Ulnica Graniczna (Border Street) (1948)

 

 

 

 

 

Director:     Aleksander Ford.

Starring:     Mieczyslawa Cwiklinska (Mrs. Klara),  Jerzy Leszczynski (Dr. Jůzef Bialek),  Wladyslaw Godik (Grandfather Libermann),  Wladyslaw Walter (Cieplikowski),  Jerzy Pichelski (Kazimierz Wojtan),  Tadeusz Fijewski (Bronek Cieplikowski / Kusmirak's hair stylist),  Jůzef Munclinger (Kusmirak),  Robert Vrchota (Hans, Gestapo Officer),  Stefan Srůdka (Natan Sziuliu),  Eugeniusz Kruk (Fredek Kusmirak),  Jerzy Zlotnicki (David Libermann),  Dionizy Ilczenko (Wladek Wojtan),  Maria Broniewska (Jadzia Bialkůwna),  Justyna Kreczmar (Wanda Kusmirakůwna),  Maria Zabczynska (Wojtanowa).

on one street in Warsaw there is a lot of anti-Semitism;  WWII starts and the Jews are thrown into the Warsaw Ghetto;  good Poles try to help the Jews, while others act like Hitler fans;  uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Streets changed into cemeteries. Ruins and burned down. So many of them in Warsaw. The action of the film takes place on one such street. Let us call it Border Street, although it could as well be called Bielawska, Dluga or Swietokrzyska. We do not intend to determine its real name. We do intend only to show a small fragment of its history of the history of its poor inhabitants, little people, children or practically children."

"1939 . Who does not remember?"

A boy, named Bronek, tries to tells his father some message from mother, but another boy interrupts the conversation saying to Bronek that Fredís got a new ball! Right in the streets the boys start kicking the ball around.

While the boys are having a blast, a young girl named Jadzia asks her piano teacher, Miss Clara, if she can stop playing the piano now? She discovers that the woman is asleep, so she goes over to look at the boys playing kick the ball.

A small Jewish boy known as Davidek wants to leave his religious studies. When he gets a chance, he sneaks out and starts kicking the ball around. The other boys start picking on him and knock him into a tub of water. The mean kids say thatís the Jew boyís one and only bath for the year. Bronek puts a stop to the teasing. The bullied Davidek heads back to his house dripping wet.

Fred gets mad at Bronek and says he wonít let the fellow play with the ball. Thereís a little delay until Jadzia shouts down to Bronek to kick the ball to her. Bronek kicks the ball through the window and it bounces off Miss Claraís head and then breaks a flower vase. She wakes up and starts yelling who did that. She shouts down to the boys that sheís keeping their ball.

The boys will have to go up and asks Miss Clara for the ball. They go up and are let into the apartment. Miss Clara demands to know who kicked the ball through the window? The boys wonít tell on Bronek. But then Fred all of a sudden tells Miss Clara that itís all Jadziaís fault because she told Bronek to kick the ball up to her and he did what she said.

Jadzia is absolutely furious that Fred would put all the blame on her. She calls the boy a traitor and slaps him across the face. The boy starts crying and so Miss Clara decides to shut him up by giving him back his ball. Jadziaís father, the medical doctor, comes in and complains about all the noise. So Miss Clara gives the ball to Fred and pushes the three boys out of the apartment.

The father of one of the three boys, Kazimierz Wojtan, stops his boy Wladek as he runs up the stairs and tells him to come up for lunch. Kazimierz says that the people are panicking a bit. They think war will break out and want to withdraw their money from the banks. Dad says: "War wonít, of course, break out. Hitler would never dare. The Jews only encourage such gossip to make better business."

The anti-Semitic remark encourages the son and he tells dad that Davidek bathed in a wash tub today. Dad says he told his son that Davidek is not suitable as a friend. Mother counters by saying: "Oh, drop it. Little Davidek is a good child although he is Jewish." She adds that the Libermanns are decent people.

Grandfather Libermann is a tailor and his son-in-law Nathan is an electrician. Nathan comes home and asks his father-in-law why is Davidek in bed? Grandfather Libermann says the boy would rather go play ball than stay at home and study like other Jewish boys. He adds that Davidek "nearly drowned" in a wash tub.

Davidekís father and grandmother defend Davidek, but grandfather says: "In my time learning the Talmud was deemed much more important than kicking a ball."

Jadzia tells Miss Clara that she is no longer a child and doesnít like still being treated as one. Miss Clara says Jadziaís behavior today proved otherwise. She should not have hit Fred.

