Poland split over whether Daniel Craig is film hero or villain

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Daniel Craig crouches with his back pressed hard against the white trunk of a birch tree. Gripping an Erma MP40 submachine gun, he glares over his shoulder at a target in the forest.

This is not a new James Bond film, but Craig playing the lead role as Tuvia Bielski, a real life Jewish partisan commander who waged guerrilla warfare against the Germans in Poland during the Second World War.

Bielski’s and his fighters saved more than 1,200 civilians, mainly Jews, and their exploits are about to be celebrated in “Defiance”, a $50 million Hollywood film which premieres this week.

Bielski’s extraordinary courage is meant to cast a new light on the Holocaust. After the Nazis murdered Bielski's parents and his first wife, he and his brothers Zus, Asael and Aharon decided to fight back rather than accept their fate. The brothers transform fellow Jews from the terrorised, hopeless victims -- familiar in films such as Schinder’s List and The Pianist -- into ruthless fighters capable of taking on and beating the Nazis.

But in Poland, the film has raised some uncomfortable questions about Bielski’s behaviour in his area of operations around Nowogrodek between 1943 and 1945. Some Poles fear that in telling Bielski’s story Hollywood has airbrushed out some unpleasant episodes from the story.

Historians say Bielski was affiliated with Soviet partisans directed by the feared NKVD, a forerunner of the KGB. He even named his unit ’Kalinin’, after Stalin’s crony Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin. Towards the end of the War, Soviet partisans terrorised ethnic Poles in Eastern Poland, including the region where Bielski’s Kalinin unit operated. Some Poles suspect that Bielski’s partisans were not only intent on driving the Germans out but opening the way for Poland to come under Soviet control.

The most serious allegation concerns the events of 8 May 1943 when some 128 unarmed Polish gentiles were slaughtered at Naliboki in the province Nowogrodek. Evidence suggests Soviet partisans were responsible, but there is confusion about specifically which unit undertook the killings - and Bielski’s group has not been ruled out.

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) is investigating the Naliboki case and the culpability of the Bielski partisans has been identified as one possibility. Though the IPN has drawn fire for alleged bias, its investigation of the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom concluded that Poles rather than Germans were at fault, which led to an official apology from Poland in 2001...

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