FRONTLINE Show #1320
Air Date: April 17, 1996
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] This is Poland, the country where my
Jewish ancestors lived for centuries. Before World War II, 85 percent
of all Jews had their roots in this part of the world. Then six
million Jews lost their lives in the Holocaust.
I was among the few survivors, a child hidden by Christians in Warsaw.
My war began in a horse wagon. In 1942, I was smuggled from the Warsaw
ghetto to the Christian side of the city. I was sitting in the
carriage with a woman guide, her hand over my mouth as I struggled to
scream, "I want to go back to the ghetto. I want to go back to Mummy."
In the ghetto, a massive deportation of Jewish children to the death
camps had just started. On the Christian side of town, Germans posted
notices of death penalties for hiding a Jew.
My hideouts were Warsaw courtyards. I called people who took care of
me my aunts and uncles. Their children pretended to be my cousins. But
the game was over when a friendly neighbor said rather loudly for
everyone in the courtyard to hear, "I don't remember anybody in their
family looking like him," and I had to go.
When all doors had closed, my mother took the elevator up to the top
floor of 59 Mokotowska Street. She was going to open the window and
jump and take me with her, but she couldn't. Then she made a decision.
She brought me to this courtyard of a Christian charity organization
in the hope that I would be sent to an orphanage.
She gave me a brown bag with my favorite sugar sandwich. She hung a
cardboard sign around my neck, "My name is Marys. My parents are
dead." She watched me carefully from across the street, fearing that I
would run after her. I didn't. I stood still.
I survived the war, but 90 percent of my family didn't. Some of them
died in the Warsaw ghetto. Others were killed in this little town
called Leczyca, where the history of our family was written. Before
the war, most Jews lived in places like this. They called them shtetl,
"a little town" in Yiddish.
In the 25 years I lived in Poland after the war, I returned only once
to Leczyca, in 1969. But when I started asking questions about those
in my family who were killed and those who betrayed them, I couldn't
take it. I decided never to return to my shtetl. I left for America
with the image of shtetl life frozen in time. It smelled of death.
Another 25 years have passed. I find a way to enter this haunted world
of my ancestors. My friend from Chicago is searching for his Jewish
roots. It's easier for him. He was born in America. He never lived in
Poland. I feel secure with him leading the way. I will be his
translator. This is him, Nathan Kaplan.
We are going to his family's shtetl, a place called Bransk, 100
kilometers east of Warsaw, near the Russian border. Nathan was 2 years
old when his father died. "I have no memory of my father," he told me.
"It's only by going to Bransk that I can touch him, that I can
understand who I am."
Nathan wants me to ask a fellow passenger what does he know about the
Jews who once lived in Poland.
[to Nathan Kaplan] He says that they talk about Jews differently and
they know they were Jews that mainly were in commerce, that they were
taking care of the commerce.
He_ he also knows that there is a little forest where_ where there are
graves of_ where_ where they_ the Jews are_ were buried dead there and
that they were killed by_ by the Germans. He knows that. Near by here.
NATHAN KAPLAN: The fellow behind you, on the seat, he's old enough to
remember some things.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] "You are of the age. You should know
something," I pursue. "I'm only 50," he replies. "And your father?" I
ask. "He passed away," he answers. "But when he was alive?" "He never
talked about it."
Two years ago, Nathan Kaplan sent a letter to Bransk asking for
information about his family. A few weeks later, he got a reply from
someone who worked in the town hall. "Dear Mr. Kaplan: There are no
Jews in Bransk today, but I am a Pole whose family has lived here for
generations and I have an interest in Jews. I'd like to help you."
"I am trying to recreate my family's life in Bransk," replies Nathan.
"I know my grandmother washed clothes in the river and walked on a
cobblestone path to the Mikveh. My mother was born in a one-room
cabin. Would you know how those homes were furnished? Did people sleep
on straw? Were there wolves in the forest? Were there bandits in the
"Dear Nathan," comes the answer. "Your mother lived in very
interesting times. Bransk had three marketplaces. Polish farmers from
60 villages sold corn, potatoes, eggs, horses, cattle, sheep and
poultry. In the market square, all the houses belonged to the Jews. In
those houses, Jewish tailors, shoemakers, bakers and sellers of fancy
goods had their shops." Signed, Zbyszek Romaniuk.
NATHAN KAPLAN: My young friend and our great hope. I came to see my
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] There have been over 100 letters
exchanged over a two-year period between the 70-year-old Jewish man
from Chicago and this mysterious 29-year-old gentile from Bransk. I
wonder who he is and why he does it.
There is no hotel in Bransk. Zbyszek has invited us home. His parents
will sleep outside in a tent so that we can stay in their bedroom.
[translating for Zbyszek Romaniuk] There is a saying in Polish, "A
guest in your home is like God in your home. The guest is God."
That's the_ you want to write it down?
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yes!
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: It has to do with the fact that if you know well how
to receive a guest in your home, that you have God's blessing.
NATHAN KAPLAN: I wrote also that we met at the station and what my
greetings to him were and that he may be a dreamer, but not_ not to my
face he's a dreamer. He's a_ he's a_ I see him as a practical person
who knows what he wants to do and how to go about it.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] "That's very nice to hear," says
Zbyszek, "but I am not sure I deserve it."
"There's real warmth here," Nathan will write in his diary. "Zbyszek's
mother is a husky woman. Her eyes sparkle with love."
NATHAN KAPLAN: [toasting] Long live democracy in Poland!
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] "The Jewish quarter was just behind
their window," reads Nathan's diary. "The pastoral setting is silent
about the past sorrow."
"In a house much like this one," writes Nathan, "my grandparents lived
and my mother was born."
NATHAN KAPLAN: Four children in this house. My mother was next to the
In the summertime, the women came here and did their laundry and
talked to each other. In the wintertime, the people ice skated here.
The Polish fishermen caught fish and the Jewish women would come to
dry the fish to prepare for Friday night's dinner. The ice_ I
mentioned the ice? Okay. In the winter, they took off the ice, carved
out the ice for storage, wrapped it in straw for storage. The water
for the other_ for the Jewish bath house, which included the Mikveh,
was drawn from here and was emptied in here.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Zbyszek collects photographs of old
Bransk. "This is the river as your mother would remember it," Zbyszek
tells Nathan, "wider and less polluted."