Fredís mother tells her husband about how Jadzia "beat" their son. She scolds her husband for not doing anything about this matter because the girlís father is the doctor.

Wladek yells up to Jadzia to come with him and Bronek Cieplikowski. She sneaks out the window and climbs down a ladder. Bronek is there and he tells her she deserves a medal for boxing Fredís ears.

Bronek has to bring his father his lunch from home. The three young people start walking down the street. He is a horse and carriage driver and is grateful for getting his pea soup with bacon lunch. Bronek asks his father if he could take Jadzia for a carriage ride seeing as how she is such a good friend to the family. Since dad has no passengers, he says he will take them all to Wilanow.

Along the way they pick up an older man, an organ grinder, who is having trouble carrying his big machine today. The organ grinder has a parrot that can tell fortunes. He has a number of fortunes with him and holds them up until the parrot chooses one. He gives the folded up piece of paper to Jadzia and it has two rings in it along with a written fortune. The note says for the reader to wear one of the rings and give the other to someone who is blonde with blue eyes. She starts to give it to Bronek, but he motions to her to give it to Wladek.

Back home Jadzia complains that Miss Clara always treats her like a child and dad never has any time for his daughter. The conversation is interrupted by what sounds like an air raid siren. Dad is worried somewhat, saying that this is the third siren test today.

Wladek at home mentions the tests of the siren system, but dad says these are not tests. He goes on to say that he now has to join the army and Wladek will be the man of the house.

Dad is in the reserves and he has to dress up in his uniform. He tells his wife that the war wonít last long. He will come back to her in two months.

Bronek asks his father about war coming, but dad says there is not going to be a war. Just then there is a huge bomb explosion followed by the sound of an air siren.

Itís not long before German troops are marching through the streets. At the barber shop, Fredís father asks the barber to cut his mustache very short. Now with the short mustache and his hair combed from right to left with it hanging a bit over the left side of the forehead, he resembles Adolf Hitler.

A German soldier goes into a pub to have a drink. He flirts with the waitress there and finds out that she is German, her mother from Dresden and her father from Leipzig. The soldier has a guard dog with him and he shows her how the dog is trained to find the enemy. He tells the dog that there is a Jew around and the dog barks at the remark.

Nathan comes shuffling into his home looking like heís been fighting for years. His wife rushes over to him and gives him a big hug. The truth is that Nathan was captured early and put in a POW camp. The talk there was of the Germans building a ghetto for the Jews. The Germans will separate the Polish Jews from the other Poles. That way it is easier to exterminate the Poles and the Jews. The talk was also of resistance against the Germans.

Grandfather Libermann says that Hitler will only laugh at any resistance attempts. The conversation is interrupted by German anti-Semitic hate speech saying that the Jews are guilty of everything.

Davidek is sent to the pub for some vinegar. Fred is there and he tells his Hitler-looking dad that the little Jew boy has come for some vinegar. Dad tells Fred to let the Jew wait. Fred takes a beer over to the German soldier and his dog. Fred tells the dog that there is a Jew here and he points to Davidek. The dog starts for the boy, who drops the vinegar bottle and runs out of the pub screaming. Everyone has a good laugh at the boyís fear.

Miss Clara starts teaching some of the boys and girls in the doctorís apartment. Bronek sings a resistance song for the group. The doorbell is rung and everyone stops singing. Miss Clara tells the youngsters to put their school work away. They fear it might be the Gestapo.

The doctor opens the door and a woman named Helen comes in. She reports that the German police have just arrived on their street.

The police find the apartment where Casmir Wojtan lives. Mother says that he is in a POW camp. The interrogator says that Casmir escaped from the camp. Wladek shows up at the door and the police ask him where is his father? He says he doesnít know. The police say that if they come back and the family still doesnít know where their father is, they will take in the whole Wojtan family.

Fred is doing some spying on the doctor. He climbs up to the doctorís window. The doctor is hiding a secret that involves Jadzia. He tears up an incriminating photo so it doesnít fall into German hands. Listening into the conversation between the house keeper and the doctor, Fred hears all this. The doctor tears up the photo, but before he can throw it away His daughter and her friends rush into the room saying to come to celebrate the escape of Captain Wojtan from the POW camp. They are so insistent that the doctor has to go with them. In doing so he leaves the half torn picture behind. When the room empties, Fred grabs the photo and takes it with him.

Fred shows the photo to his father saying that it must be a photo of the doctorís father. Dad says itís clear that the man in the photo is Jewish. They decide to wait for Davidek to translate the Hebrew inscription on the photo to them.

