Right now I am watching an incredibly interesting interview with filmfragments, historical foto's and movie images about the history of Poland, the Polish jews and the Second World war. It is an interview with Roman Polanski about his youth as a boy. His dramatic family history. It is about Krakow and Warsaw, September 1939 and the period after that. The German nazi's comming in. The Holocaust in Poland and the mistreatment of jews. For me it is a lesson in Polish and Polish Jewish history. Now I am going back to the television set. I was listening and watching with half an eye while writing this. I just wanted to share this. It is on the National Dutch Public television, chanal 2. And NPS program.
It is a very tragic family history, like so many Polish, Dutch and German jews had during the war. He talks with a lot of warmth and affection about the Polish farm family that saved his life. He was actually living a few miles from Auschwitz concentration camp.
Born in Paris to Polish parents, he moved with his family back to Poland in 1937, shortly before the outbreak of World War II. He survived the Holocaust and was educated in Poland and became a director of both art house and commercial films. Polanski's first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), made in Poland, was nominated for a United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but was beaten by Federico Fellini's 8½. He has since received five more Oscar nominations, along with two Baftas, four Césars, a Golden Globe Award and the Palme d'Or of the Cannes Film Festival in France. In the United Kingdom he directed three films, beginning with Repulsion (1965). In 1968 he moved to the United States, and cemented his status by directing the Oscar-winning horror film Rosemary's Baby (1968).
Polanski was born as Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański in Paris, France, the son of Bula and Ryszard Polański, a painter and manufacturer of sculptures, who had changed his family name from Liebling. His mother had a daughter, Annette, by her previous husband. Annette managed to survive Auschwitz, where her mother died, and left Poland forever for France. Polanski's Polish-born father was Jewish; Polanski's Russian-born mother had been raised Roman Catholic, and was of half Jewish ancestry. Polanski's parents were both agnostics.
World War II
The Polański family moved back to the Polish city of Kraków in 1936, and were living there when World War II began with the invasion of Poland. Kraków was soon occupied by the German forces, and Nazi racial purity laws made the Polańskis targets of persecution, forcing them into the Kraków Ghetto, along with thousands of the city's Jews. Around the age of five, he attended primary school for only a few weeks, until "all the Jewish children were abruptly expelled," writes biographer Christopher Sandford. That initiative was soon followed by requiring all Jewish children over the age of twelve to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David imprinted for visual identification. After he was expelled, he would not be allowed to enter another classroom for the next six years. Polanski then witnessed both the ghettoization of Kraków's Jews into a compact area of the city, and the subsequent deportation of all the ghetto's Jews to concentration camps, including watching as his father was taken away. He remembers from age six, one of his first experiences of the terrors to follow: I had just been visiting my grandmother . . . when I received a foretaste of things to come. At first I didn't know what was happening. I simply saw people scattering in all directions. Then I realized why the street had emptied so quickly. Some women were being herded along it by German soldiers. Instead of running away like the rest, I felt compelled to watch. One older woman at the rear of the column couldn't keep up. A German officer kept prodding her back into line, but she fell down on all fours, . . . Suddenly a pistol appeared in the officer's hand. There was a loud bang, and blood came welling out of her back. I ran straight into the nearest building, squeezed into a smelly recess beneath some wooden stairs, and didn't come out for hours. I developed a strange habit: clenching my fists so hard that my palms became permanently calloused. I also woke up one morning to find that I had wet my bed. His father was transferred, along with thousands of other Jews, to Mauthausen, a group of forty-nine German concentration camps in Austria. His mother was taken to Auschwitz and was killed soon after arriving. The mass forced exodus took place immediately after the German liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, after its failed rebellion, a true-life backdrop to Polanski's film, The Pianist (2002). Polanski, who was then in hiding from the Germans, remembered seeing his father being marched off with a long line of people. Polanski tried getting closer to his father to ask him what was happening, and managed to get within a few yards away. His father saw him, but afraid his son might be spotted by the German soldiers, whispered (in Polish,) "Get lost!" Polański escaped the Kraków Ghetto in 1943 and survived by assuming the name Romek Wilk, with the help of some Polish Roman Catholic families who promised his father they would shelter him if necessary. Initially, that prearranged care-taking of young Polanski lasted only a few days, as the family complained that they "hadn't intended to give refuge to a 'little Jew'." The family evicted him, although they refused to return his suitcase of personal belongings.
Again in hiding without his parents, he succeeded in being sheltered by other Catholic families, where he attended church, learned to recite most Catholic prayers by heart, and behaved outwardly as a Roman Catholic, although he was never baptized. However, his efforts to assimilate into Catholic households as a member of the family often failed. In one instance, the parish priest visited the family and began to interrogate him, as Polanski recalls: "Who exactly are you?" he asked. "Where were you baptized?" . . . "What was the name of your parish priest?" . . . He pursued his inquisition to the bitter end. "You're a little liar," he said finally. "You've never been baptized at all." He took me by the ear and led me over to the mirror. "Look at yourself. Look at those eyes, that mouth, those ears. You aren't one of us." Writer Mitchell Glazer describes Polanski's difficult childhood: Truth and myth about Polanski merge in a grisly, Jerzy Kosinskiesque tale: at six, slipping through the Cracow sewers with gangs of Jewish children to steal food for their families; having his mother hauled away before his eyes to perish in Auschwitz; at seven, being hidden by various non-Jews (for a fee) and finally being sent to a Polish farm to live with a peasant family. The stories become even darker: near fatal beatings (he has a metal plate in his head), starvation, night escapes across the freezing Polish countryside. And all this before he was twelve. As he roamed the countryside trying to survive in a Poland now occupied by German troops, he witnessed many horrors, such as being "forced to take part in a cruel and sadistic game in which German soldiers took shots at him for target practice." Author Ian Freer concludes that his constant childhood fears and dread of violence have contributed to the "tangible atmospheres he conjures up on film." By the time the war ended in 1945, a fifth of the Polish population had been killed, with the vast majority of the victims being civilians. Of those deaths, 3 million were of Polish Jews, 90% of the country's Jewish population. Although his mother perished at Auschwitz, his father survived and was later reunited with his son. According to Sandford, Polanski would use his memory of his mother, her dress and makeup style, as a physical model for Faye Dunaway's character in his film Chinatown (1974).