[to Nathan Kaplan] The original house, okay, and then the synagogue
[voice-over] All five synagogues in Bransk were destroyed during the
war. Nathan wants to know precisely where each of them stood.
[to village man] [subtitles] Do you remember this? How old are you?
VILLAGE MAN: [subtitles] Sixty-eight.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So you can remember.
[to Nathan Kaplan] Another synagogue on this side.
VILLAGE MAN: [subtitles] One synagogue here, one there, and the third
was over there.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [to Nathan Kaplan, translating for village woman]
Saturday, they would walk long walks. The difference between Poles and
the Jews were that both were rich and poor, but the Jews were
continuously collecting for their poor and the Poles always could not
understand that they are doing this because they say, "In our
community, if someone is poor, he gets poorer and nobody will help
[voice-over] The only synagogue that survived the war in this area is
in Orla, on the Russian border. Ten years ago a renovation project
began with limited funds from the government. But in the last five
years, because of lack of financial support, the synagogue is
[to Nathan Kaplan] I tell you, what he's telling me is just incredible
because it was first neglected. It was totally destroyed. And then in
the last 10 years, there's nothing but stupidities that are being done
to this place_ a wrong way of_ of reconstructing. The things are
discovered and then stolen. The_ the_ the glass is gone. The door is
gone, the fresco. Then some students come and do some reconstruction.
[voice-over] Zbyszek, who never learned at school that Jews ever lived
in Bransk, discovered on his own that before the war Jews made up 60
percent of the Bransk population. Tracing their history became an
intellectual adventure for Zbyszek. He has gathered his own Jewish
During the demolition of one of the old houses in Bransk, some school
children found three fragments of Torah and brought them to Zbyszek.
Today is pig-killing day in Bransk. "I've killed 30,000 pigs in my
life," boasts Fabian, an old-timer, and he introduces himself as an
expert on Jews and economics. "A Jew owned the bank," explained
Fabian. "When a Polish farmer needed to borrow money, he had to come
to the Jew for it. The rate was 2 percent per month."
"That means 24 percent per year," I figure. "Do you know that Polish
banks charge 60 percent today?"
"You see, that's the Jewish way," says Fabian. "A Jew looks at the pig
and says, `I will give you 2 zlotys per kilo.' `Not enough,' says the
Polish farmer, and the Jew goes away. The next day another Jew comes
and offers a zloty and a half for the pig and the farmer refuses
again. Then the first Jew comes on the third day and buys the pig for
2 zlotys. That's how cunning they were. That's how cunning."
[to village man] [subtitles] What are your memories of the Jews?
OSTROWSKI: [subtitles] Only good ones. I know nothing bad. We lived
together, played soccer together, volleyball. Two Jewish musicians
played instruments with me.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] What kind of tunes would you play
together? [Ostrowski hums one of the songs]
[voice-over] "Bransk is no longer a hidden world to me," writes Nathan
in his journal. "I am touching the places my parents touched. I walk
on the ground they walked on." Nathan is like a sponge. He's
overwhelmed by information he cannot sort out. He absorbs it all.
My eye is on Zbyszek. The Jewish subject was a taboo when I lived in
Poland during the communist era. But even now, in a small town like
Bransk, it takes guts to advertise this type of interest. As long as
he collects remnants of Jewish life, he's safe. But what about when he
touches on Jewish death?
In 1942 the Germans fenced in the Jewish quarter with barbed wire and
created a Jewish ghetto. At the edge of it was this mill. The miller's
name is Jan Olszewski. Today he's 96 years old and blind. Before the
war a Jewish merchant sold him grain. The name of the merchant was
Maurice Goldwasser. Goldwasser's son lives in Chicago. He is a friend
"This is Nathan from Bransk," I make the introduction. "He knows the
son of Goldwasser. Nathan lives in America. He is 72_ not that young.
You can touch him."
"I can tell he is an older man. I can feel his stubble," says
Olszewski. "Nathan knows the son of Goldwasser who lives in Chicago
and who is a doctor," I repeat. Olszewski has witnessed the
deportation of the Goldwasser family from the ghetto.
JAN OLSZEWSKI: [subtitles] Goldwasser came to my yard, grabbed me and
kissed me. He showed me the poison he carried in his pocket. He told
me it was for himself, his wife and his daughter. Before they reached
the train depot, they were already dead_ suicide. They used the
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] The same they showed you?
JAN OLSZEWSKI: [subtitles] Yes, they swallowed it. He grabbed my hand,
hugged me and said, "May God protect you." How can I be a normal
person after what I witnessed? Watching what happened here was
unthinkable. You can't imagine how humanity was being destroyed here.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] As a part of the plan to erase the
Jewish past, the Germans ordered Poles to remove the gravestones from
the Jewish cemetery in Bransk. Most of them were used as
under-pavement for local roads and sidewalks, like this one around the
Catholic parish in Bransk.
When Zbyszek learned about it, he asked the priest for permission to
break up the concrete and retrieve the gravestones. The priest agreed
under the condition that Zbyszek will be responsible for repaving the
sidewalk. "But I have one request," says the priest. "When you show
this film, make sure in your commentary that it is clear that the
Germans did this, not the Poles."
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] Oh, look. A woman was buried here.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] How do you know?
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] Because of the sign of a candle holder.
It's damaged, but still readable. Bring it into the light.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] [sprays foam on the stone] When the
letters are filled, they are easier to read.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Zbyszek has learned some Hebrew to be
able to read the inscriptions on the graves.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] Here rests a modest woman who died at a
young age. A lady named Shava, the daughter of Eljer. She passed away
on the 16th day of the month Elul. It looks like either 1905 or 1915.
And at the end it says, "Let her soul enter eternal life."
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] To his search for stolen gravestones
Zbyszek recruited a friend, a local school teacher and his students.