Fred goes out and bring Davidek back with him. The boy translates: "To my dear grandson Joseph. Grandfather Jehuda Bialar." Fredís grown-up sister says that the good doctor changed the name Bialar for the Aryan name of Bialek. Fred asks if this means that the doctor and Jadzia will have to go to the Ghetto? Sis says: "And their beautiful flat will be ours."

Davidek and his family are having their last Sabbath dinner. The whole family is very glum because they know next week they will be in the Ghetto. Grandfather says: "Children, children, terrible times are coming for the Jews." Nathan adds: "Not only for the Jews."

Captain Wojtan comes back to his apartment. He and his wife hug each other hard. Then father and Wladek kiss each other hello. The captain says he has to go because a man hunt will be organized to find him. He hands a pistol over to Wladek and tells him to protect the family.

The captain says he needs his suit, but mother explains that they had to sell the coat. The captain goes to see the Jewish tailor and gets a new suit. In turn, the captain gives the tailor his overcoat, but warns him that the suit could get the tailor into big trouble. The tailor says he will redesign the old suit into a new one. Captain Wojtan tries to leave, but the German are searching for him. He hides himself.

The Germans come into the tailor shop and see that the owner is Jewish. They interrupt the Sabbath dinner. While in the apartment, they discover Captain Wojtanís coat.

When all the Germans are inside the dining room, Wojtan escapes through the front door of the shop. The German leader shows the coat to grandfather and demands an explanation. Grandfather says he sewed it for an officer before the war began. Where is the officer now? Grandfather says he doesnít know. The German grabs grandfather by the throat and starts choking him. He then throws the old man on the floor.

The Jews are being rounded up to go to the Ghetto. The doctor watches the Libermann family having to pack up itís belonging into a wagon. Mr. Cieplikowski helps the family pack and Mr. Want-to-be-Hitler asks him if he has to move to the Ghetto too? The big man responds: "Neither to the Ghetto nor to Berlin Herr Kusmirak."

Some of the children say goodbye to Davidek.

Kusmirak goes to the doctor to blackmail him into giving his five-room apartment to him. The doctor canít believe what the man is saying until Kusmirak shows him a copy of the photo that Fred stole from the doctorís office.

Kusmirak and his family along with Wandaís German soldier boyfriend Hans celebrate the acquisition of the large apartment.

The doctor tells Miss Clara that since he is Jewish he will have to go to the Ghetto. He tells Clara that Jadzia must not learn anything about what happened. They will send Jadzia on the first train out to the country where she will stay with Aunt Helen.

Wladek blames all this recent news on Jadzia and now he virtually hates her. He says to Bronek that she and the others of her family hid their true ethnic identities. They pretended to be Poles and not Jews. Bronek says Wladek is vile and he will warn Jadzia about him. Wladek takes off his ring and throws it on the floor. Bronek picks it up and keeps it. He tells Wladek that when they were once friend seems like a long time ago.

Bronek sold his fatherís horse and carriage and now drives a Polish rickshaw bicycle. He sees Davidek on a work detail and races over to ask how he is. He even gives him some fresh bread to eat. Bronek tells him to try to steal away from the Ghetto at least for awhile. Davidek warns Bronek to get out of here because a policeman is coming.

Wladek sees his father and talks with him. He has to admit that he quarreled with Bronek and they are no longer smugglers together. Dad says he has to go. He is in a different army Ė the resistance army. He tells Wladek that Mr. Libermann saved his life by not telling the Germans where he could be found. He continues by saying that not all Jews are bad and the Poles have their evil Kusmiraks, too.

At Aunt Helenís place the owner reads a letter from Wojtan to Miss Clara. Jadzia overhears the reading of the letter that says not to ever let Jadzia come to Warsaw for she might find out everything. Jadzia immediately starts getting dressed.

Jadzia reaches Warsaw and now goes to her home. She finds that Fred and his family are occupying her apartment. She sees Fred and asks him what are they doing in her familyís rooms? Fred tells her off and then pushes her down the stairs. Bronek rushes over to Fred and hits him lightly a couple of times. He also tells Fred that he better not say anything about this to anyone. Bronek leaves with Jadzia.

Fredís mother comes out and asks what happened? When she hears that Jadzia is back she yells down the stairs that she better not come back or she will call the police on her.

Bronek has to tell Jadzia that her father is now in the Ghetto. The daughter is very upset feeling what pain her father must have gone through and is still going through. She says she is going to go asks the Germans, but Bronek says she must not go out anywhere. She might be seen and be arrested. She asks who would betray her? Both Fred and Wladek would. Jadzia canít believe Wladek would betray her. So Bronek gives her back the ring she had given to Wladek.

