That one thing that is most difficult to discuss, and which happens to only so few of us... love. We dream of it, we struggle to find it... and want to believe that if we only do, the world will become a better place. But what if love comes to us at a time we ought to forget? What happens when love is intimately linked with tragedy?
A Polish Jew, Jurek Kamieniecki was just shy of 20 when the Second World War broke out in Poland. Together with his wife Stella they managed to survive the first year of the German occupation with the help of their Polish friend Janusz Malinowski. Janusz helped Jurek enter the Polish Home Army (AK) resistance and provided him and his family with false IDs. Thanks to this, in early 1940 Stella found asylum in the territories occupied by the Soviet Red Army. Though Jurek managed to illegally cross the border to see his wife, he chose to go back to the Polish partisan troops and continue resisting Nazi occupation.
Just as the Holocaust was about to reach its peak in Poland, Stella crossed back over the border to be rejoined with her sweetheart. Needless to say, dramatic events followed. After some time in the Warsaw Ghetto, Stella ended up in the ghetto in her hometown of Otwock. There, she lost her parents, her siblings, and her cousins. Jurek, together with his friend Janusz showed up just in time to rescue her from being deported to a death camp.
In May 1943, Jurek was arrested by the Nazis for partisan activities. After a cruel and lengthy investigation in Lvov, the Gestapo eventually discovered he was Jewish. Jurek was sent to Auschwitz. In the meantime, Stella’s only chance to survive was to volunteer for slave labor in Germany. This was the only way she could avoid being denounced to the Nazis by Poles looking for financial reward.
Jurek Kamieniecki’s love for Stella was the saving grace that strengthened him at the worst of times. Her letters filled with images of their future together made it possible for him to believe he could survive the unspeakable nightmare of Auschwitz.
After the liberation, Stella found her husband’s family. They told her Jurek was alive. She also knew he was looking for her. They had already arranged to meet when all of a sudden she disappeared. It turned out that she had left for the United States… as the wife of another man.
For nearly forty years Stella and Jurek had no contact with each other. Stella did not reply to Jurek’s letters or return his phone calls. Their first interaction was in 1982, when, as a citizen of Israel, Jurek nominated their Polish friend Janusz Malinowski for the medal of the Righteous Among the Nations. Although she still avoided personal contact, Stella supported the nomination made by her former husband.
Today, both Stella and Jurek live alone. They have both survived their life-partners. And they have since been in touch on the phone more often. Together they recall their life in Poland before the war, their town, their friends. But they refuse to ever speak of the war. Most importantly, Jurek is still haunted by the question: why did Stella leave?
“Tell Me Why” is a documentary film about love between two people, whose youth was interrupted by perhaps the most terrifying events in human history. It is also a story about an extraordinary feeling, which may have rescued them from death, but could never outshine the horrific shadow of the Shoah.
Is the time right now for Stella and Jurek to finally meet again?
Production locations: Poland (Warsaw, Otwock, Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Bialystok), USA (Boston), Israel (Tel Aviv) and the Sinai.