The latest tip came from this farm. According to the farmer's son, two
Jewish gravestones lie on the ground. One is at the entrance to the
pigsty and another one by the stable, cut into a circle for use as a
FARM WOMAN: [subtitles] We prepared it for sharpening, but didn't use
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] These stones mean a lot to Zbyszek. One
of his projects is the compilation of the list of Jewish families who
lived in Bransk in the 19th century. But I wonder what meaning these
stones have for a woman who is old enough to remember the Jews. Do
they remind her of the Jewish death she witnessed during the war?
FARM WOMAN: [subtitles] We saw Jews floating in the river. People took
their gold and dumped them in the water. And I saw Jews tied with
rope, carried to the Germans.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] This is the result of two years of
collecting gravestones by Zbyszek and his friend. They have been
carrying them to the old Jewish cemetery from where the original
stones were all stolen. A hundred and seventy-five gravestones
separated from the bodies they once marked make up this exhibit.
Zbyszek calls it a "lapidarium," a museum of stones. For Nathan and
me, these stones are alive. This is a roll call of the dead_ for the
Kaplans, the Rubins, the Edels, the Finkelsteins, the Tykockis. When
World War II started, there were 2,500 of them in this town.
On November 8th, 1942, Germans rounded up the Jews of Bransk. They
ordered Polish farmers to provide 500 horse wagons to transport 2,500
Jews to the nearby train station. Within 24 hours, the Jews of Bransk
died in the gas chambers of Treblinka. Only 300 of them were able to
Nathan wants to meet people who remember what happened to Jews who
went into hiding.
JOZEF SKOWRONSKI: [subtitles] It was a bad story with the Jews, so bad
that the Jews had to hide. Some people were turning them in. Others
were keeping them for the cash.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] What did they pay with?
JOZEF SKOWRONSKI: [subtitles] Dollars and gold.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] His name is Jozef Skowronski. I ask him
about the deportation of the Jews. He tells me that after the Jews
left, the Germans ordered the Poles to demolish some of their houses
and offered building materials for sale. Skowronski was one of the
buyers, but he was looking for other bargains, as well.
JOZEF SKOWRONSKI: [subtitles] I knew that the rich Jews had left
something in those buildings, so I took a crowbar, pried up the floor
and saw something there. So with my claws I started scraping. I saw
two huge kettles with lots of fabric in them. They were Astrakhan
furs, a seal skin. There was jewelry. We divided the four furs between
me and the neighbors I went with.
I took the Astrakhan fur. I took the best fur because I found them.
But my neighbors called the Germans on me. They came and asked me what
I had taken. I said I had taken a fur because I found it. But I also
found one box of silverware. I took it and no one saw me. So the
German asked what else I had taken. Then the German slapped me in the
face. I had to give it back.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] As soon as we leave Skowronski, Zbyszek
Romaniuk has a revelation for me. After the war, Skowronski was
accused of giving up Jews to the Germans.
[to Nathan Kaplan] After we finished our conversation with the guy_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: _our friend Romaniuk says that he has enough
evidence from the Yad Vashem_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: _that this guy that we gave $5 to_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: _gave up a full room of Jews to Germans. He has
evidence in the Yad Vashem. The guy gave up, I don't know, 30, 20_ a
bunker full of Jews to the Germans. It's blowing my mind. I cannot
So I went to the guy and I ask him, "Are you the only guy under this
name?" He says yes. "Did you live all your life over there?" Says yes.
I came back to_ and so, of course, I_ I don't want to confront him.
But that's how tragic is this whole thing.
NATHAN KAPLAN: I can't even think. I can't even_ everything falls
apart. Everything falls apart. You know, I_ I can't_ I can't_ I can't_
it_ there's nothing in life that connects with this_ with this_ what
we have here, this double_ this revelation of righteousness and evil.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Nathan wants to believe the best in
people. But in my pocket I am carrying depositions from several Jews
accusing Skowronski of betraying them to the Nazis. I decide we have
to see Skowronski again.
[to Nathan Kaplan, translating for Skowronski] He's not guilty. There
was a man whose name was close to his. He knew this. He was
interrogated. He proved his innocence. So this is a false accusation.
False accusation. Jozef, Jozef_ Skowronski, Sowinski_ he was arrested.
[voice-over] "I am a poor man, but I am a righteous man," says
Skowronski. "Apparently, I have accused the wrong man. But somebody
did it," says Nathan.
OLD WOMAN: [subtitles] Don't record what I'll tell you about the
Poles. I don't want them to know what I'm telling you. I knew a farmer
who finished off a Jew. I know a woman whose family killed Jews. If I
could only point them out to you. But I'm afraid.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Is she alive?
OLD WOMAN: [subtitles] Yes. She yelled at me one day and I said, "I
didn't kill Jews. I didn't sell Jews. I gave them bread."
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] What was the argument about?
OLD WOMAN: [subtitles] She said I was selling vodka without a permit.
I said, "I was selling vodka, but I didn't sell Jews, like you did." I
used to sell vodka, but not anymore. I am sick now and I don't have
Over there was the ghetto. I remember how they were dragging them from
the ghetto. I was in the ghetto myself. You better believe I was
there. I came to visit the Jews in the ghetto. A German stopped me. I
explained I was buying potatoes. The Germans were herding them all
through our field. We knew them. My whole family did business with
I remember. They were coming to our farm. I remember. I was leaving
bread for them on the pigsty. Yankel Voytek was his name. There was
also Shlomo. Another one was David, a little Jew. There was also_ what
was his name?
OLD MAN: [subtitles] A Jew was worth as much as a rabbit is worth to a
hunter. When a German saw a Jew, he shot at him like he would shoot at
a rabbit. It gave him pleasure every time.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] How did it feel to watch this?
OLD MAN: [subtitles] You had to watch it.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Did it make you cry?
OLD MAN: [subtitles] If a German found out you kept a Jew, you would
be finished. I know one case where a farmer kept Jews and later
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So a man could do nothing?
OLD MAN: [subtitles] There was no way.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Did some Poles turn in Jews to the
OLD MAN: [subtitles] It hardly ever happened. A Jew had no value. It
was like a fly on the wall.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [to Nathan Kaplan] A Jew was like a fly.
NATHAN KAPLAN: Sometimes in life, events awaken us to new perceptions
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] We return to the parish because Nathan
wants to ask the priest about Polish-Jewish relations during the war.
