News About the Polish Nation
Pilecki - The Dream of Freedom
A Conversation with David Aaron Gray, Co-Founder of Franco / Gray Entertainment and Co-Producer of the New Film 'Operation Auschwitz'
INTERVIEW BY: WOJCIECH WYBRANOWSKI
December 8, 2013
Franco / Gray Entertainment, which you are a Co-Founder of, recently announced the development of the feature film "Operation Auschwitz," could you provide a general summary of what the movie is abo
DAVID AARON GRAY: “Operation Auschwitz,” focuses on the remarkable true story of Witold Pilecki, the only person to voluntarily be imprisoned at the notorious Nazi death camp.
At the onset of German occupation, Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army, embarked upon an extremely perilous mission to enter the newly constructed concentration camp in order to gather intelligence on the prison’s facilities, and organize inmate resistance. From September 1940 until his extraordinary escape in April 1943, Captain Pilecki watched Auschwitz transform from a small detention center, intended to house Polish political prisoners, to what would become the largest site of mass murder in human history. As early as October 1940, Pilecki began to compile written reports on camp activities and transmitted his observations via the Polish resistance to Allied forces based in London. The collection of his reports became the first recorded evidence informing the world about the existence of the Holocaust. The film will also draw attention to the tragic betrayal that befell Captain Pilecki and the millions of innocent people he risked his life to save.
The project, set to film in Poland, will be produced in association with SESSO Entertainment Group and is scheduled to premier in late 2015.
Do you have an estimated budget for the film? And how do you plan on financing the project?
We are targeting the amount of money needed to make a film worthy of this incredible hero. Once our script is finalized and we enter the pre-production phase, we will have a better idea of the total amount we need to raise. We have already received indications of interest from several film financiers and feel confident that given our network of institutional and high net worth investors, we will raise the necessary funds.
Have you, or do you, plan to reach out to the Polish American community regarding this film?
We have been in contact with (and continue to maintain a constant dialogue with) a small number of key people within the Polish American film community. We hope to broaden this relationship to include not just Americans of Polish descent, but individuals representing the various cultural organizations within Poland itself. Both my Co-Producer [Samuel V. Franco] and I believe that a key element in the film’s future success lies in producing it in close partnership with the Polish film community. Mr. Franco and I plan on arranging face-to-face meetings with a number of government officials and artists representing various Polish cultural organizations when we visit Warsaw in February/March 2014.
Can you share with us any actors you have in mind? Particularly regarding the part of Captain Pilecki?
Due to confidentiality and the sensitive nature of the project, we are unable to disclose specific names at this time. Suffice it to say however, that we are only looking at A-list talent. Naturally, our primary focus in this regard, is in casting the appropriate actor to portray Witold Pilecki.
This is your first movie (David). But, to his credit, your partner, Mr. Franco has a long and prestigious list of completed film projects. Which of these projects is he most proud of?
First off, let me say that without Sam’s expertise and experience, this project would never have even gotten off the ground. Unfortunately, knowledge of the subject matter and a passion for film is not, by itself, enough to make a great movie. To do that, you need someone like Sam who not only knows the industry but also has the unyielding commitment to tell this particular story. He has always said that it is difficult to choose a ‘favorite’ project from his slate of past films. However, he is confident, that if and when this film premiers, “Operation Auschwitz” has the potential to be his ‘crowning achievement.’
The average American knows little about Poland’s history and even less about Captain Pilecki. Do you view this as an obstacle for the success of your film?
Not at all. In fact, it was due to the existence of Pilecki’s obscurity in the United States and elsewhere that initially fueled our desire to pursue this project. The fact that his deeds are not widely known the world over is almost as unbelievable as the nature of the deeds themselves.
To fully appreciate the universal appeal of Pilecki’s story perhaps it is appropriate to take a brief look at the situation in Europe on the eve of Pilecki’s operation.
It is September 1940; Poland has been under a ruthless Nazi-Soviet occupation for over a year. In the west, Hitler has already incorporated Austria and the Czech Republic into the Reich and has conquered Denmark, Norway and the Low Countries. France too has surrendered and the once invincible British military is now on the verge of possible defeat by the Luftwaffe. In the east, the Soviets have annexed the Baltic States as well as the parts of Romania not yet taken by Germany.
