uploaded : Monday 17th Mar 2003 at 01:06
by : Our Editor and Prof Louis Rene Beres
'The Pianist', Directed by Roman Polanski and starring Daniel Brody as the Polish concert pianist Vladislaw Szpilman, has just been released in Great Britain. The first half of the film chronicles the complete disintegration of Jewish life in Poland after the Nazi occupation. Based on both Szpilman's and Polanski's respective life stories, the first hour contains searing scenes of cruelty by the Nazis(a Jewish family'flat is raided as they eat Sahbbat dinner and an elderly, wheelchair-bound family member is thrown to his death out of the window because he cannot stand to attention. My memory immediately rushed to Leon Klinghoffer thrown to his death by the PLO from the Achille Lauro, but an Arab friend has told me she could only think of Palestinians being crushed by bulldozers in their homes....)
Amongst the most memorable performances from 'Part One,' as I like to call it, is Maureen Lipman, who plays Szpilman's mother. Her emotional range brings every scene of the family's progressive suffering to a level that embeds itself in one's heart.
All of Szpilman's family is deported and he is saved by a Jewish Kapo. In 'Part Two,' Adrian Brody is breathtaking as he begins his solitary journey of survival outside the ghetto, where he receives constant protection and succour from Polish Christians. The final episode that begins with the siege of the ghetto and Szpilman's desperate escape from being 'shopped' by the neighbours concludes with the extraordinarily moving relationship he develops with a German officer. This section of the film is crafted to perfection by Polanski and the fleeting fits of compassion by the German serve to save Szpilman's life. Szpilman went on to live into old age and died in 2000.
This film is a masterpiece and gets five stars from JewishComment.
We are grateful to Professor Louis Rene Beres for allowing us to print the following commentary on the themes that have been raised in 'The Pianist.'
On its surface, THE PIANIST is the true tale of a great Jewish musician caught in the unfathomable depths of Nazi occupation. More profoundly, it is a visual microcosm of the titanic human struggle between good and evil, a
struggle that is sometimes utterly clear but sometimes also very "gray." The Nazis in Poland were monsters, to be sure, but what are we to say about the others - including many Jews - who became actual perpetrators in the Holocaust Kingdom? And, most importantly of all, what lessons can we learn from the film for Jewish preservation in our own perilous time?
Emaciated, skeletal, starving and disoriented, the pianist endures German-occupied Warsaw with aid administered by both Jews and gentiles and
with torments meted out by both Jews and gentiles. Yes, some Polish Catholics risked their own lives to save him, as did several Jews - including a member of the "Jewish Police." But what can we say more generally of the "Jewish Police?" Shall we be ashamed that thousands of Jews rounded up, abused, beat
upon and deceived their fellow Jews in what turned out to be an entirely futile attempt to save their own lives and the lives of their families? Or shall we be more "understanding," recognizing the overwhelming human inclination to survive at all costs, even if the cost is almost unmentionable?
However we choose to judge the "Jewish Police" in Warsaw, what matters much more is that we learn to identify all future forms of active collaboration with our enemies as not only foolish, but unforgivable. Now, with the benefit of irrefutable hindsight, we must surely understand that our moral imperative to survive together as Jews is also the only way we shall ever survive as intact individuals. Nowhere does this understanding hold greater meaning than in regard to Israel.
Learning from the Holocaust, from the circumstances of THE PIANIST, we must never again do the terrible bidding of murderers against ourselves. It is also not enough that we think about our anti-collaborative actions and policy prescriptions (we Jews are already good enough at thinking), we must also learn to FEEL them as Jews.
As the film opens, the pianist is describing new anti-Jewish laws to a gentile friend, who comments: "This is absurd." How, she asks, can an intelligent people (The Germans) prescribe such baseless harms against a singularly capable, innocent and caring people? Indeed, why shouldn't Jews be allowed to drink coffee in cafes or sit on a park bench?
The correct answer, of course, is plain to all who know history: Absurdity can become normal. The veneer of human civilization is exceedingly thin.
Beneath this veneer are utterly primal needs and ferocities, barbarisms that usually lie latent, but - when encouraged to emerge by public authority - explode with an unimaginable fury.