NATHAN KAPLAN: Now, here is Bransk, who, in a way, is a symbol of
every town. What great realization has come to this town as a result
of the events of Nazi occupation?
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yes. How does it affect their lives and their thinking
and their hearts?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] "The trick is to live as close as
possible to the teaching of the church," answered the priest.
"Everybody had family_ father, mother, children. They had to choose.
With those who kept Jews, it was more than ordinary love, it was
heroism. According to God's love, I can love my brother more than
myself, but I don't have to. I am not talking about those who are
doing it for money or gold, some of whom perished, as well. But those
who kept the Jews with pure intentions were taking risks."
Although the priest privately compliments Zbyszek on his Jewish
research, he refuses to discuss it in the church or to give Zbyszek
In Zbyszek's house we learn that there are other clouds over this
young man's head. His mother, who help him gather information about
the Jews from older people, has run into some resistance.
[to Nathan Kaplan] She met just a moment ago a man who said, "I have a
lot of stuff to tell you about Jews, but I won't because I saw that
there are guys here. They are taking picture of the Jewish homes and
that means that if we talk more about it, some Jews will come and take
the homes and we will be left here and we don't want this to happen."
[voice-over] Nathan worries that he has created problems for his young
friend, Zbyszek, who has changed Nathan's perspective on Polish
NATHAN KAPLAN: It took me a year of correspondence to wonder where
he's coming from. There's a certain tension as to what is the meaning
of this man's thinking now? How often do we come across a person who
says he's a friend of the Jew, but dormant_ but_ but he_ he has all
the_ he has the negative images? He will say, "The Jews are okay," he
says, "but"_ he won't say "but"_ he says, "They really know how to
make money." He_ or else he'll say, "He's the Jew in my family,"
meaning they have an image that he is an aggressive hustler, money_
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: When I was baptized during the war with my mother,
this older woman that was really taking care of us came to my mother
and said, "Congratulations. I'm so happy for you. Finally you do not
smell Jew." So I'm saying that even the heroes were not free from
anti-Semitism. That's a big contradiction. And he is free of
NATHAN KAPLAN: He's outside of our experience.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] From my conversations with Zbyszek, I
begin to imagine what has happened here 50 years ago. During the
liquidation of the Bransk ghetto, 300 Jews escaped to the surrounding
forest. Their chance of meeting a German soldier was slim. For a
population of some 6,000, the entire occupation force consisted of
The survival of Jews depended on getting food and shelter from Polish
farmers, like the family of Boleslaw Zapisek. I wanted to know if the
farmers were getting anything in return for their help.
"The Jews had nothing to pay us with," says Zapisek. "Did they have a
good appetite?" I ask. "Not bad," he answers. "But we had 20 pigs and
five cows and for bread mother bought grain and baked it in the oven."
Zapisek's story seems too good to be true, so I decide to provoke him
and ask him if he recognizes a Jew in me. "You know what? You could be
one," he says. "Because of my nose?" I ask. "And him?" I point to
Nathan. "He looks like one. I can tell by his nose."
[to Nathan Kaplan] You look like a Jew. He says your nose.
[voice-over] "And how about me?" asks Zbyszek. "No." "But really,"
insists Zapisek, "tell me the truth. Are you?" When I confirm, he
assures me that he doesn't have any problem with it.
I tell Zapisek that I was saved by Christians, but that most of the
people in hiding were given over to the Germans. "It's true," he says.
"I know of a case where a beautiful Jewess, along with a whole bunch
of Jews, hid in the forest nearby and were betrayed by the farmers."
"Who were the farmers?" I ask. "The people over there," he says. I ask
for names, but Zapisek is elusive. "I have to think about it," he
[to Nathan Kaplan] He doesn't know who exactly it was, but it was a
group of seven Jews.
NATHAN KAPLAN: Seven Jews?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: That were_ that were living in the forest when you
took this and they were coming to this little area of the houses.
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And they were asking for food.
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And he says that they were probably annoying them by
asking them too often_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: _or maybe they didn't want to pay them or whatever.
At one point, they came from over there to this road, to the place
where they were hidden_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Yeah.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: _and they take them physically and drove them to
He's saying that's it. What would you call it, a "dig-out" or_
NATHAN KAPLAN: Dug-out. Dug-out.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: What_
NATHAN KAPLAN: A dug-out.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] The next day we get a phone call from
Zapisek. "Come over to the wedding of my niece," he says. "I have some
news for you. I know the names of the two people who betrayed the Jews
in the dug-out."
"I know the names of the two people," he tells me. "One is dead, one
is alive." Zapisek tells me where to find him. At the first glance, I
realize that the man is senile. It crosses my mind that I should back
off and not bother him. But then I realize that when he closes his
eyes, the last traces of memory will disappear and we'll never know.
His daughter insists that he was too young to remember and that I
should go to their neighbor, who was older. He says he knew Jews were
hiding in the forest and farmers were giving them food. "They had to
give them food," he adds. "They were afraid of them."
I tell Kurek that I have seen the places in the forest where the Jews
were hiding and I ask him if he ever came across them. "I didn't," he
answers, "unless by accident when I was herding the cows. I could have
stumbled on them," he says.
"Whenever Germans found them, they would bash their heads in and throw
them into the pit and that was the end of it." "Did Germans ever come
to your house, asking about the Jews?" "They didn't need to ask. They
knew how to handle them," he answers, and unleashes his fantasy.
"Sometimes they would send planes after them and bombard them from the
Zapisek's lead has reached a dead end, but the investigation has
hooked me. One thing I know. The atrocities happened here in the
remote farm areas where there were no witnesses.
From the pages of survivors' testimonies certain names stand out, like
the brothers Hrycz, who would receive Jews, grab their belongings,
bludgeon them to death and throw their bodies in the river. I learn
from Zbyszek that one of the brothers Hrycz is still alive.
