It was a terrible revelation that sparked outrage and soul-searching across Poland when it emerged a full fifty years after the atrocity was committed.

The massacre of hundreds of Jews in a Polish village in World War Two had not in fact been carried out by the Nazis - but by their very own people who lived among them.

Now a controversial new film examining the treachery in Jedwabne threatens to re-open those barely healed wounds that have devastated and divided a nation.

Aftermath, which premiers in the United States on Friday, has already left its non-Jewish star Maciej Stuhr fearing for his safety after being the subject of anti-semitic attacks.

Its producer has also been blacklisted by the country's national film council, which initially agreed to help fund the project but is now issuing legal proceedings for alleged breach of contract.

The truth behind the massacre was unknown for decades, but came to light in the 2001 book by Princeton University historian Jan Gross entitled Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland.

Until then, it was thought the Nazis were responsible - as stated on a plaque in the village which locals walked past for half a century knowing, but not revealing, the reality.

That truth being that on July 10, 1941, a crowd of Christian Poles hunted down 300 to 400 of their Jewish neighbours, closed them in a barn and set it alight, burning them alive.

A government commission investigated the matter and determined that it was in fact Poles who were to blame for the killings, albeit with the authorisation of the Nazis.

Poland's then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski apologised for his country's sins.
Two years ago, a monument marking the spot where the victims died was desecrated by vandals who used green paint to spray the symbols of a swastika as well as the phrases 'I don't apologise for Jedwabne' and 'they were flammable'.

Gross's book caught the attention of film director Wladyslaw Pasikowski, who was inspired the write a big-screen version of the story because he felt ashamed at the institutionalised cover-up, it was reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

Pasikowski approached producer Dariusz Jablonski, who faced an uphill battle to get the film off the ground - the Polish Film Institute reportedly rejected it because it was 'anti-Polish'.

Set in present-day Poland, it follows two brothers who uncover the horrors of what happened in their small town.

Eventually, after seven years, they found backers in Russia, Slovakia and the Netherlands which meant they could recruit an A-list production team and actors.
But opposition from nationalists persisted.

Maciej Stuhr, who plays one of the brothers, was splashed across the front page of news magazine Wprost with anti-semitic graffiti and the headline 'Lynched at his own request'.

'They were calling for me to get a one-way ticket out of Poland immediately,' Stuhr told the Hollywood Reporter. 'The right-wing journalists were ruthless about me.'

Jablonski believed Stuhr was in 'physical danger'.

The growing support for the film had previously persuaded the Polish Film Institute to reverse its decision.

But it is now suing for full repayment of its funds after claiming Jablonski violated the agreement by attaching foreign producers to the project.

Jerzy Bart, the institute's deputy director for economic, organisational and legal issues, said: 'The producer...broke the terms of the agreement for co-financing the production of the film...and has failed to account for the public funds received from the Polish Film Institute.'

Around six million Polish citizens were killed by the Nazis - around 17 per cent - and just over half of those were Jewish.

1381 reads | 06.11.2013

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