Agnieszka Arnold, Documentary Filmmaker - Part Two
I ask her what she thought about the relationship between the Jews and Poles in Jedwabne before the war. Agnieszka considers it a big problem that in Jedwabne Poles and Jews lived next to each other without too much contact. ‘The first question I always ask in my interviews is if they had ever visited the house of a Jew. The answer is always the same: no, never. And when you don’t know your neighbor,’ Agnieszka continues, ‘when they are only the Other, a small gossip can grow into something horrendously huge because people don’t know the reality of their neighbors' lives.’
But Agnieszka admits that the reasons for the lack of relationships between Poles and Jews are complicated. She suggests that eating food together is a basic socializing act. ‘Just imagine: a Jewish girl is visiting the house of her Polish classmate. She is offered a cup of tea, but she can’t have it because it’s not kosher. Can she have a cookie? No, she can’t. She can’t eat anything at her classmate’s house. The next time she is not offered anything and perhaps later she may not be even invited to visit.’ Agnieszka tells me that two years ago her best friend converted to Orthodox Judaism. She is supposedly very dear and close to Agnieszka. But now they can’t have a meal together because her friend can eat only kosher food. They still love each other very much but they don’t see each other as often as they used to in the past.
After the killings on July 10, 1941, many citizens of Jedwabne burglarized the houses of dead Jews, stealing their belongings, and moving into their houses. There is a scene in ‘Our Class’ that depicts this in a stunningly theatrical and unsettling way. Agnieszka believes that the local priests and certain local politicians tried to manipulate the citizens of Jedwabne and keep them divided and scared by the threat of retaliation. People who lived in the former Jewish homes were afraid that they could lose their houses.
I ask Agnieszka if, after her interviews with people who took gleeful part in the mass killing in Jedwabne, she understands where this sadism in human beings comes from. Agnieszka believes that it is born out of fear and humiliation. Some of the Polish citizens started to collaborate with the Soviets because they were afraid that they were going to be sent to Siberia or killed. But when the Soviets left, many of these informers were ashamed of their collaboration and afraid that they would be found out. So they decided to blame the Jews. According to Agnieszka, fear is the worst. Fear takes away our own humanity.
Photo: Agnieska Arnold, Website
Production Photo, Nasza klasa