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Exclusive: Revelations From Roman Polanski's Polish Secret Service File

Newly released Communist-era files show a complicated relationship between the Polish regime and the Wunderkind French-Polish filmmaker, from his first success to his escape from Hollywood after having sex with a minor.

Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski
Filip Ganczak

"Dear Raymond," begins a letter written to Roman Polanski by his sister Annette on January 10, 1957. Polanski was 23-years-old at the time, a French-born Polish citizen, and was studying film in Lodz, Poland; his sister was in Paris. The letter never reached him. Rather, it was opened by the Polish secret police and placed in Polanksi's personal file. Today the letter can be found in file number BU 1368/1705 at the Polish Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw.

Die Welt was given an exclusive look into the 111-page dossier, which documents the director's constant struggle with Polish authorities, and with his allegiance to the country itself.

Under Stalinist rule, Poland's borders were closed and foreign travel was a rare priviledge. After the death of party leader Boleslaw Beirut in March, 1956, the regime somewhat softened its public stance. In April, 1956, Polanksi requested for the first time the right to leave Poland and visit his sister in France. "I was born in Paris. I came to Poland in 1938. Since then, I have not seen my sister. Eighteen years have passed," he wrote to the Ministry of Interior.

He waited a long time for his travel permit to arrive, and it was not until February 10, 1957 that he was allowed to go. After several other short visits by himself, Polanski went to France in December 1959 with his wife, the young actress Barbara Kwiatkowska.

In Paris, they were both invited to the filming of Robert Menegoz's The Thousandth Window. But in Poland, Menegoz's work was considered "progressive," which made Polanski's involvement with the film "favorable for propaganda," according to the Deputy Minister of Culture, Tadeusz Zaorski.

Polanski remained in France longer than he had anticipated. In 1961, he received a consular pass, and was allowed to travel the world without any restriction. The same year, he returned to Poland to begin work on his first feature-length film, Knife in the Water.

The film depicts a world that many people in Poland must have had a hard time even imagining at the time. The protagonist is a successful sports journalist who drives an expensive car and owns a yacht. Roman Polanski described life as seen in the West. This kind of existence was not completely absent from Poland, but it was only available to those working very close with the Communist Party – even if officially, these values were despised and frowned upon.

After the initial screening of the film, party leader Wladyslaw Gomulka was furious. He publicly attacked Polanksi, describing the film as "intellectually shallow," and claiming that it was too pessimistic and could cause confusion in the minds of the youth.

According to Professor Tadeusz Lubelski, film scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, this kind of state criticism further convinced Polanski of what he already knew: he needed to make a film in the West. "In the People's Republic of Poland, he could never have made Dance of the Vampires, Rosemary's Baby, or Chinatown," Lubelski explains.

After the premiere of Knife in the Water in March, 1962, Polanski spent most of his time outside of Poland. His first few years abroad were not easy, as he struggled to find a producer. In 1963, however, Polanksi made his international breakthrough when a still image from Knife in the Water was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and the film clinched an Oscar nomination.

By the 1970s, communist Poland had a new government led by Edward Gierek, whose views were significantly more liberal than those of his predecessor. "The authorities treated Polanski with a lot of hypocrisy during this time," says Lubelski. On the one hand, the regime was reluctant to praise anything Hollywood stood for. On the other, it wanted to resume contact with the West, and sought to have good relations with the now successful director, whose films were almost all being shown in Poland.

In the mid 70s, Polanski obtained French citizenship, and the Polish government was not happy. In July, 1976, he managed to renew his passport, explaining that he would like to attend the Polish premiere of his new movie Chinatown. He also hinted that he might be willing to produce a film in Poland.

When the message reached the Polish government, however, a certain Comrade Krasko decided that Polanski should not be invited to Poland. He would be allowed to enter as a private citizen on a Polish passport, but would not be granted a visa for his French one.

In 1977, the Los Angeles police arrested Roman Polanski on charges of rape, which were plea bargained down to "sexual intercourse with a minor," after he had sex with a 13-year-old girl. Before the final sentencing, he fled to France, fearing he was going to face a long jail sentence. A year later, the secret police in Warsaw, which was still closely following his every move, made the filmmaker persona non grata in the Polish People's Republic. He was listed as a French citizen.

The national hero returns home

In 1980, Polanski was removed from the blacklist and was allowed to visit his father in Krakow. During his visit, he made a number of television and radio appearances in which he spoke very highly of Poland.

By that time, things were beginning to change in the People's Republic. The Solidarity trade union was fighting for workers' rights and social change. State censorship was starting to loosen its grip, and in 1981, Polanski was even allowed to direct Peter Shaffer's Amadeus in a Warsaw theater. The production was a hit.

In December of that year, however, Solidarity was prohibited as the country entered a period of martial law. As a result, freedoms were significantly restricted, and many Polish artists responded with a boycott of state media. Polanski's short adventure as a director in Poland was already over.

By the end of the decade, change came again in Poland with the election of the first non-Communist party. The new, democratic Poland, hailed Polanski as a "great Polish director." When Warsaw was chosen for the 2002 premiere of The Pianist, the country exploded with pride. Many former communists came to the screening and agreed that it was a fantastic film.

When Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in 2009, a great wave of solidarity spread across Poland. Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Solidarity party, argued that the director should be forgiven this one sin. In 2010, when the Swiss government released Polanski from house arrest after denying extradition requests from the United States, the Polish Foreign Ministry reaced to the decision "with great satisfaction." The Republic of Poland could once again celebrate its hero.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - ficg

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