August 18, 2010 7:30 PM
The Peretznics

Dir. Slawomir Grunberg, 2009.  Here is the trailer for the film on YouTube.

The events of March '68 are still somewhat obscure in Poland. The political background is known, as are the film archives, and press coverage. However, little is known about how it was to grow up in Poland of the sixties as a Polish Jew, or as a Pole of Jewish origin. How it was to be a kid in the heart of a country still recovering from a horrific war, in a family severed by the Holocaust, and then to come of age and experience first loves at the outbreak of the disturbing March events. The experience of the 'Peretz School' pupils in Lodz in some way reflects the experience of the Jewish minority in Poland in the 50 and 60 of the previous century. It is the experience of adolescents nevertheless, who were much more interested in the Beatles than they were in politics. It was the latter, however, which caused for most of them to scatter all over the world, creating a peculiar phenomenon of a Polish-Jewish Diaspora integrated today in so many countries' identities.

The Peretz graduates' experience shows that though they were made to leave Poland, they never quite said goodbye, not quite to Poland and certainly not to old friendships. The emotions they show are not nostalgia, but rather a real part of their lives. This documentary is not another film about immigration. Nor is it a film about nostalgia for school years. "That school was our entire life" - one of the characters in the film says. "It wasn't just a school... it was a way of life" - says another. The Peretz school created a peculiar microcosm, where one could have a sense of security, but - most importantly - a sense of community. It was a common experience of the 'Peretzniks' that they were born in families affected by the Holocaust. For most, this meant not having any grandparents, or aunts or uncles, and often not having any siblings. The school was in some sense an extended foster family and an oasis, where our characters could feel like 'normal' kids.

This film tells the story of an exceptional family, which the 'Peretzniks' created for themselves in the heart of post-war Lodz, and which became perhaps even stronger because history made every effort to break it apart. 'The Peretzniks' is the first documentary, which addresses the complexities of Jewish existence in post-war Poland under the Communist regime.
“To our parents and teachers, and to the memory of our lives in Lodz” The Peretzniks

8/20:  A very interesting film, well balanced, moving, very warm and  funny, too, despite the fact that the reason for closing the Peretz School was rooted in horrid events.  The former students featured in the film are my generation or up to 10+ years older - it was strange to think about  their lot back then Poland, in 1986, when my life was totally unaffected by it all...

It is quite often in life that we live in the world that we think we know, yet some events pass us by, as if they happened in some parallel universe.  By the time I was able to think about 1986 on my own there was mainly the 'official version' which didn't make much sense,  while the people involved, who might shed some light on how it was for them, were already gone. Even all those years later, when somebody mentioned being a Jew who left Poland after 1968 I kept wondering 'so where is that story, from their point of view?'  But life moved on and snippets of the past was all to be gathered in conversations; so for me the film was finally THAT story.

It was fascinating to watch old documentary footage too:  by the time the party secretary Gomulka (featured in the film) reached my consciousness he was an old drooling party hack, with a touch of senility.  In the film he appears  in his prime: menacing, calculating evil man, who will say anything for political advantage, knowing very well  the effect it will have on some people's  lives and having no remorse about it.  And the whole propaganda machine that went with it:  people lined up to clap en masse during his speech to make it all more convincing;  pretty horrifying thought on how many haters of Jews that one speech must have produced (5 minutes earlier they probably had no feelings one way or another on the subject).

Completely off the main topic of the film: I  found  the aspect of homage to the old teachers very touching - to see the former students finding them and watching with them clips of the film on the computer...  How many teachers ever experience that, or even know what happened to their pupils?

Oh, and the skype interview with the director did happen:  Slawek was very courteous and generous toward us, and offered to wait until AFTER the movie, despite the fact that we connected coast to coast while his part of the country was already mostly asleep.  It was very helpful and much better conversation, than if we had it before the movie, as planned - thank you, Slawku!

P.S.  I've been alerted that posting comments on this blog is confusing (i used a template, know nothing about writing codes), so on the right side of the page, I included instructions which hopefully clear it up.


  1. "The Peretzniks" is a great document of the post-World War II situation of Jews who survived the war and tried to establish their lives in the devastated country, with most of their families and relatives gone.

    Slawomir Grunberg was able to communicate to the viewers the peculiarities of those times, and the ambivalence of being a Jew, born in Poland, and attached to his or her country, in spite of the more recent history that frequently divided Poles and Polish Jews. He did so with great, impartial sensitivity. He stimulated the Peretzniks to be sincere, true, and thoughtful, and he captured the nuances with the hand—and an eye—of a master.

    His documentary will remain the witness of the times that are fading quickly from the collective memory.

    As somebody who was to a certain extent a part of this history, I was deeply touched on the personal level by the accurate depiction of the dilemmas the Jews in Poland were facing after the war, especially in 1968, which practically terminated a 1,000-year history of Jews, settled in Poland.

    It would be extremely valuable to see similar documentaries produced by Mr. Grunberg in other localities in Poland and other countries in that part of Europe, something akin to what Roman Vishniac accomplished with his still camera, although Vishniac had the advantage of capturing Jewish history there just before the Holocaust.

  2. Reunions are always interesting. In this particular film there is a slightly different take on the subject because the people involved are the alumni of the Peretz Jewish School in Lodz who left Poland after 1968. Scattered around the world, they meet to share their memories. Memories of what? Their friends, their teachers, their past, and mostly their youth - whether bad or good. Their gathering is full of reflections, emotions, opinions and questions. Am I a Pole, a Jew, an American? Do I miss Poland because it is still my homeland? If so, is any kind of coming back possible at all? In my opinion, these are all rhetorical questions, and we, the immigrants, can all relate to them. Congratulations to the film director, who addressed all these issues in such an excellent way. Julia

  3. Spotkania po latach - zawsze interesujace - w tym filmie nabieraja troche innego wymiaru, bo ludzie ktorzy przychodza na to spotkanie (spotkania) to byli uczniowie Zydowskiej Szkoly im. Peretza w Lodzi, którzy wyjechali z Polski po roku 68. Rozrzuceni po calym swiecie, spotykaja się aby powspominac. Kogo? Przyjaciol, nauczycieli, przeszlosc, a może przede wszystkim mlodosc, dobra, zla, ale mlodosc. Spotkaniu towarzysza refleksje , emocje, opinie i pytania. Jestem Polakiem? Zydem? Amerykaninem? Tesknie za Polska, bo to wciąż moja ojczyzna, ale czy powroty sa możliwe? Dla mnie to retoryczne pytania i dotycza one nas wszystkich, emigrantow. Duze brawa dla rezysera, który swietnie wypunktowal te wszystkie problemy. Julia.


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Polish Movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime

Since OKO meets only once a month, here is a list of movies in Polish, with English subtitles, available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Documentaries are not included. If you are into that genre, there is a ton available! Enjoy!