[to Hrycz] [subtitles] I've heard a lot about you. You are one of the
oldest people in this village. You remember the war. The times were
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Oh, don't ask! And today death sits on my nose. I
am eighty. Are you photographing me?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Tell me, what happened to the Jews here?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] They shut them in the ghetto, carted them away and
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Did you have anything to do with the
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Nothing at all. I was not interested.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Did Jews hide with you?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] God forbid! No. If a Jew was found in your house,
your house would be burned. It once happened nearby. The farmer ran
away and the woman was killed.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So you were living in Chojewo?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Yes.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] You and your brother?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Yes.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Brother is dead?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Yes, he's dead.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Weren't you accused after the war of
doing something bad to Jews?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] We were accused, but so what? They even arrested
us, but let us go. Kaminski went to jail for the Jews.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So Kaminski killed the Jews?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] He was catching them and delivering them to the
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Wasn't he the head of the village?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] He was.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: What happened to him after the war?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] I know he went to jail for years, came back and
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So no Jew ever knocked on your door,
never asked for a piece of bread? You never saw a single Jew
throughout the war?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] I saw them when they were taken from the ghetto.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] And none of them would stop at your
house and try to hide?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] No way.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] You were in Chojewo, one Hrycz and
another one_ two brothers?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Yes, we lived in a remote area.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] You were near the forest and the river?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Yes, very close.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] So Kaminski was catching the Jews?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] He was catching them and delivering them to the
Germans. He went to prison for it.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] He returned and he died?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Death already sits on my nose.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] On your nose. That's what they say?
HRYCZ: [subtitles] Death sits on my nose.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] None of the people who served jail
sentences for betraying the Jews is alive, but the daughter of a man
who was convicted of killing Jews is willing to talk.
"I really don't remember this well. I don't know where those Jews
were. Did they round them up to our house or someplace else? I
couldn't tell. My father was told that if he doesn't report them, he
will pay the price. He had family. That's why. I really don't remember
"My father had some good Jews with whom he was friendly. They left
some belongings with us for safe keeping and went into hiding. After
the war, they returned and picked those things up. But the others were
desperate, with no place to go.
"How did it happen? Why did it happen? I don't know. Was it in the
hands of people or was it God's will? I don't understand. People told
me that it happened, but I didn't see it, so I cannot testify. They
said they shot them in an open field."
[to Nathan Kaplan] Maybe he did something wrong. He spent 15 years in
prison. He was a good man. He didn't drink. He was_ he would go to the
church. But there were the times.
[voice-over] "I'm sure it all happened under great tension," I say.
"We were only human, you know, and those were the times." "Everybody
was a victim." "That's right." "I wonder if people would act the same
way if it happened today," I ask her. I never get an answer.
NATHAN KAPLAN: And you try to make sense of this_ and I cannot make
sense of this. My mind cannot support decency and inhumanity in the
same people. I don't know what it means. How can a decent man be
inhuman at times? What component of a man, of a just man, of a decent
man, of a caring person, had evil working in their hearts and that
evil would assert itself and rule that person? I don't know this. I
don't understand it. It doesn't_ it doesn't_ I can't take anything
else in life and use that as a yardstick, as a comparison, as an
explanation. I don't know what this is. I_ I don't_ I can't_ I'm
stuck. I'm stuck. I have to figure this out. I don't know.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] At the home of Zbyszek's friend, with
whom he restored the Jewish cemetery, Nathan and I receive farewell
Trains bring back memories. After my mother left me in the courtyard,
a Catholic priest took care of me. Later he brought me here, to the
orphanage of the Brothers Orione, 15 miles from Warsaw.
I was a 5-and-a-half-year-old boy who knew his story well. My mother
was a maid. I never knew my father. Here, at the age of 6, I had my
first communion and became the most dedicated altar boy. From here we
saw the heavy smoke over Warsaw. The ghetto was burning and I knew my
father was there.
Only the principal knew who I was. When the Germans visited the
orphanage, he brought me to the chapel and I would work around the
altar or hide behind it.
Since I had lost my mother, memories of my father were coming back_
the touch of his unshaved cheek when he invited me to his bed Sunday
morning in our ghetto room.
Then the war was over. I was sitting in the dining room, at a table. A
woman came from the entrance. An old woman with sunken cheeks was
looking at me. "Marys," she said. "We can't speak," I told her. "We
have meditations now." "I'm your mother," she said. "I don't know you,
ma'am." "I'm your mother. Don't you remember your aunts and uncles?"
"No. I don't remember you." "I would like to take you to Warsaw." "Do
you have enough money to take care of me? I am okay here," I said. She
I later found out that my father cut a hole in the train's floor on
the way to the concentration camp and jumped off. He joined the
partisans and was killed in a battle.
Nathan could be my father, but I see him as a schoolboy, eager to
learn. I am grateful to him for bringing me to Bransk. I couldn't face
the memories of my own family's shtetl. I have adopted Nathan's Bransk
as my own.
But my journey in search of a shtetl has only begun.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] A year later, Zbyszek Romaniuk comes to
Chicago, where Nathan and I live. Zbyszek wants to gather more
material for his research about Jewish life in Bransk. They haven't
seen each other since we left Poland.
NATHAN KAPLAN: [to Zbyszek Romaniuk] I think about him all the time. I
have conversations and dialogue with him all the time. I look after
him all the time. I worry about him all the time.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [translating for Zbyszek Romaniuk] He never believed
that he would be in Chicago one day and it's a big, big emotion.
NATHAN KAPLAN: I want to know what was the atmosphere that you grew up
in in Bransk that_ the information that you got about Jews.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [translating for Zbyszek Romaniuk] A lot of jokes
which would make fun of Jews. A lot of sayings that were_ they were
derogative about Jews_ Jewish sayings. For example, since he was very
little, whenever someone is dressed in bad taste, the comment is, "You
are dressed as if you are going for a Jewish wedding."
NATHAN KAPLAN: Okay Can he give me another example?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: When people talk at the same time and there is a
noise in the room, the person says, "It's noisy like in a Hedder, or
in a Jewish school."
NATHAN KAPLAN: Okay. You know, I was so touched and so overwhelmed by
the hospitality and the congeniality after that first day, I_ I was_ I
was just really touched. I couldn't_ I couldn't see through it.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: It is very nice that you got this impression and
he's very glad.
