Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marian Marzynski's "Shtetl" in "Bieganski" Book Excerpt

Father Piotr Sosnowski, Tuchola, Poland. Source: USHMM Museum
A previous blog post discusses Marian Marzynski's PBS Frontline documentary "Shtetl." That blog post can be found here.

"Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype" also discusses the film "Shtetl." Below is a brief excerpt of that discussion. "Bieganski" is available at Amazon here.

*** Excerpt from "Bieganski"***

Marian Marzynski's 1996 documentary Shtetl created a black-and-white portrait of a Polish town, Bransk, populated by powerful and evil Poles and powerless and virtuous Jews. Though the film covers World War Two, Nazis hardly appear. Viewers reported that hating Poles and Poland per se was the virtuous response. "This film clearly illustrates the basis for my prejudice toward the Polish People. For many years, I harbored feelings of guilt concerning my opinions of the Polish People. Upon viewing the film, I feel completely absolved..." (PBS Shtetl "Feedback"). Marzynski boasted, "a running camera never changes the truth" (PBS Shtetl "Questions"). Conversely, American director Brian de Palma once observed, "The camera lies all the time. It lies 24 times a second" (James).

Zbigniew Romaniuk, a historian who had worked with Marzynski on the film, asked Marzynski why key data had been left out. Why did Marzynksi not mention that a Pole, in accord with Nazi edict, was executed for owning a radio? Why no mention Henryk Opiatowski, the Polish priest killed for helping Jews? Why did Marzynski not mention the wider, and historically deep-rooted, German, anti-Polonist terror that these murders typified? Why did Marzynski not mention that Nazis were not Bransk's only invaders? When Soviets had invaded earlier, trumpeting, and acting on, an ages-old determination to wipe out Poland and Russify the area, Jews collaborated to the extent of supplying fifty percent of the Soviet police. Many such questions followed. All had one point. Why had Marzynski reduced a full-color reality to black-and-white (PBS Shtetl "Letter from Zbigniew Romaniuk to Marian Marzynski")?

Marzynski brushed off Romaniuk's many questions with a simple reply: "I didn't have a choice." The alert reader will note Marzynski's declaration of his own powerlessness. One must follow the rules to create compelling narrative. "Without strong characters and a plot involving them, you and I would put our viewers to sleep" (PBS Shtetl "Marzynski's Response"). By "strong characters," the reader can understand, "contrasting characters." Marzynski gave his audience what it craved, what audiences have always craved: two opposite characters, in this case, one empowered and evil, the other powerless and virtuous.

*** End of Excerpt from "Bieganski." ***

Father Opiatowski was not the only priest murdered in Bransk by the Nazis.

According to this website:


Fr. Henry Opiatowski Born June 1, 1907, the chaplain of the Polish Army. Was shot 15 July 1943 in Bielsko Podlaski for hiding Jews, who escaped from the Brańsk Ghetto and for helping the Soviet soldiers. He was killed together with Bl. Fr. Anthony Borowski and Father Ludwikiem Olszewski and 47 residents of Bielsko Podlaskie. Despite such repression, another vicar in Brańsk - Fr. Joseph Chwalko risked his life to rescue the family of Leib Shapiro.

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