł that it’s mostly about simplifying a very complex issue.

    From everything I read about the Bielskis bro, and none of it was from any far right source, the assumption that they killed Poles wasn’t false, only it wasn’t clear whether they took part in the particular massacre at Naboliki (most likely it was another Jewish unit). It doesn’t mean that the Bielskis are free from all charges of killing Poles.

    Then there is the issue that they weren’t anti-Nazi, only an anti-Polish unit allied with Soviet guerrillas. So they fought against the Polish Home Army, and not against Germans.

    And then there is the reputation they have i.e. Bielski having his private harem in the forest, looting from peasants and killing them, and the youngest brother (omitted in the film) actually facing a trial in California for kidnapping and robbing an old Polish woman.

    Surely people have their various pros and cons in controversial situations, but if Poles made a film about “Polish heroes from Jedwabne” I bet it’d be attacked worldwide. Yet Hollywood advertises this film as a true story.

    The entire eastern front was very controversial, with some Lithuanians and Ukrainians allying with Nazis both against Poles and against Soviets. With some Belarusians, Jews and Lithuanians allying with Soviets both against Poles and against Nazis. With Poles trying not to ally with either, but sometimes doing it anyway, and killing their enemies. At war everyone who’s against you is your enemy, no matter their nationality.

    Personally I think the film about Bielskis could be great if someone strove to show the complexity; if someone took the effort to explain how the pre-war situation in Poland shaped the various sides at war. If one was a communist before the war it didn’t matter much, just as it wouldn’t matter today, but during the war it automatically placed the person against Poles during the Soviet occupation, especially that Soviets’ allies collaborated against Poles. Then when Germans took the lands one couldn’t expect any help from Poles after what one had done earlier. One allied with Soviets even more in order to survive, or one could become a victim of either Poles or Nazis and be killed.

    However, it’s also important to understand that one cannot judge all Poles upon the situation in one part of the country. If one lived in what was then western Poland one was never occupied by Soviets during the war, and so one didn’t have to stand in front of the same choices. All the civil massacres of Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Belarusians took place in the eastern front, because in the western one everyone had one common enemy. Unless of course Ukrainians arrived as Nazi allies, like during the Warsaw Uprising 1944, but there were no civil Ukrainians living in Warsaw area with whom Poles could get into conflict.

    I find it ridiculous that people of various nationalities killed in the eastern front are considered victims of war, but when they were Jews they’re called victims of Polish Judeophobia or anti-semitism. To a Pole it didn’t matter whether it was a Jew or a Soviet, just as to a Jew it didn’t matter whether it was a Pole or a Nazi. Everyone was everyone’s enemy.

    Steven Woodruff -> Well, I happen to like Kosiński’s “The Painted Bird” and I’m Polish. It was a bestseller when it was first published in Poland, and at my lyceum we gave this book to our Polish teacher as a special treat. But Wrocław folks have their own history strongly tied to the east. It doesn’t compare.

    Scatts -> Moving to a private server? Will I still be able to track Polandian from my wordpress account? Can’t you just turn off the threaded comments option? It’s in your panel -> Settings -> Discussion -> untick “Enable threaded (nested) comments…”

  20. gumish says:

    this film is bunch of lies

    just vaguely refers to reality

    you need to dig for the information yourself

    you can find some entries on the film on

  21. domingo says:

    and the whole report for those who are interested:

  22. FLPL says:

    Hi, I’ve been lurking around this blog for some time. Thought I’d chime in.
    The kidnapped-Polish-nonagenarian trial was not in California, but in Florida … in the mythical Palm Beach, of all places.
    The Bells (formerly Bielski) are now out on bail. Interestingly enough…if I’m correct, his wife happens to be Polish, too!

    Also, my neighbors were the ones who made the call to the Polish nursing home on behalf of the Palm Beach Police dept. (guess they were short on translators :-) )when this had originally happened …neat stuff… Glad you finally made a post on the film. There at least half a dozen books floating around on the Bielski brothers; it seemed inevitable that Hollywood would make a film (never mind the quality of it)about it eventually.

  23. Pioro-Boncza says:

    Hey everybody,

    Sorry but….WHO CARES!!! Us Poles have to stop living in the past or else our country will always be in the past (ie. culturally, economically, politically) Stop being so provincial and start acting like 21st century citizens of the WORLD, not just little, tiny, 38 million out of 6.5 billion Poland.

    I am dying to hear conversations about the latest technological achievements at Polytechnika or about a farming collective outside say Lublin getting together to start using biomass to power their homes.

    Poland is such a self-fulfilling tragedy sometimes….

  24. Domingo says:

    Blah, blah, blah….

  25. Lon says:

    Hmm reading Poladian for inspiration to start blogging again. Having toured the Warsaw uprising museum in Dec, I have a fresh picture of the complexity that was resistance in Poland and the eastern front. I think that there was any resistance at all after the brutal scorched earth and terror tactics of both the Germans and Russians is testimony to the strength of the Polish people. And then add on the organization of the Home Army while under occupation is a feat.

    As I have not yet see the movie or being a Polish historian I wont comment on the accuracy but the movie does serve a purpose in that it could make people talk and even be aware of a Polish resistance during WWII. This is a $$ action movie that we hope will have historical facts right but should not confuse it with documentaries and history books as a place to get our facts on Polish history on the Eastern front. Just as starting point. I look forward to seeing the movie when in opens in Johannesburg.

  26. stefonic says:

    Scatts! (potty mouth)

    I am both pleased and surprized at your fondness for “the painted bird” Have you read “the future is ours comrade” same writer but changed the cover name to “NOVAK’ his very first published book.

    The most intelligent comments on this subject of fiction. It,s fiction for making money and I hope they make some. Historical, accurate, to Hollywood, it,s what you throw on top, like powdered sugar.

  27. Sylwia says:

    No, I haven’t, but I read “Being There”, “The Devil Tree”, “Cockpit” and “Pinball” if that counts. It’s possible I read something else too, but it’s been nearly 20 years ago.

    I think the major difference between me (and my friends) and the Poles who didn’t like “The Painted Bird” is that I haven’t read it as an autobiographical novel.

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