27 October 2010 The Karski Report by Lanzmann already on 7 November in Krakow

The show of the widely commented documentary film The Karski Report (2010) by the French director Claude Lanzmann will be one of the most important film events of the 2nd Conrad Festival. The subject of the film is the activity of the famous Polish emissary who kept the Allies informed about the annihilation of Jews during World War II. The film lasts almost an hour and consists of previously unknown fragments of the interview given by the Polish courier to Lanzmann in 1978, when the French director was making the famous documentary film Shoah (1985) about the Holocaust. The director’s recent work incited a hot debate about the “use of history” and the danger of its approximation to fiction in France, Germany, Poland and the United States. Today we remind you of the controversies that were aroused by The Karski Report in the first half of 2010.

Everything began with a novel Jan Karski by the French writer Yannick Haenel, which was published in the autumn of 2009 in France and soon became a bestseller (in Poland it was published in the first half of this year by Wydawnictwo Literackie, transl. by Magdalena Kamińska-Maurugeon). This publication stirred a media uproar and provoked a polemic with Claude Lanzmann. The writer accused the author of Shoah of having distorted the meaning of Karski’s opinion in his film from 1985. Haenel states that by proposing an interview to Karski, Lanzmann promised him that the issue of rescuing of Jews by Poles would be one of the main subjects of his film. “Not only is this issue absent in Shoah, but Lanzmann distorted completely the image of Poland by cutting out deliberately the part of the interview in which Karski speaks of his mission to rescue Jews”, stated Haenel.

Lanzmann’s reply was the documentary film Le raport de Karski, which was broadcast by the French-German television Arte in March 2010. Within a short time, the weekly disclosed the fragments of the Polish emissary’s testimony that were not included by the director in his film. The reaction of the Polish media was quick, too. Jarosław Kurski published in Gazeta Wyborcza a text entitled Karykatury Jana Karskiego (The Caricatures of Jan Karski), where we can read: “Claude Lanzmann and Yannick Haenel play with Jan Karski like with a ball in their narcissistic French-French scandal. But the highest price is paid by Karski himself” (Gazeta Wyborcza, 22 March 2010). The journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza wonders why the director devoted so little time to Karski, although he had said that the Polish emissary was the key witness of the Annihilation to him. He thinks that the main conclusion from Lanzmann’s film is that Poland neglected the presentation of the figure of Jan Karski to the rest of the world, therefore his name is used for carrying on such disputes. Today the obligation of the Polish state is to obtain an integral copy of all recorded interviews of Claude Lanzmann with Jan Karski from October 1978. Poles should have access to the entire recording in order to get to know and understand Karski without any intermediaries. This is why I would like to appeal to Claude Lanzmann to submit to Polish archives the entire recording of his meeting with Jan Karski”, concluded Kurski (the entire recording of the interview of Clause Lanzmann with Jan Karski is available in collections of the Museum of the Holocaust in Washington).

Two days later Gazeta Wyborcza published an interview held by Anna Napiórkowska with Lanzmann, in which the director states: “I did not include Jan Karski’s report of Poles helping Jews in Shoah, because I know those events from another perspective. You cannot hide the Polish anti-Semitism, it did exist”. He repeats his opinion in the interview several times: “I am not saying that all Poles are anti-Semites, but the Polish anti-Semitism did exist. Shoah is not an anti-Polish film. I showed that there had also been wonderful Poles at that time” (Gazeta Wyborcza,24 March 2010).

Claude Lanzmann will arrive in Krakow at the invitation of the Conrad Festival; on 7 November (Sunday) at 6.00 p.m. he will meet his readers in the National Museum (Al. 3. Maja 1). The meeting will be preceded by a show of the controversial documentary film. The discussion following the show will be hosted by Konstanty Gebert. And soon, on 29 November, an autobiographical book The Patagonia Hare by Lanzmann will be published in Polish (Wydawnictwo Czarne, translation by Maryna Ochab).