Why You Should Watch the Polish Movie “Aftermath”
“Aftermath” is a Polish-language thriller that originally appeared in Poland in November 2012. One year later, an English-language subtitled version of the film appeared in the U.S. market. The film, written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, explores a very controversial topic: the Jewish Holocaust in Poland.
In fact, due to the incendiary nature of the content, Pasikowski found trouble attracting enough financial backing to make the film in the first place. Eventually, he found two distributors for the film: Meneshma Films and Monolith Films.
“Aftermath” is based on a true-life story of how a historian uncovered evidence that the Polish people – not the German Nazis – might be responsible for the murder of hundreds of Jews in the city of Jedwabne, Poland. Of course, many saw this as anti-Polish slander and a controversial attempt to dig up a difficult and troubled past. They preferred to cling to a more acceptable historical narrative – that it was the Germans who were responsible for all murders of Jews in Poland.
Pasikowski sets the film in a fictional town in early 2000s Poland. Franciszek Kalina, living in Chicago, decides to visit his brother Josef in Poland at his family farm. What he finds surprises him – his brother has been meticulously documenting the deaths of Jews who mysteriously disappeared during the World War II period. In some cases, he is collecting Jewish tombstones and putting them out for display as a way of shaming the local community. In turn, Josef has become an outcast, shunned by the townspeople, who have no desire to explore the past.
At first, Franciszek is confused by what’s happening, but as he learns more, he is horrified to find that his brother might be right. In fact, they discover a road that’s been paved with Jewish gravestones and mounting evidence – in the form of land records and uncovered bodies – suggesting that it was the Poles, not the Nazis, who had murdered hundreds of Jews.
This exploration of the truth brings the two brothers into direct confrontation with the townspeople. It is a clash of terrible secrets, long-held lies and a historical cover-up against the truth. Eventually, this leads to a bout of epic violence, as the battle for the truth becomes a matter of life and death.
Within Poland, the film remains controversial. Even in the face of mounting evidence, many Poles are unwilling to consider the unthinkable – that their family members may have played a role in the Jewish Holocaust. Several right-wing groups in Poland have called the film “anti-Polish” and actively sought to have it banned. On the other side, a growing number of Poles now recognize it as their duty to get history right.
Within the U.S., the film has not attracted as much controversy. In fact, the film is seen as more of a drama with a strong historical aspect, but not as a film that can define an entire nation and subject it to shame and historical guilt.
Once you know the full back story of the film – and the effort that the director made to get history right – it’s impossible to deny the power of the film to move you emotionally. It is more than just another Holocaust movie — it is a film that will challenge your notions of right and wrong, the duty of family, and the responsibility of nations to acknowledge their historical legacy.