Wladek sees Davidek come to Bronekís place. Jadzia is happy to see him and asks about her father. Davidek says he lives close to his family. Jadzia now tells Davidek that she is going back with him to the Ghetto. Bronek asks whatís the hurry because there is hunger and typhoid fever waiting for her there. She says her place is with her father.

So Bronek gives Davidek and Jadzia food to take back with them. Bronek goes outside to see if the coast is clear. There he finds Wladek and calls him a spy and a betrayer. He knocks him down in the rain into a puddle. He bicycles them in his rickshaw to their exit point.

The Germans launch a raid on the entrance/exit for those who go back and forth, to and from the Ghetto. Soon Davidek and Jadzia along with many other youngsters are running for their lives. The couple has to run fast to escape the canine unit. They jump into the waters of the Warsaw sewer system to get away. Some of the Germans shoot into the sewer, but Hans shouts at the men not to shoot because his dog is down there with the escapees.

The two kids find the dog bleeding and Jadzia stops its wound from bleeding. Davidek wants to let the dog die, but Jadzia says she canít do that. The dogís name is Rolf. They sleep through the rest of the night and in the morning find a way up into the Ghetto. Itís far worse than what Jadzia imagined. People are begging for food.

Jadzia and Davidek arrive at the doctorís apartment. He is dying of typhoid fever. He dies very soon after her arrival. The dog comes and finds Jadzia.

Wladek is meeting with his father again at the pub. The Germans raid the pub and they take Captain Wojtan with them. Before this happened, Wladek tucked the pistol in dadís belt in the back. The men are placed in the back of a truck and taken away. The men are all lined up against a wall and shot dead.

Jadzia gets back out into the Polish section. The Germans broadcast a message that it is strictly forbidden to have Jewish children in the Polish section. Anyone aiding and abetting the escapees are subject to being killed. She sees Wladek and he sees her. She starts running away from him. Wladek runs after her and finally catches up with her. She shouts at him that she never did him any harm. Wladek says he knows that, but he is not a spy and only wants to help Jadzia.

So now the couple holds hands and walks around Warsaw. She explains to Wladek that she went back to Aunt Helenís place but no one was there. Miss Clara still is around in Warsaw and teaches secret classes. Her father died in the Ghetto. Wladek says his father was murdered too. They have to turn their backs to the street as Fred marches by with the Hitler Youth organization.

Out of danger, Wladek asks for his ring back. And now the black dog finds her again.

Hiding with Brodek, Wladek brings Miss Clara to see Jadzia. The woman is so happy to see her that she cries and cries and makes the dog start barking.

Jadzia goes back to her old apartment and hears and see the Hitler Youth singing and running around the flat. An air raid siren goes off. Bronek and Wladek go to let Jadzia out of the shed to find a safe place for her, but an air raid warden makes them go downstairs in a shelter.

Bronek tells his father they are going to slip out of the shelter and help Jadzia. They start but are stopped by the Kusmiraks. Bronek says he must check on his shed that is made of wood and can go up in flames with one spark. Kusmirak says he will go check on the shed, while Fred watches the two boys.

Hans asks whatís Kusmirak doing? Kusmirak says inside the shed there are thieves or perhaps "fifth column" people. So the two men go into the shed to investigate. The German gets a big surprise when he sees his dog Rolf in the shed. The man has a big laugh saying Rolf is their fifth columnist.

Rolf, however, turns around and climbs up the ladder to a hay loft. Hanssenses someone is up there with his dog and he demands that this someone come down or he will shoot. Jadzia comes down the ladder. Hans says he is going to kill Jadzia. She spits in his face and then Rolf attacks his former master. Hans is shocked, but has to keep hitting his dog to stop him. Jadzia uses the time to run away.

Fred spots Jadzia and he and his Hitler Youth start chasing after her. Fred tracks her down, but the girl is able to push her way past him. Wladek runs into Fred and they start fighting each other.

A Germans stops Jadzia and puts her in line with another group of detained youths. She sees Davidek and he tells her to get away from him because he has potatoes and grenades with him.

Fred is all beaten up and his uniform is dirty and ripped up. A German catches him and assumes he is a Jew. Fred denies that but the German doesnít believe him. Fred gets up and starts running away. The German shoots Fred in the back.

Davidek and Jadzia are placed back in the ghetto. Jadzia asks why is the Ghetto so relatively deserted? He says the German are taking the Jews to the east to work. He lost his mother and his aunt to the gas chambers in Treblinka. Grandfather is in hiding and Nathan has fled.

