On July 10, 1941, half the residents of Jedwabne, a Polish village 85 miles northeast of Warsaw, murdered the other half. The mob, led by the mayor, were Catholics; their 1,600 victims were Jewish, slaughtered over several nightmarish hours with bats, knives, rifles and other improvised weapons. Those who survived the massacre were then rounded up in a barn donated by a local farmer, which was then set ablaze.
A plaque erected at the site blamed Nazis for the massacre, but, in fact, Nazis had only authorized it. Locals walked by the plaque for half a century, knowing the truth, but saying nothing.
Jedwabne’s terrible secrets were at last laid bare in Neighbors, an explosive account of the massacre by Princeton University historian Jan T. Gross. That 2001 book shattered carefully held myths, promulgated by Communist leaders, that Poles were only victims of World War II, not perpetrators. (Poles — who unlike many European countries never officially collaborated with the Nazis — lost close to 6 million citizens to the Nazis, or about 17 percent of the population. Just over half of those were Jewish.) Now, 12 years later, comes Aftermath — premiering stateside Nov. 1.
It’s a film inspired by Jedwabne that has forced the country to once again face certain unthinkable aspects of its past. Since its October 2012 premiere at the Warsaw Film Festival, the film has been a lightning rod. Major news outlets have dismissed it as anti-Polish propaganda, its non-Jewish star Maciej Stuhr has been the target of vicious anti-Semitic attacks, and its producer says he has been blacklisted by the country’s national film council.
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