Thursday, April 25, 2024

Irena's Vow 2023 Film Review


Irena's Vow

A new film dramatizes the life of an almost unbelievable heroine

Irena's Vow is a 2023 film dramatizing the World War II heroism of a young Polish nursing student, Irena Gut. Irena's Vow is a two-hour, color film. It was shot in Poland. The film is in English. It received a limited US release in April, 2024. Irena's Vow has an 86% professional reviewer rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 93% fan reviewer rating. Veteran reviewer Rex Reed calls Irena's Vow "One of the most astounding holocaust stories." He says, "It’s true, if fantastic." The film is "anchored by the powerful, heartfelt performance of Sophie Nelisse as an innocent girl whose integrity and resolve turns her into a woman of maturity and strength." Roman Haller, a Holocaust survivor, says, "It is a very great film. I expected a good film, but it is even more than I expected. … I saw my mother. I saw my father. I saw Irena … She was like a mother to me … I want to tell you there were people like that."

Dr. Glenn R. Schiraldi wrote the 2007 book, World War II Survivors: Lessons in Resilience. He devoted a chapter to Irena Gut Opdyke. She was, he writes, "a diminutive, elegant woman with warm, radiant blue eyes and delicate features. She is one of the kindest, most loving women I have encountered. She reminds one of Mother Teresa. As she spoke, I often found myself choking back tears."

Dan Gordon is a veteran screenwriter and also a former captain in the Israeli Defense Forces. Gordon says, "About 25 years ago, I was driving to my home in Los Angeles and listening to the radio. I heard a woman, Irene Gut Opdyke, telling her story. When I got home, I sat in the car in the driveway for another hour and a half, because I couldn’t stop listening." He worked for years to get the film made.

Director Louise Archambault is a French Canadian. When she first viewed the script, she says, her reaction was "Wow. What an amazing woman. If that script had been fiction, I would have refused it" because no one would believe it. But, "I fell in love with that character." Irena's story is "relevant. We want to tell that story today in 2024." Even though many films have been made about WW II, we haven't seen, Archambault says, WW II from the eyes of a young Polish Catholic girl forced by Nazis to work for them. Approximately 1.5 million Poles were forced to work for Nazi Germany, often under slave labor conditions and at the cost of their health and their lives.

Because Archambault had a relatively meager budget of five million dollars and only twenty-nine days for shooting, she developed an intimate, rather than epic style. Irena's Vow isn't Saving Private Ryan; the deaths we see are of individuals; they are murdered in a sickeningly intimate way. Yes, there is horror in the story, but there is also genuine "love, hope, and light." Archambault benefited from filming Polish actors, with a Polish crew, in Poland. They all know the history, she said; their grandparents lived it. They brought their personal experiences to the film. Also, "I put my energy on character, on human behavior."

Events in Poland contributed to the set's atmosphere. Refugees from Ukraine were arriving with their belongings in their hands and on their backs. "Every day we were reminded that war was going on next door." There was a "big van" with "big guys" on the set necessary for insurance purposes. "If shooting starts here" – shooting with bullets not with cameras – "we need to get everyone out of here."

Given how good this movie is, and how remarkable Irena's story is, one has to wonder why the film has received so little publicity and such a limited release. I have my suspicions as to what cultural trends may have sidelined Irena's Vow. More on that, below.

Monday, April 22, 2024

UK Jew Detained by Police for Being "Openly Jewish." Gideon Falter


The UK surrendered to jihad a while back. Witness the grooming gang scandals. Mostly but not exclusively Muslim males organized rape gangs for vulnerable young British girls. Police, social workers, teachers, taxi drivers, etc, knew about these gangs and did nothing because, as many said later, they were afraid of being called "racist" for identifying Muslim perpetrators. 

Hatun Tash is a Turkish-born former Muslim convert to Christianity. Muslims harass, threaten, bully, and rough up Hatun Tash regularly. Police stand by and do nothing. A man stabbed Hatun Tash repeatedly. He has never been arrested. Rather, UK police arrested Hatun Tash for saying things that Muslims don't like. 

Now Gideon Falter, a  UK Jew, was detained by police. The police say they detained him in order to keep him safe from harm. Evidently, the British surrender to jihad imperils Jews. 

If you think Jews are the only ones being so imperiled, you are mistaken. 

Read more about Gideon Salter in the Times of Israel here

Sunday, April 21, 2024


 Wikipedia reports, 

 Some 25,000 Polish underground fighters, including 300 top Home Army officers, were captured by NKVD units and SMERSH operational groups in the fall of 1944. They suffered mass deportations to the gulags.

Is this accurate? If it is not accurate, what are the real numbers, and what is the source of the numbers? 

Thank you in advance. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Polish "Slave" / "Forced" Laborers under Nazi Occupation

Liberated forced laborer
A doctor of the U.S. Army examines a former forced labourer from Russia who was ill with tuberculosis. The Americans had discovered the sick forced labourers in a barrack yard in Dortmund. Dortmund, 30 April 1945.

