Great art always shows you more than you are prepared to see.
While watching Ida the viewer naturally gravitates toward the main protagonist. In this film Ida‘s struggle to recover her Jewish identity takes center stage. She ultimately discovers her family was killed by the Catholic Polish family that had sheltered them–either out of fear of German reprisals, or hoping to profit from it somehow, or both, or neither.
If you want the complexities of Polish history, then there you have them: Poles turned in and killed Jews during the war, yet Poles far outpace any other country in the sheer number their Righteous Among the Nations (during the most brutal occupation of World War II not soft occupations like in the Netherlands and France). They were also the first to report, at great risk to themselves, on the concentration camps to the West (to no avail).
The guilt of the Poles is well-documented, perhaps over-documented, but their victimhood during the war is so underdocumented that some have controversially talked of a Forgotten Holocaust.
Ida does not directly talk of this, but instead concentrates on the postwar situation where the nun’s aunt, Wanda, a former Communist resistance fighter, took revenge upon non-Communist Polish resistance fighters in the show trials of the 1950’s. Honest and good people were executed as enemies of the Communist state because of her.
I was not surprised that some on the Polish right have taken offense at the film for its unsavory portrayal of Poles during the war up to the point of wanting the filmmakers tried for slander. However, I don’t think that it entirely fair to the complexities the film reveals.What is much more surprising to me is that Jewish groups have not taken offense at the portrayal of Wanda who reveals uncomfortable truths: Jewish Poles (they were Poles after all, not some free-floating entities) were over-represented in the postwar Stalinist government. They also had blood on their hands.
The story is far from over: Popular sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, author of the deservedly much lauded critique of postmodernism Liquid Modernity, was also a committed Stalinist after the war as was the Nobel Prize winning poet Wislawa Szymborska. They have refrained from talking about their past for obvious reasons.
This is one thing the Americans have trouble countenancing in their dealings with the Middle East.
It is the real genius of great art to unveil these uncomfortable truths to us subtly. Ida does this exceedingly well.
See also: Ida and Avoiding Silence at Any Cost.
For more historical discomfort see my 5 Facts Holocaust Remembrances Frequently Forget or The Holocaust in Context: Auden’s September 1, 1939.
If you want to learn more about the roots of the most important contemporary school of philosophy take at look at The Central European and Social Heart of Phenomenology.