https://www.thefirstnews.com/article/po ... ntary-5548
Powerful unseen amateur film depicting horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto appears in new documentary
The First News Stuart Dowell April 12, 2019
The new documentary film ‘Warsaw: A City Divided’ made by award-winning Polish-Canadian filmmaker Eric Bednarski, shows the capital as a thriving modern city but one that is still coming to terms with a traumatic period of its history.
A previously unknown amateur film showing the brutal conditions of life in the Warsaw Ghetto from 1941 is featured in a new documentary about the city. The film is the first archival material to be discovered that was not filmed by the Germans. This makes the film important because all the previously known film materials from the Warsaw Ghetto were made by Germans for their own propaganda to shows Jews in ways that confirmed German war-time stereotypes.
The author of the 10-minute film was Alfons Ziółkowski, a Pole who was a champion motorcycle racer before the war and also an avid amateur filmmaker. Between March and November 1941, the 30-year-old used his special access to the ghetto to film that part of the city, which was usually off-limits to non-Jews. If he had been caught filming by the Germans, he would have been at risk of arrest, being sent to a concentration camp or even death.
Ziółkowsk captured on 8mm film the growing horror of the largest ghetto in German-occupied Europe. It shows police stations at the entrance to the ghetto, Jewish children smuggling food, a policeman beating one of them, and the junction of Żelazna and Chłodna Streets before the famous wooden footbridge was built there. At times, Ziółkowski appears to be filming secretly, while at other times residents of the ghetto are aware that they are being filmed.
Alfons Ziółkowski was a champion motorcyclist who gained special access to the ghetto where he filmed that part of the city which was usually off-limits to non-Jews. If he had been caught he would have been at risk of arrest, being sent to a concentration camp or even death.
Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe
The film features in a new documentary film ‘Warsaw: A City Divided’ made by award-winning Polish-Canadian filmmaker Eric Bednarski. However, some mystery about the film and Ziółkowski, who died in the 1980s, remains. Bednarski told TFN: “Basically I know very little about Ziółkowski. I wish I knew more! As far as I know, all of his films remained with him and his family after the war. “He was an 8mm film enthusiast who shot quite a few films before the war. In the later stages of the war he was also in Warsaw. It was from his Polish descendants that I was able to get permission to use the film.”
The ghetto, which was forcibly created by the Germans, became a prison for almost 450,000 Jews from Poland and other European countries. Almost all of them died in the Holocaust.
Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe
For Bednarski, the film, which he obtained in 2004, became a pretext for his 70-minute documentary about the creation of the ghetto, its construction, as well as its memory and influence on present-day Warsaw. “Having found this unique archival material, I felt obliged and responsible to share it with others. But in order to do so, I wanted to dress it in a broader historical and urban context, as well as refer to contemporary Warsaw, which we travel around every day,” Bednarski said.
The documentary shows Warsaw as a thriving modern city but one that is still coming to terms with a traumatic period of its history. It uses material from the past with glimpses of present-day Warsaw, both its human face and its urban fabric. For Bednarski, the film became a pretext for his 70-minute documentary about the creation of the ghetto, its construction, as well as its memory and influence on present-day Warsaw.
The filmmaker spent years researching to put Ziółkowski’s film into the right context. Film and photography experts spent countless hours identifying the present-day locations of the scenes in the 8mm footage by analysing individual frames. The authenticity of the archival footage was confirmed by experts from the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem as well as by specialists from the Polish National Film Archive, the BBC and the Imperial War Museum in London.
Pre-war Warsaw was inhabited by over a million people, including almost 400,000 Jews. The ghetto, which was forcibly created by the Germans, became a prison for almost 450,000 Jews from Poland and other European countries. Almost all of them died in the Holocaust. Most of them were murdered in the extermination camp that the Germans designed, built and operated in Treblinka.
The premiere of ‘Warsaw: A City Divided’ will take place on May 11th in Warsaw at the 16th Millennium Docs Against Gravity Film Festival.
Eric Bednarski, documentary film director, writer, producer, born in 1976 in Halifax, Canada. He lives and works in Warsaw. Born to a Polish father and a British / Canadian mother, Bednarski spent his childhood in the small Atlantic city of Halifax in Canada, where much of his mother’s family once lived. He first visited Poland at the age of three. His father, Leszek Bednarski, left Warsaw with a single suitcase in 1960. Bednarski cites his father as deeply influencing his later fascination with both Warsaw and Poland.
Throughout his teenage years Bednarski developed a deep interest in history and filmmaking. He studied Polish history at York University in Toronto, graduating with an M.A. in 2002. He then coupled his passion for history with film by enrolling at the European Film College in Ebeltoft, Denmark where he specialised in documentary film. In 2002 Bednarksi worked with Polish documentary filmmaker Paweł Woldan for several months as an assistant on "Jestem Gotowy Na Wszystko" / "I’m ready for everything": a historical documentary for Polish television (TVP1). The Film deals with the life of well-known Polish priest and Solidarity activist Jerzy Popieluszko, murdered by the Communist regime's secret police in 1984. Woldan and Bednarski were to reunite in 2005 on another film for Polish television called "Ostatni Swiadek" / "The Last Witness".