Female forced labourers from the Soviet Union on their arrival at the Berlin-Wilhelmshagen Transit Camp, December 1942. Source: Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin

Author, translator, and historian Filip Mazurczak responded to my Facebook mention of the terms "forced laborer" and "slave laborer" to refer to Poles and others forced to work for Nazis during WW II. I found his response so interesting I requested and received permission to repost it here.

Filip Mazurczak writes:

I use the two terms interchangeably. During the war, 1.5 million Poles were sent to Germany to work as slave laborers. They lived in barracks, and running away from them carried grave punishments, including death. And in German occupied Poland, there were many forced labor camps for both Jews and non-Jewish Poles. The difference was that Jews, if they were not killed in the labor camps, were then shipped off to concentration and extermination camp and killed. Non-Jewish Poles, however, did have a chance of surviving them, although many were shot for resistance or died of hunger and disease amidst the appalling sanitary conditions.

Today, in fact, when writing my dissertation, I dealt with how the underground press in Krakow wrote about the Szebnie forced labor camp. Szebnie is in Sub-Carpathian, 10 km outside Jasło and 42 outside Rzeszów. Maybe a history of this camp can be useful. The camp was originally established for Soviet POWs; the intention was to starve them to death. Locals were strictly banned from coming into contact with inmates, but some of them did bring the POWs food. Almost all of the Soviets died of starvation or typhus and dysentery. There were epidemics of these diseases among the Soviet POWs thanks to the terrible hygiene standards: they were given one uniform each and both worked and slept in it, and they were not given the opportunity to bathe. Between 5,000 and 6,000 Soviet POWs are estimated to have died in Szebnie. During the war, more than 3 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity. This is one of the great tragedies of the war, yet it is IMO relatively unknown.

In 1942, having killed most the Soviet POWs, the Germans turned Szebnie into a forced labor camp for Poles and Jews. I couldn't find what kind of labor they engaged in exactly. Some of the non-Jewish Poles at Szebnie were killed, but the Germans' intention was to eventually kill all the Jews. Many of them were shot on the roads outside the camp near houses, so there were many local witnesses. According to some testimonies, after the executions streams of human blood flowed to the nearby villages. The killed prisoners were buried in mass graves or incinerated; later, the soil was plowed to get rid of traces of human ashes and cover up the crime. The remaining Jews were later all deported to KL Plaszow or Belzec, where they were killed.

There were thousands of forced labor camps in occupied Poland, but Szebnie was one of the most brutal. In total, 10,000 Soviet POWs, Jews, and Poles were killed there. I also just read a lot about it today, so it's fresh on my mind. While non-Jewish Poles could realistically survive slave labor, able-bodied Jews were exploited for slave labor and, if they didn't survive, would eventually be killed.

In Kraków, where I live, there was a forced labor camp named Liban. "Liban" is Lebanon in Polish, but the camp doesn't have anything to do with the Middle Eastern country. For a long time, I wondered about the name origin, but eventually I read somewhere that Liban was the family name of the industrialists who owned the quarry there. During the war, the Germans used 2,000 Poles and Ukrainians as slave labor there. Many were killed for insubordination or attempting to escape or died because of the horrible conditions, and there is a mass grave with a monument with the Polish eagle to commemorate them.

Interestingly, the scenes at KL Plaszow in the movie "Schindler's List" were shot at Liban. A whole concentration camp set was built, and some of the set remains. If you're curious about why it wasn't shot at Plaszow, which is literally next to Liban, the fact is that literally nothing is left of KL Plaszow today. In 1944, as the Red Army was advancing westwards, the Germans forced the inmates of KL Plaszow to destroy the camp infrastructure to cover up the evidence. There is not a single barrack left. All that remains is the "Gray House," which is where the staff of KL Plaszow lived. There are also several monuments: the biggest is a socialist realist tribute to the victims of fascism built in the 1960s that's visible when you go to Wieliczka or the Bonarka shopping mall and smaller monuments to Hungarian Jews killed there, Polish Jewish victims, and several dozen members of Poland's "Blue" police who were shot in Plaszow for being agents of the Polish underground. There is also a big cross with a crown of thorns erected at the main place where the camp's most notorious SS-man, Albert Hujar (like many of the most sadistic SS-men, he was from Austria, which gave the Reich a disproportionate number of camp commandants and guards, including KL Plaszow's commandant Amon Goeth, famous for shooting at prisoners from the villa of his balcony for target practice) carried out shootings. 

