Two films show the historical toll and the current danger of ethnic violence
Walter G. Moss is Emeritus Professor of History at Eastern Michigan University, Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of A history of Russia. 2 Vol. For a list of his recent books and online publications, click here.
Always Habermann (2010)
With ethnic tensions in the United States clearly evident, as evidenced by the attacks on Asian Americans, heightened anti-Semitism, and the continued resentment of White Trumpians against minorities and immigrants, two films recently released on Amazon Prime Video that display ethnic hatred are indeed timely. They also reflect actual historical events.
The first, named “Hatred” on Prime, is a Polish drama first released in 2016 under the title “Volhynia”. But the film shows a lot of hatred, including brutal killings – especially of Poles by Ukrainians.
The original title refers to a Ukrainian area located under present-day Belarus. It is a region today in Ukraine which in history has oscillated between Russian and Polish control, for example, Russia ruled it in the 19th century and Poland controlled the western part between the First and the Second. Second World War. A graphic at the start of the film cites the ethnic makeup of Volhynia before WWII, 70% Ukrainian, 16% Polish and 10% Jewish.
Many viewers of the film will likely just shake their heads and ask how humans can be so hateful and cruel to each other. All ethnic and religious murders point to one of the lines of Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie The Moor’s last sigh: “In Punjab, Assam, Kashmir, Meerut – in Delhi, in Calcutta – from time to time, they slaughter their neighbors. . . . They killed you for being circumcised and they killed you because your foreskins were left in place. Long hair murdered you and haircuts too; light skin scraped dark skin and if you spoke the wrong language you might lose your crooked tongue.
But in Volhynia, as in India and Pakistan, not only different ethnic groups (p. Across Eastern Europe, similar conflicts have occurred since even before the assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis -Ferdinand by a Bosnian Serb in 1914 until the conflicts of the 1990s between Serbs, Croats, Bosnian and Kosovar Muslims and other ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and created millions of refugees. The war of the world: the conflict of the twentieth century and the descent of the West, Historian Niall Ferguson cites ethnic conflict as one of the three main causes of “extreme violence” of the century, and Central and Eastern Europe as the deadliest of “murderous spaces”.
Hatred focuses on the story of a young Polish girl, Zosia Głowacka, living in a village in Volyn. It begins with her sister’s marriage to a Ukrainian. Zosia is also in love with a young Ukrainian, Petro – an early scene shows them physically intimate. But in exchange for farmland and a few animals, her father married Zosia to Maciej, an older widowed Polish landowner with children (In the interwar period, the Polish government had helped many veterans and other settlers Polish to settle in Volyn, which contributed to Ukrainian resentment). The wedding takes place on the eve of Germany’s invasion of western Poland in 1939, and Maciej is soon enlisted to help the Poles fight the Germans.
After the Germans quickly rout them, Maciej and other Poles attempt to return to their Ukrainian homes, but many of them are captured, tortured and killed by local Ukrainians. Maciej, however, returns to his village disguising himself as a Ukrainian. But he will not stay there for long because according to the secret agreement annexed to the German-Soviet pact of August 1939, part of “Polish” Volhynia must be taken over by the Russians. After that, they arrest and send many Poles, including Maciej, to forced labor in Siberia or Kazakhstan – the new teacher also tells (in Russian) her young students that religion is a superstition.
From late 1939 until the summer of 1941, Zosia remained at Maciej’s farm with her children and her own toddler son, presumably fathered by Petro, who was killed shortly after helping Maciej and Zosia’s children avoid the deportation.
In June 1941, the Germans attacked the USSR and quickly seized the region of Volhynia where Zosia lives. Some of his fellow Ukrainians salute the German troops and cooperate in the arrest and murder of Jews and Poles. Zosia, however, risks her own life to help some Jews.
In the summer of 1943, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) increased, as did the number of local Poles it killed. The film shows two Ukrainian Orthodox priests preaching to their congregations. The first warns against excessive nationalism, but the second declares: “We must fill all rivers with Polish blood because Ukraine must be pure.
Soon after, some of the film’s most gruesome scenes appear as local Ukrainians burn Polish huts and kill by burning, stabbing, ax cutting and other means, while shouting “Death to the Poles”.
Zosia escapes with her grandson, but sees her stepson burned alive. Eventually, she arrives at the home of her sister, Helena, and her Ukrainian husband, Vasyl, who is pressured by her brother to kill the Polish Helena. Instead, Vasyl ends up killing his own brother with an ax.
Soon after, however, it was the Poles’ turn to be barbarians. They kill Helena’s whole family, including her for marrying a Ukrainian. Zosia escapes again, hiding in the woods with her son.
The film’s final scene shows her on a long dirt road, lying in the back of a horse-drawn cart, her and her son being carried by a kind young man who found them in the woods. And the following text appears on the screen: “During the period 1943-45, it is estimated that 80 to 100,000 Poles and 10 to 15,000 Ukrainians were victims of attacks by Ukrainian nationalists and Polish reprisals in the eastern border regions ”(According to various historical sources, these estimates seem a bit high, but a joint Polish-Ukrainian conference in 1994 agreed that 50,000 Polish deaths was a moderate estimate).