In 2003 Bednarski was awarded a European Film Institute Internship with Austrian film director Paul Rosdy, with whom he collaborated in 2004 in Vienna. Many of the films Bednarski has since produced have held a strong connection to Warsaw. He has commented that:
Having been born and raised in Canada, I was always aware of a great ignorance of Poland and its history in North America. I’ve tried to make films which will hopefully educate non-Poles a little about Poland through my exploration of some of the remarkable stories connected with the country. I am certainly drawn to Polish history and culture, and I think as a Canadian I have a unique perspective on all that. I have also tried to make films that people in Poland can get something out of. Countless residents of Warsaw, for example, have told me they had no idea about the story of MDM
Bednarski explains his moving to Warsaw as inevitable. Both his grandparents and his architect father lived in the Polish capital. He also describes growing up in a household with a father who lived through the horrors of the Second World War as having had a "profound effect".
Bednarski's interest in Varsovian culture includes, in particular, architecture and the changing urban fabric. From his early childhood he possessed a marked fascination with history, and in his film work he also works extensively with archive materials, including photographs, and archive film footage.
A project of particular importance for Bednarski was "The Strangest Dream" which focuses on the life of Nobel Prize laureate Sir Joseph Rotblat, a Warsaw-born physicist. It tells the story of a small Canadian village, Pugwash, where Rotblat and other leading scientists met during the height of the Cold War. The film highlights the fact that Sir Joseph Rotblat's work, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995, remains relatively unknown- even to Poles themselves.
Since 2003 Bednarski has been collaborating with the National Film Board of Canada. Collaboration with the NFB led to work with producer Kent Martin, whom Bednarski credits with enabling him to collaborate with many acclaimed Polish and Canadian cinematographers and editors.
Bednarski’s current projects include "Neon" and "A City Divided". The first film, currently in post-production, tells the story of Warsaw Communist era neon signs: the context in which they came about, the people and places connected with them, and the many meanings they have acquired since they were created. "A City Divided" tells another story of Warsaw: from its origins as a multicultural city of different faiths to its transformation into occupied terrain. The film will particularly focus on the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto.
Bednarski has been working between Poland and Canada since 2003. He is a fan of Kieslowski’s early documentaries and the film "Rabbit à la Berlin" directed by Bartosz Konopka and Piotr Rosołowski.
"The Strangest Dream" Canada, 2008 - 90 minutes / Produced by the National Film Board of Canada
The story of Polish Physicist and University of Warsaw graduate Sir Joseph Rotblat and the role of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs to halt nuclear proliferation and bring about disarmament. The film moves from the site of the first nuclear test to Cairo, where Pugwash scientists meet under the cloud of nuclear proliferation, as well as Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped The film features interviews with Rotblat's contemporaries, members of the Pugwash movement and passionate public figures.
"The Last Witness" / "Ostatni Świadek" Canada/Poland, 2005 – 57 minutes / Co-Produced with Pado Studio Film & Telewizja Polska S.A.
Based on the book "In the Shadow of Katyn", The Last Witness tells Dr. Stanisław Swianiewicz’s remarkable story of survival against all odds, and fight for justice. As one of the thousands of Polish officers and political prisoners rounded up by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) after the invasion of Poland by the U.S.S.R in September of 1939, he was the only officer to not have been killed at the Katyn massacre. There, 4,000 other Poles were executed by the Soviets and hastily buried in mass graves. The truth about Katyn and other mass executions which claimed the lives of some 20,000 Poles could not be told for many years. Only since the end of the Cold War have full details of the massacres and of the half-century of Soviet cover-up begun to emerge.
"MDM" Canada/Poland, 2005 – 37 minutes
MDM explores the relationship between architecture and ideology by focusing on one Warsaw neighbourhood. The Marszalkowska Housing District was one of the first and most famous of Poland's 1950s Socialist-Realist housing developments. Conceived on a monumental scale as a model of socialist planning and an architectural showpiece for the new Soviet-backed Communist regime, it rose up from the ruins of a city almost completely destroyed in World War II. Architects, planners and urban and cultural historians evoke the controversies surrounding MDM’s conception and construction. They examine the changing meanings that have attached to it over the years, and its place in the Warsaw of today.
"Postcard from Auschwitz" Canada/Poland, 2003 – 16 minutes
On the 19th of January, 1942, in Nazi occupied Poland, Mieczysław (Mietek) Bednarski, an officer in the Polish resistance, was arrested in Warsaw. He would spend the next nine months in Nazi custody, six of them in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. In this historical documentary, based on excerpts of the diary Bednarski wrote after being released, a wartime story is told, and the phenomenon of correspondence from Auschwitz is evoked.
In November 2010 Bednarski received the prestigious Gemini Award for work on his film "The Strangest Dream". The Gemini Awards, handed out by the Canadian Academy of Cinema and Television, awarded both Bednarski and co-writer Barry Cowling in the category of Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series "The Strangest Dream" also received a special UN screening in May 2009 in New York. The film marked the opening day of the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 NPT (Non-proliferation Treaty) Review Conference. It was screened for an audience of NGOs from over 60 organizations and representatives from 192 member states. "The Strangest Dream" also had a smaller screening at the European Parliament in April of the same year.
Author: Jessica Savage-Hanford, September 2011