Birth Place is a 1992 documentary by Paweł Łoziński.
Birth Place (Miejsce Urodzenia) is the story of Henryk Grynberg’s return to the place he grew up in, and where during WWII his father and younger brother died. Grynberg, who left for the US with his mother after the war, comes back after 50 years to understand what prompted one of their neighbours to kill his father. He goes from door to door and talks to people in whose houses his family once hid from Nazis. He meets with various receptions, varying from absolute openness to hiding from him and the accompanying camera crew. He is told many stories about his parents, history of the place, about war, help that Jews received from village folk and the dread of the German occupation. Paweł Łoziński says about his film:
The whole picture is structured around what people say, but not necessarily think. Or, on the other hand, say, but what not necessarily happened. I wanted to make a film about Poles and Jews during the invasion, but not a smoothed out one, a pretty picture of Poles helping all Jews in need who later come back and meet with their saviours.
At first reluctant and hiding behind bad memories, Grynsberg’s interlocutors with time reveal more information about his father’s death and the circumstances that led to his brother being handed to Nazis. They uncover memories that for years were repressed from public memory, irritating unhealed wounds. Their stories paint an image of a cruel epoch which, in some, awoke heroic instincts. However, others at the same time revealed their anti-Semitism and envy.
Martin Pollack opens his essay from Topografia Pamięci [trans. Topography of Memory], a book that focuses on a generation which discovers the Nazi past of their ancestors, saying:
After 1945 many things were swept under the carpet, many were treated with silence. For my generation, this silence was sometimes deafening.
Something similar could be said by many of the villagers that Grynberg talked with in Birth Place. They and their children had to live all their lives with repressed guilt, covering it with a wall of silence. Łoziński tries to understand them and their feelings, their emotions and fears, but at the same time he confronts Polish community with uncomfortable truth about our own past, which is often extremely idealised. Łoziński says about it:
The film was awarded all around the world, however, not in Kraków. There it was deemed controversial and suspected of being staged. When I showed the movie to the Polish population of Chicago I was asked whether Grynberg paid for the movie himself. On the other hand, Jews often told me that it’s a pity that I hadn’t pushed these villagers harder, as they were obviously lying. But in both cases I had to explain that I have sympathy for my characters. I didn’t want to accuse them, I just wanted to show the terrible choice that they had to, that they were forced to make.
In 1992 Łoziński’s movie received a distinction, as well as an award from Polish Film Societies Federation during the 12th Lubuskie Lato Filmowe in Łągowo, 1993. It also received 1st prize in the Documentary category at the Bałtycki Festiwal Filmowy i Telewizyjny in Bornholm, as well as the Grand Prix from the European Cultural Foundation during the 5th Vue Sur Les Docs Documentary Film Festival in Marseille.
- Birth Place, screenplay and direction: Paweł Łoziński, Cinematography: Arthur Reinhart, Editing: Katarzyna Maciejko-Kowalczyk. Release date: 1992.