The picture of Agnieszka Holland
and the accompanying story by Hanna Brown which
were published in The Jerusalem Post
on December 26, 2013, deserve a sequel: a
sad story of the fate of those Jews who believed in foreign gods and suffered
I wouldn’t have written this sequel but for the unique
picture of Agnieszka Holland that accompanied the above-mentioned
Holland is described by Hanna Brown as a prominent Polish-Czech
film director and intellectual. I have never met Agnieszka, but I was shocked to
note her likeness to my old friend and her father Henryk (Henio) Holland – (and
this was his original name). This photo and this unusual likeness got me
thinking about the roots of this unique Academy Award-winning Polish-Czech film
director and screen-writer, well-known for her inherited sense of justice. And
of the fate of her father.
I always admired Henio. As a matter of fact we
shared the same school bench and were quite close. He was one year older, but
much wiser and more mature. He was a grown up, while I was still a naive
youngster. He was also not only an excellent pupil, but a demanding one – he
never took things for granted. He frequently asked impertinent questions
embarrassing our conservative Catholic school teachers. We were a few Jews in
the Gymnasium founded by the Society of the Merchants of Warsaw and almost all
of us belonged to various Jewish youth organizations.
Hashomer Hatzair,” Henio tried to persuade me. “A few cows in a Kibbutz won’t
save the Jewish people.
Much more is needed. I have tried myself to stick
to them before, but it is neither for me nor for you,” he advised. “Let me
introduce you to the right people,” he insisted.
I had only a slight idea
who those “right people” were, but I was rather reluctant to follow his advice.
One day, shortly before graduation, Henio was called to the Gymnasium’s
director, a very unusual occurrence. He came back quite shocked – I could see
this on his face.
“What happened ?” I asked.
“I have been warned,”
he explained. “From now on I will keep my mouth shut, but only for now,” he
“Nothing and nobody is going to stop me tomorrow!” Henio
graduated with honors, and a miracle happened: he was admitted, against all
odds, to the Warsaw University School of Medicine, a very unusual feat for a boy
from an impoverished Jewish family.
We never met again, except once,
early in October 1939, in the Soviet-occupied Lvov. We were both refugees who
had escaped from German-occupied Warsaw.
“What are your plans?” asked
“I am joining a group leaving for the Romanian or
Hungarian border,” I told him. “We will try to get through to Palestine and we
are leaving tonight.”
“Don’t be a fool!” Henio said, becoming really
“Why should you risk crossing the border? Who is waiting for you
there? Don’t you understand what has happened here? Once the Soviet Union moves
westward there will be no end to this movement. We have been liberated; we are
in a better, a more just and promising world. It no longer matters whether you
are a Jew, a Pole or an Ukrainian, here everything is open to
“Your father is a printer, your mother is a schoolteacher;
they are both hard-working people, you have nothing to fear, so why are you
running away and to whom? Come with me and I will introduce you to the right
I shook his hand and we parted amicably, never to see each other
again. Henio joined the editorial staff of the Red Flag and a Communist youth
journal and later enlisted in the Red Army.
THROUGHOUT THE years Henio
and of a few other of our school colleagues who remained in Warsaw after World
War II made it quite good. The new Soviet-directed Polish regime needed
intelligent Jewish men; many Poles resented the Russian interference.
number of my former colleagues made distinguished careers for themselves,
including Henio, who following his service in the Red and Polish Armies and with
the rank of captain became a prominent Polish Communist party member,
sociologist, journalist, columnist, educator, editor of a youth magazine. He
married a Catholic journalist, Irena Rybczynska, a they had two daughters:
Agnieszka and Magdalena. All was well, until the inevitable
According to the some sources it was Henio who brought
Khrushchev’s famous address about the unjust Stalinist Communist party purges
and persecutions to Poland. In 1956, he supported the reforms of the Polish
prime minister Gomulka, run along the lines of Khrushchev’s revelations, but
eventually he became his bitter critic, after he realized that only a few
victims were actually rehabilitated.
On October 23, 1956, Henio spoke on
the Polish official radio and published an article in the Evening Express
calling for a full rehabilitation of all those who were arrested and unjustly
sentenced in the Polish Stalinist mode trials. As a result he was warned to shut
up again and told to concentrate on his academic activities. However, in 1961 he
reportedly sent to Jean Wetz, the Paris correspondent of Le Monde, the text of
Khrushchev’s so-called “secret speech” and some other material.
too much for the “Bezpieka,” the Communist Poland Secret Service, who searched
his flat on December 21, 1961, and later claimed he had committed suicide by
jumping from a window of high-rise building. Readers interested in more details
will find them on the Internet.
POOR HENIO. He was only 41 years old when
he became one of the first Jewish victims of the continued purges. In 1967,
Gomulka purged all those Jews who were no longer needed by the now
well-established regime and most of them emigrated, many to Israel.
Henio. He was only 41 years old, in the prime of his life. And he wasn’t alone.
How many prominent Jews paid with their lives for their achievements throughout
Jewish history? What about all those Jews hiding under assumed names who helped
establish the Soviet Union and perished in the cellars of Soviet secret police?
How many Jews throughout history achieved greatness only to be robbed, exiled
and destroyed after having been exploited?
I understood from the Hanna Brown
article that Agnieszka, who lives now in Los Angeles, is contemplating to make a
big film about the Czech hero Jan Palach, who burned himself in Prague in 1969
in a demonstration against the Soviet Union’s occupation. I would rather advise
her to use all her talent to make a great film about her own father. He might
have chosen a wrong path, but he too died in the pursuit of justice.
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