Anna Bikont, Journalist – Part Two
When the Russian army arrived in January, 1945, the survivors were finally able to leave their hiding places and all but Szmul left for Lomza. One night they heard that the Partisans were planning to come harm the Jews. The men in the house left and hid, leaving Ms. Antosa alone because they believed that these men would do nothing to a Christian woman. The men who arrived supposedly had taken part in the Jedwabne pogrom in 1941. When they couldn’t find any Jews, and she wouldn’t tell them anything, they beat up Ms. Antosa until she was black and blue all over. She was so terrified that she would get killed that she decided to leave for Austria with Szmul and some of the other Jewish survivors. They had to stay in a displaced people camp in Linz. Ms. Antosa got very homesick and wanted to return back to Poland. Szmul accompanied her back to make sure she was safe.
Ms. Antosa’s brother, who lived in Cuba, sent him money and Szmul helped the family buy a house in Bielsko, a village not too far from Jedwabne. Once, at the market, Ms. Antosa ran into the men who beat her up; she felt threatened, and the family moved again to a small town close to Warsaw.
In the nineties she was invited by her Jewish friends to the States. Szmul saw her again for the first time in thirty years. He started to invite her every year to Costa Rica. When he was dying in 2000, he asked for Ms. Antosa to stay with him. She came, stayed by his bedside and held his hand as he died.
A few months ago I saw Ms. Antosa in a documentary called The Legacy of Jedwabne. There is a moment in the movie when Anna Bikont is persuasively describing Ms. Antosa’s Christian love and goodness as the only motivation for her heroic deed. Anna is calling her a saint. This sounded all good, but now it seems to me that there is also a love story hidden in Szmul’s survival. When I ask Anna about it, she winks at me and says, ‘I believe so.’ In Our Class, the two Jewish characters that survive the war are also loved by their protectors. Anna Bikont’s mother was Jewish, too. She survived thanks to a Pole who fell in love with her, got her Aryan papers, including a birth certificate, and married her.
I asked Anna if she saw the play and what she thought about it. Anna tells me she loves Our Class. She believes it very desirable to explore a historical event, like the massacre in Jedwabne, through theater or literature. There is a new audience that will learn about the obstacles and problems that existed and made it very difficult for Jews and Catholics to live next to each other. ‘Nobody here in Poland talks about the fact that 10 % of the population before World War II was Jewish,’ she says. Anna believes that Tadeusz is an outstanding playwright. ‘Maybe some of the events that are described in the play didn’t happen in Jedwabne, but they happened in other places, other little towns. Tadeusz is bringing into the debates of history, human stories, human fates, and above all human emotions. He opened a door into this world for people who might not have otherwise entered.’