They go to Davidekís place. Uncle Nathan shows up and says hello. He asks Davidek why did he bring Jadzia here when he knows they are going to start any day now? Davidek just says that she had to come here.

They bring grandfather out from his hiding place. He doesnít recognize Jadzia. Uncle Nathan takes the grenades and stuffs them into his dark shirt. Jadzia starts work as a seamstress. The supervisor arrives one day and two older men are taken out of the sewing factory and shot dead.

German troops starts moving in and the Jewish Ghetto organization calls for everyone to fight the Germans. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins. Jadzia and Davidek try to find a safe place to hide. The Germans are fighting house to house.

Grandfather does not move from his apartment that is not on fire as of yet. Nathan and the two children try to rescue him, but he just keeps praying away as if he is some sort of trance. The others have to leave him behind.

Nathan is staying but he tells Davidek to take himself and Jadzia to the Aryan section. The children say no but Nathan says they are his children now and he is their father and they have to obey the father. He insists that they go. He tells them to find Bronek who will help them.

The two run, but Jadzia soon falls and says she desperately needs some water. Davidek runs into one of the apartments looking for water. He finds a telephone and calls up the pub. The person finds Bronek and he comes to answer the phone. Davidek tells him to meet them at their sewer place. Bronek doesnít know where that is and asks, but the phone goes dead.

Davidek grabs Jadzia and they head for the sewers. They make it to the sewers and go inside.

Hans is busy disciplining his dog Rolf. His German-Polish girlfriend tells him to come to the window with her and see. The Jewish Ghetto is burning up.

Bronek finds Wladek and tells him that Jadzia and Davidek are still alive. They start running for the sewers. Bronekís father says someone is hiding in the shed. They all go into the shed and find Rolf there. They also find Jadziaís cap. They let Rolf get a good whiff of the cap and the dog wants to run to find her. They let him out and he goes right to the sewer. The two young fellows jump into the sewer and take Rolf with them.

The fight goes on in the Ghetto as whole buildings collapse. German tanks and planes are used to bomb and fire forces the resisters into submission. Nathan gets up on the roof of a building and tosses grenades at the Germans.

Rolf searches for Jadzia in the sewers. He finally finds her and just keeps on barking until the guys find the escapees. They soon run into some Jewish resisters headed to the Ghetto. Bronek tells them they are going the wrong way for the Ghetto is all burning up. They say they know where they are going. They will fight to the death in the Ghetto. This inspires Davidek and he starts to follow them. Jadzia tries to stop him, but he says: "I have to go there." Wladek gives Davidek his fatherís pistol.

Davidek thanks Wladek and then heads after the men with the pistol in his hand. Bronek tells Jadzia not to cry for Davidek will not die.

The narrator says: "Farewell, Davidek, We believe, too, that you wonít die, that at the other side of Border Street everybody will fight. Wladek and Bronek and everyone who knows that there are no borders between people and that all people are equal to one another."

 

 

Good film.  One of the things that stood out was the emphasis on the anti-Semitism in Poland before the arrival of the German troops.  In the early 1970s I knew a very pleasant Jewish man when my wife and I lived in Sweden for a year.  He was an immigrant from Poland and he and I would practice our Swedish together.  He and his wife left Poland because of the anti-Semitism still in that country.   Racism and ethnic hatred are terrible poisons in any nation.  Just look at the USA.  I was disappointed in the portrayal of the German bombardment of Warsaw.  One bomb dropped and the German troops are marching in the streets of Warsaw.  Around 31,000 Poles died in Warsaw along with 46,000 wounded.  They could have shown newsreel footage of the damaged Warsaw, in which 10% percent of the buildings were destroyed. 

The action switches from Warsaw to a specific part of Warsaw, the Warsaw Ghetto which held around half a million people and where thousands of Jews died of hunger and disease.  Those that survived were shipped out to concentration camps.  (There was even a concentration camp in Warsaw itself.)  Until August 1944, about 200,000 Poles died in gas chambers.

The Warsaw Uprising lasted for a month.  It was the largest single revolt by the Jews during World War II.  The Ghetto was completely destroyed and its inhabitants killed or sent to concentration camps.   

Much of the film centered around the effects of events on a group of youngsters living on one street in Warsaw.  Several of the Slavic children worked to help hide and protect the Jewish girl Jadzia.  But there were also those who cooperated with the Nazis and helped hunt down their Jewish neighbors.  In every batch there are some rotten apples. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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