A sad Jewish story

A sequel to the picture of DHolland and accompanying story by Hanna Brown published in 'The Jerusalem Post'.

Agnieszka Holland’s HBO docudrama ‘Burning Bush.’ ( (photo credit: courtesy HBO)
Agnieszka Holland’s HBO docudrama ‘Burning Bush.’ (
(photo credit: courtesy HBO)
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 the consequences.
I wouldn’t have written this sequel but for the unique picture of Agnieszka Holland that accompanied the above-mentioned article.
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.
“Leave your 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 promised.
“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 Henio directly.
“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 angry.
“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 everybody.
“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 people.”
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.
A 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 happened.
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.
This was 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.
Poor 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.