THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES
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Holocaust film faces invective
borne of anti-Catholic bias
BY ANDREW GREELEY
February 28, 2003
In a just world, Roman Polanski's
film ''The Pianist'' should win the Academy award instead
of the likely winners--''Chicago,'' a trashy, raunchy
insult to my native city, or ''The Hours,'' which has
great acting and soapy sentimentality.
Sadly, one cannot look to the
Academy of Motion Pictures for justice, much less good
taste. ''The Pianist'' is a masterpiece, perhaps the
best film ever made about the Holocaust precisely because
it is underplayed.
For me, the horror of German abuse of Jews was never
more vivid than when a group of Germans stormed into
an apartment, demanded that everyone stand, and then
threw a man in a wheelchair out of the window to his
death because he could not obey them. The rest of the
Holocaust was that single hideous scene written large
on 6 million people--not 6 million as a mass, but 6
million individual horrors and 6 million personal tragedies
just like the old man in the wheel chair.
Polanski, himself a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto,
is a cinematic genius, whatever his own personal problems
might be. Yet the film has come under criticism from
some Jewish critics, most notably in the Wall Street
In an op-ed article in the Journal, not normally a
bastion of politically
correct thought, a critic argues that it is wrong to
suggest that Wladyslaw Szpilman (the pianist) survived
because he was helped by Polish Catholics--even though
it is true that both he and Polanski were kept alive
by Polish Catholics.
If the younger generation is to understand the horror
of the Holocaust, they must not think that there were
any good Poles. Nor must they know that Szpilman escaped
because of the help of a Jewish traitor and survived
at the end because of the help of a German captain.
No ambiguity permitted. In other words, one should distort
historical truth about Polish Catholics to make
No one can pretend that there was massive support for
Jews in Poland at that time. Some were indifferent,
others were delighted when they disappeared, still others
were happy to cooperate in their extirpation. The clergy
were for the most part intolerably indifferent. Yet
a few Poles took care of Jews.
There is a serious social science literature--written
mostly by Jewish
scholars--about the ''righteous Poles'' who protected
Jews. The literature asks why some Poles risked their
own lives that Jews might survive. The answer is that
most of them were deeply religious men and women, though
not pious in the traditional sense. I cannot believe
that anyone would seriously propose that their bravery
should be stricken from the historical record and swept
under the carpet.
Knowing about the controversy before I saw the film,
I was surprised. There was no hint that the righteous
Poles were Catholics--no mention, as far as I can remember,
of the word ''Catholic,'' no Catholic pictures on the
walls, no statues of saints. Polanski did not make a
big deal out of the Catholic help.
The righteous were simply decent people.
Then it dawned on me that if Polish Catholics were
written out of the story, Szpilman would never have
survived. Neither, for that matter, would Polanski.
If all the Jews are in the ghetto and almost all on
the outside are Catholics and by definition Catholics
can't help unless the wrong impression is given, then
who is there to help Szpilman and Polanski? The film
could not be made. I gathered that for the Journal author,
that would have been just fine.
I would like to suggest modestly that the men and women
who have done the research on the ''righteous Poles,''
while politically incorrect, are morally correct because
they search for truth instead of demanding that it be
covered up. The Journal writer is immoral--profoundly
immoral--because he believes that horrible memories
cannot be kept alive unless you lie. His hatred for
Catholics is so intense that he urges that the truth
be suppressed. I wonder how much different he is from
the Poles who hated Jews so much that they stood by
silently and lied to themselves about what was really
What happens when a later generation comes along and
finds out the truth? Cover-ups, as the Catholic bishops
recently learned, never work.
Nor is the cause of Jewish-Catholic relations well-served
when such hatred is propounded by some Jewish people.
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