The second movie on Amazon Prime, Habermann, is a 2011 Czech-German film which reflects the tensions between Czechoslovakia and Germans in the Sudetenland bordering Germany and Czechoslovakia during the years 1938 to 1945. This border region was part of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1938, when Hitler annexed it. On the first page of his Mein Kampf , Hitler had written that all German speakers should be united in an enlarged Germany. In March 1938 he began this process by absorbing Austria (German speaking) into Germany. Later that year, at the end of September, he got the English and French governments to “appease” him (in the infamous Munich Agreement) by agreeing that the Sudetenland, where the German speakers were in the majority, were to be ceded to the ‘Germany.
August Habermann is a Sudeten German sawmill owner whose family has run the mill for generations. He is married to Czech Jana, whose father (unbeknownst to her) was Jewish. They have a baby girl. August’s best friend is a Czech forester named Jan Brezina, who is married to Martha, an ethnic German. Most of the factory workers are of Czech origin and August treats them fairly. But he begins to have big problems after the German takeover, when SS Major Koslowski starts asking him and the sawmill, and complains that Habermann mainly employs Czechs as opposed to Sudeten Germans.
The film then shows various examples of Nazi cruelty – for example, Major Koslowski demands that Habermann select 20 Czech civilians to be executed to avenge the deaths of two German soldiers, and Habermann’s wife, Jana, is sent to a concentration camp. It also shows various examples of Czech resentment towards Nazi control. While some Sudeten Germans like August Habermann were unhappy with Nazi demands, others, like his younger brother Hans, who joined the German army, were staunch Nazi supporters.
The final scenes of the film, like the opening one which prefigures them, show the violent anger (including murder) of the Czechs against their Sudeten German neighbors after the withdrawal of the Nazis in 1945. Unfortunately for the month of August, the Local Czechs accuse him of having cooperated with the Nazis. They even direct their hatred against his Czech wife, Jana, who has been released from the concentration camp. “The whore of Habermann,” they call her.
As Hatred, Habermann visualizes for its audience many unpleasant truths about how we humans can be to each other. According to Czech historian Tomas Stanek, in Verfolgung [Persecution][1945, de mai au début de septembre 1945, les Tchèques ont brutalisé et tué des centaines de milliers d’Allemands des Sudètes alors qu’ils les chassaient de Tchécoslovaquie.
Alors que nous regardons toute cette haine ethnique s’étaler, nous nous demandons naturellement pourquoi ? Comment pouvons-nous agir si inhumainement envers les autres êtres humains ?
Au chapitre 1, « Un siècle de violence », de mon Une ère de progrès ? Le choc des forces mondiales du vingtième siècle (2008), j’ai tenté d’expliquer les groupes ethniques et autres 20e– la violence du siècle. Ce faisant, j’ai cité l’économiste lauréat du prix Nobel Amartya Sen, qui a écrit que cela découlait en grande partie de « l’illusion d’une identité unique et sans choix », par exemple, celle de la nationalité, de la race ou de la classe. Il a ajouté que “l’art de construire la haine prend la forme d’invoquer le pouvoir magique d’une identité prétendument prédominante qui noie d’autres affiliations et, sous une forme commodément belliqueuse, peut également dominer toute sympathie humaine ou gentillesse naturelle que nous pouvons normalement avoir”.
J’ai aussi indiqué que
il existe de nombreuses raisons pour lesquelles les décès d’étrangers ou de personnes considérées comme fondamentalement différentes semblaient avoir beaucoup moins d’importance pour les gens que les décès de personnes plus similaires. . . . Il est naturel que les gens ressentent plus de compassion pour ceux qui sont plus proches d’eux – pour les membres de la famille, les voisins ou les membres d’un groupe ou d’une nation avec lesquels ils s’identifient. De plus, dans le cas d’une nation ou d’un État, le patriotisme et le nationalisme étaient souvent renforcés par l’éducation, par les médias et par des rituels sociaux et culturels tels que le chant des hymnes nationaux et, surtout en temps de guerre, par la propagande gouvernementale. (Pour plus de mes réflexions sur les motivations de la violence et la déshumanisation qui la précède souvent, voir ici.)
En regardant spécifiquement les deux films examinés ici, l’accent mis sur les griefs passés et une idéologie de nationalisme ethnique sont deux causes principales d’une grande partie de l’effusion de sang. Les Ukrainiens de Volhynie se souvenant du gouvernement polonais et des mauvais traitements qu’ils ont subis dans le premier film, et la vengeance tchèque de l’oppression nazie dans le second sont les principaux facteurs. Dans un interview sur son film volhynien, le réalisateur Wojciech Smarzowski a déclaré qu’il était « contre le nationalisme extrême. Le film est un avertissement – il montre ce qu’un être humain est capable de faire lorsqu’il est doté d’une idéologie, d’une doctrine politique ou religieuse pertinente et qu’il est autorisé à tuer.
J’ai souvent écrit contre tout nationalisme, dogmatisme ou idéologie qui nous rend moins tolérants envers les autres. Et moi fermé un essai récent avec l’espoir que les États-Unis pourraient être « une terre de nombreux groupes ethniques et divers croyants et non-croyants [who] can live harmoniously together, can become “stronger, not in spite of its many elements, but because of them”.
How exactly to do this is complex, but a starting point might be to take the example of South Africans Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in the 1990s respectively created and chaired a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which attempted to lift whites and blacks in South Africa out of the cycle of violence and counter-violence.