Arriving in Warsaw - Part Two
Allen Kuharski, a scholar and translator of Polish theater at Swarthmore College, is at the performance. We have known each other for years from the Philadelphia theater scene. Allen likes the production a lot, and he’s visibly pleased to see that the play doesn’t have an ideological agenda to show the Poles as anti-Semites. He tells me that he was worried about producing the play in the States because he thought that without the knowledge of Polish history, US audiences wouldn’t understand the complexities of the play. However, the performance has persuaded him that the play’s moral concerns are universal. Allen remarks that this is the first time in the Polish theater that this subject – the relationship between Catholic and Jewish Poles – is not merely hinted at but is addressed explicitly and straight on, without the use of metaphor.
I’m not surprised to hear about Allen’s reservations. The history of twentieth century Poland is eventful: the creation of new Poland after World War I in 1918 leaves Poland with large minorities, of which 3 million Jews comprise the largest portion. After the death of the Polish leader, socialist Josef Pilsudski, in 1935, Polish nationalism and anti-Semitism grow in intensity. On September 1, 1939 Hitler attacks Poland and seventeen days later Stalin attacks the beleaguered Polish army from the East. The two countries divide Poland by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line. Jedwabne is part of Eastern Poland, which is now under Soviet occupation. On June 22, 1941 Hitler declares war on the Soviet Union. The Soviets withdraw from Eastern Poland, and the Germans move in. In 1943, the Germans ruthlessly carry out Hitler’s policy of exterminating all Jews with the Final Solution. By spring 1945, the Soviets liberate Poland from Germany. There is ongoing fighting among various militias in the post war chaos, but the Soviets install a communist regime that lasts the next 44 years until the Solidarity Movement erupts in 1980, fighting to bring Poland back to democracy, which is achieved in 1989. Today, there are only about 30,000 Jews living in Poland.
Photos: from the Polish production Nasza klasa.