NATHAN KAPLAN: I was overwhelmed.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: However, the day after you left and the day after
other Jews leave, what he hears from his neighbors often is that he
again brought the Jews so they can reclaim their properties. A woman
told him after he started to do work on the cemetery, "You better stop
doing this because something bad can happen to you. I worry about
NATHAN KAPLAN: How does he_ how does he react to these things? How did
he react to these type of things?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I was never afraid of anything. I'm not concerned
NATHAN KAPLAN: That's why I worry about him.
It's from these towns that we mark over here that I can humanize the
experience of the Jews and to steer away from cold history. The ghetto
wire was over here and the ghetto fence_ the ghetto wooden fence was
here and when people went to the church, they had to see this ghetto
fence. And I always wondered what type of impression that made on the
people going to that church.
This is the market. This is where my grandmother sold soap in the
market. This is the market where my grandmother sold soap.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] This is the last time Zbyszek will see
Nathan Kaplan. Within a year, Nathan will die, leaving behind him
hundreds of pages of notes from a four-year-long search for his
NATHAN KAPLAN: This is the street where the synagogue_ where three_
three of the five synagogues were on this_ were on this street, a
little cluster of religious_ a spiritual cluster. And I can imagine
that all the time the sound of prayer and chants were filling the
Don't forget I want a picture of you and your wife.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: Okay!
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] It was Nathan who set up appointments
for Zbyszek across America. I will be Zbyszek's guide. My assignment
is a difficult one. I will be opening the door for him to the Jews
from Bransk who live in America. I know they never met a gentile who
studies the Jewish life. I also know that American Jews have different
feelings toward the shtetl. For some it is an inspiration, for others
In this New Jersey condominium complex, most of the residents are
Jewish. It occurs to me that I am taking Zbyszek to a vertical shtetl
in modern America. We are visiting an Israeli woman whose mother was
born in Bransk. Her name is Ryvka Kornreich.
RYVKA KORNREICH: Hello, nice to meet you. My mother came from Bransk,
which I can't understand_ the most elegant woman that you can imagine.
So ask him if he heard about it, people in Bransk in those times was
so elegant. Everything_ when my mother passed away, my cousin told me
that she remembered the way she came to Israel, everybody looked at
her, not only because she was beautiful. She had the most gorgeous
clothes, very high-heeled shoes. In fact, she could not even use them
in Israel and we had them for years and years in the closet.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] This is the first time that Zbyszek is
in a Jewish home and right away he's under scrutiny. "How come your
parents didn't object to you delving into the life of the Jews?" I
translate Ryvka's question.
[translating for Zbyszek Romaniuk] His parents always stayed away from
his life. They have nothing against what he's doing. Sometimes they
would come home a little nervous when they heard in town a bad gossip
about him. They_ he has a nickname. "Jude," they call him in town,
RYVKA KORNREICH: Because of this venture?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Because of this, right.
RYVKA KORNREICH: I have_ no! My_ my most important question of today_
do you think that he can be objective in searching the Jews because he
is not Jewish? And this is really_ I want an answer. I have a little
bit doubt. Don't tell him! Don't tell him.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I'll tell him.
RYVKA KORNREICH: No!
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I'll tell him. [crosstalk]
[translating] "Absolutely yes. Why you_ why you connect objectivity
with being a Jew?"
RYVKA KORNREICH: No! Because this is a subjective_
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: I would think subjective.
RYVKA KORNREICH: Right. No! [crosstalk]
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: But who is most qualified, you're saying, to really
write the history of a little Polish town is not a historian that
lives there that has access to archives? Isn't it in the Polish
interest to know the history of the land?
RYVKA KORNREICH: Absolutely. I agree.
DAUGHTER: He can be more objective than if you were writing it because
you would write_ you would make it a_ you would, like, beautify it or
whatever and you would put in all your subjective opinions, which you
have plenty of, and he doesn't have any. Well, maybe he has some, but_
but he could be a lot more objective than anyone else.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: And also_
DAUGHTER: And as a historian_ I mean, he's looking up history. Why
would it be suspicious? It's_ it's_
RYVKA KORNREICH: No, in some ways_ [crosstalk]
DAUGHTER: He's not writing a novel. I mean, he's writing a history
RYVKA KORNREICH: Right.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: He speaks some Hebrew. He learned Hebrew.
RYVKA KORNREICH: Really? You learned Hebrew? I can't believe it!
[on the phone] Anya, it's Ryvka!
ANYA: Oh, Ryvka?
RYVKA KORNREICH: How are you?
ANYA: Oh, not so good.
RYVKA KORNREICH: What's happened?
ANYA: Oh, my eyes bothers me.
RYVKA KORNREICH: Oh!
ANYA: My sinus, my legs. I can hardly walk.
RYVKA KORNREICH: The last time I saw you, you were in A-shape!
RYVKA KORNREICH: Yes. I just spoke with somebody and I told them how
nice you look. How is Esther doing?
ANYA: Oh, Esther's not so good.
RYVKA KORNREICH: Okay. I will make you now feeling very good because I
have a surprise for you.
RYVKA KORNREICH: You know, I have in my house three people that are
doing a project about Bransk, about your shtetle.
ANYA: Wherever the Poles was, there was no good. When the people used
to go Saturday mornings in shul_ in the_ to synagogue, they used to
beat them and_ on Sunday they used to tie them to the tails of the
horse and then they used to drag them in the street.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: What do you remember else? What else do you
remember? Do you remember_
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] How could children threaten grown-ups?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Was it children that were doing this or the older
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: People. Older people?
ANYA: Older people.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] I never heard of facts such as these.
RYVKA KORNREICH: One more question. Anya, listen to this. My mother
came to Israel. She brought beautiful clothes and beautiful shoes and
we have pictures. She was so elegant. And she used to tell me that
when they come to Israel, she had such a hard life. You know, they had
to establish Hasidim and [unintelligible] They had to work in the day
and they have to watch at night. They have so many problems in Israel.
So I always were under the impression that in Bransk she had good
ANYA: No, no. I can't say that they had such a good life.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: So how come she came with these beautiful clothes
and with the high-heeled shoes and_
ANYA: No, listen. This is your life. Whatever you needed, you spent on
yourself whatever you had_
RYVKA KORNREICH: But she used it in Bransk?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: No! She probably took all the savings and bought one
pair of everything and came to Israel. That's what immigrants like to
RYVKA KORNREICH: That's what she did?
