Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Emma Bau, a Polish Jew, has only been married a few weeks when the Nazis come into her home town, and life as she knows it is changed dramatically.  While her husband Jacob leaves their home to go and work for the Jewish resistance, she is forced to take on a fake name, pretend that she is not Jewish, and live with Jacob’s Catholic aunt, Krysia.  When a chance arrives for her to help the resistance by working in the office of a high-ranking Nazi official, she takes it, but against all her inclinations, finds herself attracted to her boss – and the feeling is mutual.  While the devastating effects of the Nazi regime are being felt all around her, Emma (now known as Anna) must keep up the charade, and cope with her conflicting feelings.

I usually enjoy books set in the WWII, and this was no exception.  I thought it was an easy read, despite the subject matter, and events were moving quick enough that I was drawn in and always eager to find out what had happened.

The story was definitely more plot driven than character driven, and I was never sure how I actually felt about Emma/Anna on a personal level.  Nonetheless, the book does highlight the considerable risks that people took to fight back against the Nazis, and I am always slightly awed by such stories (because yes, these characters were fictional, but there were people who took such risks).  I felt that the author tried to humanise the Kommandant, for whom Emma has such unwanted feelings of attraction; he was almost – almost – likeable, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that he was a Nazi.  However, as Jacob barely featured in the book, he was also not a character about whom I could feel very much.  Krysia, on the other hand was a wonderful character – probably my favourite out of the whole book.

This aside though, I really like the book a lot, and an hour of reading it seemed to pass by in about 20 minutes!  The atmosphere of suspicion and not knowing who could really be trusted was depicted well, and I certainly felt thankful that I never lived through such times or make such decisions as Emma did.

On the basis of this book, I bought another book by Pam Jenoff (actually a prequel to this one, where more is written about the Kommandant’s first wife), and I look forward to reading it very soon.

(Author’s website can be found here.)


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Made in 1942, this comedy is set in Warsaw, during the Polish occupation by the Nazis.  It unashamedly pokes fun both at Hitler and the Nazi regime, and also the vanity of actors.  It tells the story of a Polish acting troupe, including husband and wife couple Joseph and Maria Tura (Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, in her last film), who find themselves tangled up in a plot to stop the Nazis obtaining valuable information.  It does not sound like a recipe for a hilarious comedy…but that is what this film is.  Joseph Tura considers himself an acclaimed Shakespearean actor, and during the film he plays Hamlet (badly!)  Maria, his beautiful and feisty wife, catches the eye of Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski.  Joseph is suspicious and jealous, but they soon have greater problems to worry about…

By the time this film was released, Germany was sweeping across Europe.  Also, tragically, Carole Lombard had died in a plane crash, and possibly as a result, the film was initially seen as being in bad taste, and was not appreciated by audiences.  Over the years however, it has gained a reputation as a classic comedy, and I think the humour still stands up well for modern viewers.

The story is convoluted, but easy enough to follow.  The real joy in this film however,  is the incredibly funny script and the way that the cast (even the minor players are terrific) deliver their lines.  The dialogue fizzes along nicely and there is also plenty of visual comedy.

The tragedy and heartache caused by the occupation of Poland is duly acknowledged, and I don’t think the film was attempting to make light of the situation at all.  One scene in particular shows members of the Nazi army jumping out of a plane to their certain death, on the orders of Hitler, given by radio transmission.  The film also shows the burning buildings and the many homeless and grieving families who suffered as a result of Hitler’s regime.

The subplot is great – concerning Joseph’s vexation at his wife’s flirtation with a handsome Lieutenant; and said Lieutenant’s infatuation with the slightly Maria (flightly she may be, but she is also possessed of a great bravery).

Carole Lombard looks beautiful and so full of life and vitality throughout – which in hindsight underlines the sadness of her death at such terrible circumstances at the age of 33.  Still, this is how she should be remembered – at her very best.  It’s a shame that this film turned out to be her swan song, but what a swan song it is.  Benny is also terrific; I have never seen any of his work before, but will certainly be searching out more of it!  This is one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Comedies, and it deserves its place on that list.  Despite the sombre subject matter, this is a film well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1942

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Melchior Lengyel, Edwin Justus Mayer, Ernst Lubitsch

Main cast: Jack Benny, Carole Lombard, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman

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