In the middle of this hopeless situation, we have a thirty-nine year old Polish Cavalry Captain husband to a beautiful wife and father to two young children - he volunteers to not just enter the newly constructed Auschwitz Concentration Camp, but remain imprisoned there (under his own free will) for almost three years.
Pilecki was neither delusional nor on some sort of suicide mission. He was simply doing what he believed any patriot should do.
Had his journey simply ended at Auschwitz (like millions of others) Pilecki’s bravery would still warrant the highest commendation. But he did not die at Auschwitz. Pilecki had a mission to complete and while enduring the Nazi inferno, he never wavered from his selfless belief in sacrificing ones own safety in the service of his fellow man.
When he concluded that the Allies had abandoned the possibility of aiding a prisoner uprising, he made the decision to escape from Auschwitz. In so doing, he would inform the world about the existence of the Holocaust and renew his lifelong fight for a free and democratic Poland.
If Captain Pilecki is not deserving of a Hollywood feature film, then, who among us (dead or alive) is?
The people of Poland will surely understand this message, as might other Eastern European audiences; but will this resonate with the average American?
Witold Pilecki had a deep sense of duty to not just his fellow countrymen, but to all mankind.
The driving influence behind every major decision throughout Pilecki’s life was a sincere and deep respect for, and compassion with, every human being, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity.
He proved that in times of utter despair and even certain death, a man can remain committed to principles such as truth, freedom and the fight for human dignity.
These are the same set of principles that created the United States, defeated Hitler and ultimately toppled the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe. If we forget or even simply avoid learning about real-life heroes like Witold Pilecki then we run the risk of losing the very freedom that he lived for and that so many of us today, take for granted.
The mission of Franco / Gray Entertainment is to bring the true story, of the real hero, back to life through the medium of a feature length motion picture, produced with the utmost attention to the historical record, accomplishing a finished product worthy of artistic praise and distributed to audiences around the globe.
There are many international media outlets that still regard Auschwitz and other sites of Nazi persecution as part of a system of "Polish” concentration camps. Many Poles feel that this label implicitly blames the people of Poland for the Holocaust while deflecting responsibility away from the Nazi perpetrators…
Our number one priority is the pursuit of truth. Both Sam and I have devoted a considerable amount of our lives studying the Holocaust (and have sought the counsel of countless victims of Nazi persecution). No European country suffered more during World War II and throughout the 20th Century than the Polish nation…From the First World War to the end of the Cold War, Poland was in a constant state of war and/or persecution either by the Germans from the West or the Russians from the East. It is a testament to the Polish character that the 20th Century produced heroes like Captain Pilecki as well as the thousands of other Poles who sacrificed their personal safety to save Jewish neighbors (and sometimes strangers) while they themselves were undergoing their own brutal persecution by the Third Reich.
Have you ever been to Poland or visited Auschwitz?
Yes, both Sam and I have been to Poland and spent a significant amount of time in and around the southwestern part of the country, visiting all three main Auschwitz camps.
Have you spoken with the Pilecki family regarding your film?
Not yet… but it is our top priority to get their blessing on the project.
Pilecki was condemned to death in 1948. To this day, few if any, of the individuals responsible for his murder have been brought to justice. The site of Captain Pilecki’s remains is still not known to his family…thoughts?
Communist controlled media told the Polish nation in 1948 that Pilecki was a traitor and deserved a death sentence. They did so, because their true masters in Moscow decided Pilecki’s further service to his nation would be incompatible with their own vision for Poland: a vision of a passive, dependent, exploited quasi-colony of the Soviet Union.
The Stalinist machine first murdered Pilecki, then implemented the time tested method of putting his name on the “never to be spoken of” list and waited for the Polish people and the world to forget Witold Pilecki ever existed.
We can already say that they comprehensively failed to achieve their goal of total perpetual suppression. After all, not only has the memory of Pilecki survived, but the truth about him has been reinstated and he now belongs among the pantheon of Polish heroes.
That said, the job is far from finished. Recognizing Pilecki’s existence and his acts of heroism have, for the most part, been confined to Poland. Therefore, to steal a phrase from one of Pilecki’s contemporaries, the task of bringing worldwide attention to his extraordinary deeds is, at present, not at an end, “it is not even the beginning of the end…but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
It will not be the end until Pilecki the man, his background, thoughts, motives, and heroic deeds, are widely known. Not until the whole world is given a chance of acquainting themselves with this truly inspirational man of courage.