The problem is that what used to be KL Plaszow is now a green space, and a very pleasant one. In the spring and summer, you will see many couples holding hands, people walking their dogs, and families with baby strollers walking there, on the very ground where thousands of Poles and Jews were mistreated and killed. There are signs that say that this is the site of the martyrdom to thousands and to show the proper respect, but people still have picnics there and drunks litter the former concentration camp with bottles. If there is nothing left of the infrastructure, it's kind of difficult for people to treat this as something other than a park. Fortunately, there are plans to build a museum there, but this decision is decades late.

I found an interesting article (in Polish) about the forced labor camp in Szebnie. I found out some of the kinds of work the inmates were forced to do: picking beets, working in a nearby oil refinery, and asphalting roads. As punishments, inmates were forced to do pointless but backbreaking labor such as lifting heavy furniture. The article also quotes Edwin Biberstein-Opoczyński (who was Jewish, since his testimony comes from the 301 archive collection from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, where the testimonies of Holocaust survivors are collected), a physician who survived Szebnie, as saying that Polish-Jewish relations in the camp were "very good." The non-Jewish Polish inmates were treated slightly better and were allowed to receive packages; the Poles often shared their packages with the Jewish inmates. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

MAGA Antisemitism; Candace Owens' Dog Whistle Gets Louder


Image source the New Yorker

MAGA antisemitism part two.


As previously mentioned, as my book Bieganski the Brute Polak Stereotype makes clear, you can't understand antisemitism in Poland unless you understand antisemitism period. If you want to understand how accusations of antisemitism against Poles are treated in the West, you have to understand how accusations of antisemitism against any group, for example blacks or Trump supporters or black Trump supporters are treated in the West.


In a previous post entitled "Candace Owens, Antisemitism, and American Conservatism," I talked about Candace Owens' antisemitism. Since that post, Candace Owens has posted a new post that I would like to discuss here.


On April 2, 2024, Candace Owens tweeted, "President Zelensky sure is behaving like a Bolshevist. How many more Christians will he conscript to death?"


Here Candace Owens is repeating a very ugly and deadly antisemitic trope.


It goes like this.


First, this trope is a reaction against the reality of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was very, very bad and very ugly. Witnessing the horrors of the Holocaust, even in just a newsreel or a book or a museum, made many antisemites think twice about their beliefs. Wow, this is where hate leads, they realized. Six million innocent and defenseless men, women, and children murdered just because of their identity. Bad!


To keep antisemitism alive in the face of such horror, antisemites came up with a counter narrative. In this counter narrative, which is not true, and this is the idea of antisemites, as they would put it, "Communism is Jewish. Communists murdered Christians. This murder took more lives than the Holocaust. So this Communist massacre of Christians cancels out any respect due to the Holocaust."


This narrative is false. Yes, at times and in places – but not at all times and not in all places – Communism was disproportionately Jewish. But most Communists were never Jews, and most Jews were never Communists.


Remember, Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB, was once a Polish Catholic nobleman. Joseph Stalin received a scholarship to study at a seminary to be an Russian Orthodox priest. Lenin's devout father had him baptized. Mao, who murdered more than Stalin, was not Jewish. The Khmer Rouge, whose genocide took the lives of 21% of the entire population of Cambodia, were not Jewish.


Marx was of Jewish ancestry, but there were Communist thinkers and doers before Marx. So, no, Communism is not Jewish.


"Communists murdered Christians" is only partially true. Communists murdered Jews. Communists murdered Muslims – see for example, here. The Khmer Rouge persecuted Buddhists. In short, Communists persecute anyone who has an identity that might interfere with Communist power. And sometimes Communists persecuted people just because they are in the way of some Communist boondoggle. Bieganski cites an article that talks about Communists in Poland oppressing windmill operators. Why windmill operators? Why not? People who wear glasses, people who collect stamps – all have been persecuted by Communists.


Yes, Communists murdered Christians. Communists murdered a lot of others, too.


There's one more antisemitic trope in Owens' tweet. "President Zelensky sure is behaving like a Bolshevist. How many more Christians will he conscript to death?"


Owens' tweet relies on an understanding of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky as not Ukrainian. As an outsider. As a deadly force. As an enemy of Christians. Why does Owens understand Volodymyr Zelensky that way? Because, in the mind of an antisemite, Zelensky is Jewish, and, therefore, he is an outsider, he is a deadly force, he is Communism personified, he is an enemy of Christians. This is a sick, evil, false and dangerous antisemitic trope. Owens should be required to renounce it, or to be excluded from decent society.


Why do I associate Owens' tweet with MAGA? Because antisemitism has been a feature of MAGA. Because any visit to online discussion boards reveals that the Venn diagram that shows overlapping populations shows that many of the folks who believe the above antisemitic trope are also Trump supporters, although they feel that Trump has not gone far enough.


No, not all Trump supporters are antisemites. Probably most Trump voters are not antisemites. And yes, there is plenty of antisemitism on the left, in the Democratic Party, in Christianity, etc. This post addresses one slice of antisemitism, that is, a kind of antisemitism found among some, not all, Trump supporters.