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] After our first experience, I feel like
a voyeur. I am watching Zbyszek as he trespasses into a foreign
territory, just as I did during the war when I lived among Christians
in Poland. I watch him entering a world he could only imagine until
In a suburb of Atlanta lives a woman who left Bransk as a 14-year-old
girl. Her name is Evelyn Silverboard. Her family fled Bransk in 1938,
just before the war.
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: [subtitles] [showing photos] This is my house!
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] I've never seen pictures like these!
They alone make my trip worthwhile.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: That's incredible.
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: [subtitles] Church. Edelman_
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] Edelman's brewery.
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: Right here is the_ the_
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] City hall. Jail.
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: Yeah, and the [unintelligible]
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Would you go to Bransk?
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: No.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Why?
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: I want to remember it the way I am. That's my
home. Home! Bransk is home. That's my_ that's_ that's where_ it's home
and that's the reason I don't want to go back because I want to
remember my home the way it was. I don't want to remember it the way
it is now. I don't know anybody there.
I_ that was_ all the familiar faces, every nook and cranny_ I mean, I
drew him a map of where people lived, and names, and I can still see
in my mind's eye. I can see everything. I can see the way it looked
and I remember going on the river, with Lyzwy, on the river when it
was frozen. And I remember going in the summertime swimming in the
river. I remember that, all of that.
This is from Rachela Finkelstein. This is from Shana Gold, Goldowna_
her mother_ they had a galanteria store. This is Jozef Balkestin, in
Jewish. And this is from Motl Szpitalny. And this is from Hajcuvna.
And this is from my Aunt Huma, Mulhuma. And this is Stella Lerner. We
were a close-knit group of girlfriends.
The last night, I went with_ we said good-bye. The lights were out in
town. The electrownia was being cleaned. So we had lamps and everybody
came to say good-bye. And in the morning, I remember Chumski_ do you
know the name Chumski? Sonya Chumski, who was_ they were very good
friends of our family. She was knocking on the_ on the_ to wake up. It
was time to wake up.
Then the bus stopped in front of our house. All the good friends, they
went on the bus with us to the outskirts of town, when the bus was
near Binduga. And that's where they got off and walked back in and we
went on. And we_ I remember my aunt saying, "They'll never see us
again." And that was it.
Then we went to Warsaw and we stayed in Warsaw three, four days. Papa
went to Lodz to say good-bye to his brothers and sisters and two
brothers came and_ and a nephew came back to Warsaw to say good-bye to
us. And I remember going on the bus to the train station to go to
Gdynia and there were riots in the street.
And the last thing that I remember about Poland, and I don't know
whether I should say it or not, was we were on the bus and the
students, college students, university students, yelling and carrying
signs, "Precz z Zydami," and that I'll never forget. That was in my
brain. It still is. And that's another reason I won't go back to
Poland because that's my last memory of Poland was "Precz z Zydami."
We were on the bus. We were all scared. And that_ that was it.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: How would you say "Precz z Zydami" in English?
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: "Down with the Jews."
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Evelyn shows us a collection of letters
from Bransk written to her in 1939 before the war put an end to all
correspondence. "I can't believe that you are seas and continents away
from us," reads one of the letters. "Your golden America is a dream
for everyone. You read newspapers and must know what is happening in
Germany. Therefore you should not miss Bransk, even though you had
your sweet childhood here. I hope you will forget Bransk soon and
adapt to the American life."
"Life in our shtetl has become unbearable. I am sick of this hideous
word 'Jew' I hear all around me. It seems that we are born to suffer.
The only hope is that one day we will all be in our sunny Palestine.
And you are so far from me in your golden America. I can't believe I
won't be able to see your beautiful little face and kiss your rosy
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: Look_ [unintelligible] on Friday. Friday night we
used to put this on our table.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: Shabbes.
EVELYN SILVERBOARD: For shabbes. "Pulshenin tishtact" that was called_
this_ and Mama's_ my mama's silver candlesticks. This is the way it
looked, Lord. It's pretty. It's still pretty. And we've been here
since 1938 and_ and I don't think it's been used since.
We have some beautiful candlesticks and Mama used to put it right
here, at the end of the table. And she used to benchlicht. There was_
what was, was, was, and it'll never, never, never be again. It's a
civilization, a way of life that's gone forever and it'll never be
duplicated. It can't. It was a very rich, rich, rich civilization.
How can you transfer the flavor, the_ that was? Sure, there are
American Jews that are doing_ that are making shabbes, but it_ have
they got the Pulshenin Tishtact? I mean, that doesn't make the
shabbes, but it's the little things. It's the way of life. It's_
[sings] En shul a rhine_ Are you going to hear it here, Maycheu, the
You can't_ it's just a way of life that I was really blessed to_ to
know. I really was. And that is_ you asked me about going back to
Bransk. I want to remember. I want to have my memories that I
remember, my good memories.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] A Holocaust survivor from Bransk lives
in Baltimore. After the war, he came to America. Now Jack Rubin owns a
JACK RUBIN: This is the entrance from the back.
In 1947, we came to this country. Now I'm in the United States. I'm in
America. What will I do here? You don't have money. You don't have a
trade. You can't talk. Everybody looks at your like you're a dummy.
What will I do here?
So my uncle saw the way I was walking around. He says, "What are you
worried about? You don't have what to eat? I'll take you in the
country, out of town. I'll take you over there. You would be a whole
summer. You're not going to do nothing. You're going to drink and eat.
You're going to rest after all your troubles."
I said, "Uncle, I'm going to get crazy over there. I want to do
something. Give me"_ I said, "I want to do something." "So what can
you do?" So I told him I got a lantzman in Baltimore. So he told me if
I'm not going to be able to do nothing in Philadelphia, I should come
to Baltimore. I know him. He knows me. And both together, we'll do
We used to sell suits. If I'll tell you_ we used to buy suits, let's
say $5, $6, $2, $3. I went once to one man. We bought 1,200 suits.
Maybe 20 percent of them we had to throw out, and the rest of them_ we
paid maybe 50 cents apiece. And the rest of them, we worked it out. We
sent to the cleaner and we had also a seamstress to fix it up and to
sell it. And the same thing shirts.