David Aaron Gray is an entrepreneur and financial professional with an extensive background in finance and venture capital. Upon graduating from Cornell University, David spent over 7 years at J.P. Morgan’s Investment Banking Division in New York. His current position as Chief Financial Officer for SleepArt, Inc. began with a private investment in the startup back in March 2012. David’s life long passion for building awareness of the past has motivated much of his activity outside the office. From volunteering at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles to assisting those at the Israel Levin Senior Center in tracing their ancestral roots, Mr. Gray believes it “to be essential for any decent society to embrace, preserve and promote the accurate understanding and representation of the people and events that have shaped our society.” In October 2013, Mr. Gray was named to Cambridge’s Who’s Who Worldwide List of Executive Professional of the Year.
Samuel V. Franco was born and raised in New York City and is the founder of SESSO Entertainment Group, a development and production company. He is a graduate of the prestigious Kanbar Institute of Film & TV at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Additionally, Mr. Franco serves as a guest-lecturer on the film industry at NYU, and acts as a mentor to recent graduates pursuing positions within the entertainment industry. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for The American Society for Yad Vashem, and the International Committee for the Preservation of Har HaZeitim. He serves as an advisor to the Jacob Burns Film Center’s Educational Advisory Committee and the Sephardic Heritage Museum. Mr. Franco also has a unique interest in the comparative film. As part of this effort he spent the early part of his career studying the film and production process across various nations and cultures.
Los Angeles, CA (October 16, 2013) - Producers Samuel V. Franco and David Aaron Gray have partnered to form Franco / Gray Entertainment, a fund specializing in developing film and television projects based on events of historical significance.
The company’s first project, “Operation Auschwitz,” focuses on the remarkable true story of Witold Pilecki, the only person to voluntarily be imprisoned at the notorious Nazi death camp.
Surviving the Nazi Inferno:
At the onset of German occupation, Pilecki, an officer in the Polish Army, embarked upon an extremely perilous mission to enter the newly constructed concentration camp in order to gather intelligence on the prison’s facilities, and organize inmate resistance.
From September 1940 until his extraordinary escape in April 1943, Captain Pilecki watched Auschwitz transform from a small detention center (intended to house Polish political prisoners) to what would become the largest site of mass murder in human history.
As early as October 1940, Pilecki began to compile written reports on camp activities and transmitted his observations via the Polish resistance to Allied forces based in London. The collection of his reports became the first recorded evidence informing the world about the existence of the Holocaust.
The film will also draw attention to the tragic betrayal that befell Captain Pilecki and the millions of innocent people he risked his life to save.
Entering Soviet Hell:
The Red Army’s re-entrance into Poland at the end of the war brought with it the installation of a pro-Soviet regime. Pilecki returned to his homeland in October 1945 to report on the takeover, but in 1947 the Polish secret police arrested him. He was given a show trial where he was convicted of espionage and promptly executed in May 1948 at the age of 47.
Volunteering for Auschwitz and remaining there for almost three years was, as Yale historian Timothy Snyder put it, “perhaps one of the most courageous things anyone has ever done.” Yet, it was not his only deed of bravery, and ironically, not the one that cost him his life.
Producer, David Aaron Gray had this to say regarding the importance of bringing Pilecki to the silver screen:
I can think of no individual more deserving of a feature length film. The bravery of this man represents one of the greatest examples of virtue humanity has to draw upon. As students of history, armed with the powerful medium of film, we not only have an opportunity, but an obligation to communicate and solidify the legacy of Witold Pilecki in the hearts and minds of as many people as possible.
Producer, Samuel V. Franco continues:
Our mission is to bring this remarkable story of a real hero back to life. It is the hope of Franco / Gray Entertainment that “Operation Auschwitz,” will invite audiences worldwide to get acquainted with a relatively unknown hero who represented a system of values that is rarely (if at all) practiced today.
The project, set to film in Poland, will be produced in association with SESSO Entertainment Group and is scheduled to premier in late 2015.
For additional information please email: info@FrancoGray.com