A feature film, from 1982 directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
Day one of the war in 1914. In front of Austeria, an inn, two peasant wagons driven by exiled Hasidic Jews stop on the crossroads. The publican, Tag, and his family warmly welcome them. Soon comes the baroness in her coach. She tries to persuade the publican to flee - Tag’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter are afraid of being massacred in a pogrom. Jewdocha, a Ukrainian servant and the publican’s lover, informs them of Cossacks approaching. The battle is fought nearby. A Hungarian hussar who has lost his regiment appears. The darker it gets, the more fugitives arrive at the inn. Among them is the young Bum, with the dead body of his girlfriend Asia on his shoulders – killed by a stray bullet. Bum blames himself for her death, as it was his idea to leave their home town. Soon Asia's father and stepmother appear, as well as Bum’s parents, followed by the Hasidic leader with a group of his fellows. They start singing psalms and dancing ecstatically. Tag begs them to stop out of respect for Asia's death. He is the only one to realise how dreadful the situation is. Others drown out their fear with chants, dances and violent fights on political topics.
A Catholic priest is another newcomer. He is an old friend of Tag and offers to help him run away, but Tag refuses; he feels responsible for his guests. In the main room, the Hasidic Jews are dancing more and more rampantly until they are completely exhausted. Meanwhile, Bum forces the priest to transport Asia’s body to the cemetery. They head towards the burning town, the glow of which makes the fugitives leave the inn. Some of them try to return to the city to save their livestock. The Cossacks stop the priest and arrest Bum.
In Austeria, only the Hasidic Jews, sleeping after their exhausting dance, are left. Tag is here as well. He has a dream in which he sees Bum under the gallows, awaiting his own execution. Tag, frightened, hides in the arms of Jewdocha. Suddenly the priest enters the inn, wakes him up and tells him that Cossacks have indeed caught Bum and that they plan to hang him. They both decide to go to the city and beg for Bum’s life.
In the morning, the Hasidic Jews wake up and start their morning prayers. They approach the river to take a ritual bath, singing and dancing. Abruptly, a burst of fire from a machine gun mows down their naked bodies. The water turns red...
The lost world of Polish Jews has long awaited representation on film. This original group, with its ideology, philosophy, customs, unique charm and poetry deserved a lasting monument in world culture. It always appeared to me that such a film could only be made in Poland. Here, there are still people who remember this lost world; there are active artists who have the shape of the murdered civilisation in their eyes and memories, who hear the sounds and melodies of that time (…)
We did our best to create a metaphorical film, similar to a passionate, dynamic fresco portraying the world of Jews seconds away from slaughter. This is why a book by Julian Stryjkowski, Austeria, was used as a basis for this story. It provoked enormous interest all over the world with its uniqueness and its specific way of approaching this subject.
My film is, therefore, far away from traditional, sentimental stories. In a dynamic abstract, I try to restore the dreams, thinking habits and philosophical demeanour of eastern European Jews faced with the ultimate threat. I limited this fresco to the framework of Judgement Day – literally and lyrically. Throughout one day and one night I try to show, perhaps too brutally, people’s attitude towards the tragedy, which is represented by every war bearing the prospect of annihilation. Such an approach seems to be more universal for me – Jerzy Kawlerowicz, 1983.
The outbreak of World War I marked the end of an era based on traditional values. It was also a huge shock for Jewish community. The massacre of Hasidic Jews during their ritual bathing is a harbinger of the future destruction of the Jewish nation. (Jan Słodowski, Leksykon Polskich Filmów Fabularnych)
- Austeria. Directed by: Jerzy Kawalerowicz, script based on a novel by Julian Stryjkowski: Tadeusz Konwicki, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Julian Stryjkowski, cinematography: Zygmunt Samosiuk, music: Leopold Kozłowski, set designer: Jerzy Skrzepiński. Cast: Franciszek Pieczka (publican Tag), Wojciech Pszoniak (Josełe), Jan Szurmiej (Kantor), Ewa Domańska (Asia), Wojciech Standełło (Hassid leader), Liliana Głąbczyńska (Jewdocha), Szymon Szurmiej (Wilf), Gołda Tencer (Blanka), Marek Wilk (Bum Kramer), Zofia Bajuk (Mina), Edward Żentara. Producer: Zespół KADR, WFF Łódź 1982, colour, 35 mm i 16 mm, 2946 m.
- Grand Prix – Golden Lion at the Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdańsk, 1984.
Translated by W.O. March 2014