I can only tell you when I had pants_ here you see the pants? They're
lying_ I didn't like the way they lay like this. They don't lay
straight. I sold pants for a dollar. From far away they looked better
than this, the new ones. I sold also pants, $3 a dozen_ $3 a dozen.
Shirts, $2 a dozen. A dollar_ used to buy for a dollar a dozen. But
you have to work it out and grade it out.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] With Jack Rubin, I feel we are back in
the shtetl. I can hear him speaking Polish with the same Yiddish
accent. I can see his store on the market square in Bransk.
Jack Rubin presides over a small community of people in Baltimore who
call themselves "Branskers." Some of them left Bransk before the war.
A few, like Rubin, survived the Holocaust in Poland.
This evening everyone was asked to bring family photos from Bransk.
They are joined by their children. Zbyszek Romaniuk is the guest of
honor, his computer the main attraction. In it he has entered 2,000
names of Jewish families from Bransk.
JACK RUBIN: [subtitles] David Rubin is my father.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] His wife, Perla_ children Jankel_
JACK RUBIN: Simon_
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: _Simon, Szprinca.
JACK RUBIN: _Szprinca.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] Your father contributed to the building
of Tailors' Synagogue. I found his name in a document from 1904.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] When Zbyszek grew up in Bransk, the
word "Jew" was always whispered. But here he says the word aloud, sits
among Jews and feels trusted. I am glad for him. I always wanted the
same from the Poles.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] I live on the market square. You lived
on one side of the market. I live on the other.
BRANSKER: [subtitles] How many Jews are in Bransk today?
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] None.
BRANSKER: [subtitles] None? And you?
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] I am Polish.
BRANSKER: [subtitles] I understand, but_
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] I am not a Jew.
BRANSKER: [subtitles] But you were born a Jew.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] No. No, I am not.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] I am eager for Zbyszek to make more
connections. A friend of mine teaches a course called "Shtetl" at
Gratz College in Philadelphia. He's excited to have Zbyszek in his
MICHAEL STEINLAUF: Here is a Pole, right, who has a certain need, a
very profound need for the same memory, right? Now, his needs may be
very different and, in fact, he_ he represents a whole young
generation in Poland that_
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] Michael Steinlauf, the instructor, is a
son of Holocaust survivors.
MICHAEL STEINLAUF: He is, no doubt, the focus and the core of this_ of
this new interest.
He drew the marketplace. [translating] Monday. Monday was the market
day. Five-hundred-year-old tradition of Monday being the market day.
That was_ and here was the small_ a smaller marketplace called the
"horse" marketplace, where animals were_ were traded.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] This is a history class and Zbyszek is
in his element. He tells them that in the 19th century the Jews of
Bransk occupied 400 houses in the town center. Only 10 houses belonged
to the Catholics. If a Pole wanted to live there, he had to be
interviewed by the Jewish community board. The Jews controlled the
town's economy. The Poles ran the local government. A vice mayor
position was reserved for a Jew.
During the break, Michael invites Zbyszek to his office. The two
historians have different views about 1918, when Poland regained
independence after centuries of foreign occupation.
"Jews did not support Polish independence," says Zbyszek, "and
therefore they became a focus of animosity and were called
unpatriotic." "Why should they be patriotic?" asked Michael. "Under
Russia, they were one of many minorities, but they didn't know what
kind of destiny an independent Poland will bestow upon them. As a
matter of fact, they saw nationalism on the rise and 10 years later
they saw its results, an openly anti-Semitic society."
One of the students has prepared a recital of shtetl songs in Yiddish.
This is a song about a house left behind in a shtetl somewhere in
STUDENT: [singing] [subtitles] The poor little house where I laughed
with the children. Every shabbes I'd run there with a prayer book to
sit under a little green tree and read by the river. My shtetl, my
little home, where I had so many beautiful dreams.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] At a Polish-speaking radio station in
children, Zbyszek and I are invited to tell the story of Bransk and to
answer callers' questions.
[subtitles] Let me introduce you to Zbyszek Romaniuk from a little
Polish town called Bransk 160 kilometers east of Warsaw, 40 kilometers
When did the first Jewish survivor return to your town, where 2,500
Jews perished during the war?
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] When I was a child their visits were
very rare. There was a secrecy around their arrivals. At one point,
the Jews started visiting me. My neighbors were suspicious. They would
call me names like "Jude," "Jew."
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] Someone carved a Star of David on your
door. You were called a Jewish servant.
ZBYSZEK ROMANIUK: [subtitles] That happened only once. Unfortunately,
there is a lot of jealousy among our people.
1st CALLER: [subtitles] I think it's great that you are bringing this
subject to us.
2nd CALLER: [subtitles] People associate the word "Jew" with a greedy,
stingy, bad person. It's wrong. I am lucky to know many Jews in
America. I find they have lots of good qualities. They care about
their families and friends, but they also care about others, non-Jews.
I see them as people with a capital "P."
3rd CALLER: [subtitles] In my opinion, Jews were responsible for their
plight. They lived by themselves in segregated communities. They never
explained to us their religion and tradition.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [subtitles] How can you blame them for that? A
minority always lives under pressure from the majority. Isn't it the
obligation of the majority to build bridges?
4th CALLER: [subtitles] I am furious to listen to you! My blood is
boiling! In Poland I was never an anti-Semite, but after three years
in America I became one. As for Mr. Marzynski, let him to go Israel
and film the Jews!
5th CALLER: [subtitles] The 2,500 Jews in Bransk owned their
buildings. And the Poles? They lived in basements.
6th CALLER: [subtitles] Those things were done by Germans, but it
sounds like the Poles did it. There is nothing like fabricating
history 50 years later! Young jerks like you have no idea about
history. Now we learn that it was Poles who tortured Jews.
MARIAN MARZYNSKI: [voice-over] When I bring Zbyszek to the Holocaust
museum under construction in Washington, D.C., the words from the
Polish radio still ring in our ears. His attempt to maintain a cool
command of his Jewish studies keeps colliding with living memories
tinted by moral judgments. This museum will again confront him with
the question of his people's responsibility for the fate of the Jews.