Why shouldn't 5 million Jews now be permitted to live safely in a tiny mini-state when an Islamic world of over 1 BILLION people already has several dozen states? Why is the "civilized world" currently preparing to carve yet another terrorist state out of the still-living body of Israel, and why are tens of thousands of Jews in the United States either completely indifferent
to the developing second Holocaust or even actively engaged on the side of Israel's mortal enemies?
Now, as the Arab/Islamic world openly declares its genocidal intentions against Israel (a war of extermination is a genocidal war under international law), some Jews are preparing to be "human shields" on behalf of Saddam Hussein and still other Jews are leading rallies for a "peace" that can only be fashioned upon a new generation of Jewish corpses.
Here in the United States Jewish university professors are typically leaders in campus protests against Israeli "occupation" and for Palestinian "human rights." Yet not one of these Jewish professors murmurs an audible objection
to multiple Arab murders of their fellow Jews by lynchings, shootings and suicide bombings. Nor will any of these Jewish "humanitarians" suggest human shields to protect Jewish men, women and children when Saddam's next round of missiles is fired at Tel- Aviv.
The "Jewish Police" in Warsaw, we know now, were both indecent and foolish.
Today's "Jewish Police" don't wear a uniform and they don't carry a truncheon, but they are similarly indecent and similarly foolish. In some respects they are vastly more odious than their Warsaw antecedents, as this generation of Jewish collaborators does so willingly and enthusiastically, without any need for self-preservation. Often hiding behind academic robes
and academic "freedom," their consuming cowardice is not merely stifling, it is also very dangerous.
Sometimes reinforced by well-intentioned but uninformed Jews outside the academy who believe that marching for Palestinians is the current equivalent of marching with Martin Luther King, these arrogant Jewish minions are the witless advance guard of Israel's annihilation. Left unchallenged by those who know better, but remain silent, they will sit by smugly as chemical, biological and nuclear weapons rain down upon Israel. Vaguely distressed that something bad is taking place, they will be rather upset at what is happening, but not sufficiently upset to interfere with the Temple's oneg schedule or with the Sisterhood's deli lunch.
Another thought dawns. In Warsaw, the great majority of Jews did not feel it was their particular responsibility to speak and act on behalf of Jewish survival when there was still time. Rather, they believed it was the responsibility of community leaders - ultimately, of the Jewish Councils who sanctioned and supported the "Jewish Police."
Today it is clear that an even larger majority of American Jews remain silent in the face of hideous distortions of Israel by their fellow Jews; many of this silent majority are professional and well-educated: doctors and lawyers, business people and social workers, teachers and accountants. They are silent, they claim, because they are not "experts."
But the truest reason for their silence is simply fear and trembling. What are they afraid of, these distinguished Temple members who can always be counted upon for donations to help the local homeless and make sandwiches for the poor? How can they fail to see that the anti-Jewish world is once again mustering for a Jewish genocide, a modernized mass-killing in which the
technology of annihilation will now bring gas directly to the people, rather than people to the gas?
Don't they see that THEY have a responsibility - as Jews and as human beings - not to sit idly by as the Arab/Islamic world prepares to blot out the vulnerable Jewish State? How can they fail to understand the absolute obligation to resist becoming another "Jewish Police?" How, indeed, can they have learned so little?
Before suffering his unexpected torments, the pianist was altogether optimistic about the world, not wanting to be bothered too much about the burdens of being Jewish. The world, after all, had come "modern." Medieval hatreds were about to disappear. The Jew was now free to worry about all others. He could be liberal and cosmopolitan. He was free to stop worrying.
He was wrong.
Today, moreover, the State of Israel - the individual Jew in macrocosm - exists in existential peril and without adequate awareness of its fragile future by most Jews elsewhere. For this to change, we Jews must, at an an
absolute minimum, reject all false portrayals of Israel's policies and circumstances and refuse to collaborate with all those who would bring us yet another Final Solution. If we fail, the abyss of Jewish history will be great enough to hold us all.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D.,
1971) and publishes widely on international relations and international law. He teaches at Purdue University in the United States.