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287: This Week: JFK, LBJ, The Pianist

In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: JFK, LBJ, and The Pianist.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.

November 22nd, 1963. Dallas, Texas.

We’re seeing a sequence of what looks like old film footage fitting of the 1960s, with what is obviously some real, historical footage. We can tell some of it’s real because we can see President John F. Kennedy here and there. Now, Air Force One is taxiing on the runway. And now President Kennedy is descending the steps with his wife, Jackie Kennedy, as well as some other men behind them. The movie cuts to show an injured woman in the hospital. She’s moaning something about how they have to tell them.

As you can tell, the movie is cutting back and forth pretty quickly between the President arriving in Texas—we can tell because someone is holding the Texas flag in one of the shots—and the woman in the hospital bed.

She reaches a hand up to a man standing next to the bed and with a bandage on her head, she manages to get out the words, “Friday. They’re going to kill Kennedy.”

Now we’re traveling along a road lined with people. Everyone is waving at us, giving the impression we’re in a car driving by. As we see footage of Kennedy shaking hands with people in the crowd, we can hear the hospital woman’s voice gasping, “Call somebody. Please, stop them!”

The camera cuts quickly back to her and while it’s hard to see how many are in the room with her, but no one seems to be doing anything about her pleas.

Now we’re back with Kennedy. It’s not just as he’s greeting the crowd, but there are closeup shots of him giving speeches, smiling, and at a fancy dinner. It’s obviously not all the same day, but it does a great job of contrasting the shots of the woman moaning her warnings in the hospital. That’s especially true since all the shots of Kennedy have been in color while the shots of the woman in the hospital are in black and white. Another form of contrast.

Then, we see the text on the screen giving us the date: Dallas. November 22, 1963.

Jackie Kennedy is holding a bouquet of roses next to her husband as throngs of people reach out their hands to try and shake hands or maybe simply touch the First Lady and President they so clearly adore.

In the next shot, it’s black and white again, but we can see it’s still with the President and Jackie as they’re in the back of a car. It’s a convertible with three rows of seats. As the car drives by, we can clearly see who is seated where in the car.

So, let’s pause the movie and try to imagine this seating arrangement as I explain it. Let’s say we’re looking top down at the car, that might be the easiest way to explain who is seated where.

In the first row of seats, on the left side is a man who is driving the car. This is the United States, after all, so that’s where the driver sits. To the right of the driver is another man. So, there are two men in the front row.

In the second row, just behind the driver is a woman seated on the left side. To her right is a man. So, that’s the second row.

The third and final row is where the President and First Lady are seated. Jackie Kennedy is seated on the left side while the President is on the right side of the car.

Now, this is all real footage in the movie. We can tell that by identifying the President and Jackie Kennedy—they’re not actors, this is the real thing. So, that means the other people are also the real people, but the movie doesn’t mention who they are here. So, before we hit play on the movie, let’s clarify who they are just to finish off this seating arrangement.

The driver of the car, front row on the left side, was a man named William Greer. He was a U.S. Secret Service agent. The man in the front passenger seat on the right side was another U.S. Secret Service agent named Roy Kellerman.

Seated behind the two agents in the front row, the man and woman in the second row were the Texas Governor and his wife. So, Governor John Connally was sitting in the second row on the passenger side of the car while his wife, Idanell Connally—she usually just went by Nellie—was sitting on the driver’s side in the second row, just behind the driver, and just in front of Jackie Kennedy.

Then, as I mentioned, in the third row you have Jackie Kennedy on the driver’s side and President Kennedy, third row, passenger’s side.

So, a quick recap before we hit play again:

  • Front row driver’s side, Agent William Greer
  • Front row passenger’s side, Agent Roy Kellerman
  • Second row driver’s side, Texas First Lady Nellie Connally
  • Second row passenger’s side, Texas Governor John Connally
  • Third row driver’s side, U.S. First Lady Jackie Kennedy
  • Third row passenger’s side, U.S. President John Kennedy

Okay, so hopefully you’ve got a good visual in your head because that’s very important for what’s about to happen.

Hitting play on the movie again, the black convertible limo drives off, and we can see there are a lot of police motorcycles in the front and behind the President’s car. The camera stays trained on the car, we can see there are a number of people lined up along the side of the road, too. Just like we saw in earlier footage, these people seem to be cheering, waving, and enjoying their chance to see the President.

In another shot, we can see more of the cars and it’s not just motorcycles. There are other cars in the motorcade. The one just behind the President’s limo has four men in suits riding along the runner boards, hanging onto the car. We can presume these are also U.S. Secret Service agents.

There are scenes of the Kennedys smiling in the back of the car as people along the side smile back and wave. The camera cuts to a shot of a billboard over a building. Alongside the advertisement is a clock giving us the time: 12:15.

In a sequence of quick shots, we see a man falls to the ground in what looks like a seizure. The President’s motorcade takes a right turn on the streets lined with crowds of people. Back to the billboard, the time is 12:18.

Cutting back to the man who was on the ground, a woman and two men have come to his aid. One of the men looks to be a police officer. A siren can be heard as an ambulance arrives on the scene.

Now, we’re back with the President’s motorcade as they seem unaware of what was happening in the other shots we just saw. They’re smiling and waving at the crowds as the vehicles continue down the street.

Back to the billboard and the time changes from 12:22 to 12:23.

In the back of the ambulance, now, we can see the man who had the seizure lying motionless in the back. We only see a split second, though—remember, these are all fast shots that take me longer to explain than to see in the movie, haha!

The motorcade keeps driving. Now we can see people not just on the street, but as there are tall buildings on either side there are people from the windows who are looking down as the President’s limo passes by with all the other cars.

The clock on the billboard says it’s 12:25 now. More shots of the motorcade driving, and people in the crowd cheering and waving signs. One of them we can read says, “Hooray for JFK!”

The billboard clock says it’s 12:29 now. The President’s motorcade takes a right turn on the street, but from the camera’s angle in the front the limo is going from the right to left side of the frame. More camera cuts of them driving as the crowds along the side of the road clap and cheer.

Back to the billboard clock and now it’s 12:30.

We can see a man standing by shooting film footage as the President’s motorcade passes by. More cheering and clapping. From an angle behind a street sign we can see the President’s limo coming toward us now. Cut to a closeup of President Kennedy as he seems to be looking right at the camera to give a nod, a smile, and a wave.

Then, the movie cuts to black as we hear the sound of a gun cocking.

A second later, the sound of a gunshot rings out.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie JFK

That sequence comes from the 1991 film simply called JFK. I’m sure you figured out what this was a long time ago, but the event is when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a part of Dallas, Texas, known as Dealey Plaza. That happened 60 years ago this week in history on November 22nd, 1963.

And the movie is correct to show the time being 12:30 PM local time when Kennedy was shot. He was officially pronounced dead about 30 minutes later. The movie was even correct to show there being a clock on the Hertz billboard. That billboard was on top of the Texas School Book Depository building where Lee Harvey Oswald was located.

Now, to be up front about this, there are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding JFK’s assassination. What really happened—the true story—is something that many people debate even to this day.

In fact, if you have anything you’d like to add, I love hearing about all the conspiracy theories, so please do hop into the Based on a True Story Discord server and start a conversation.

With that said, in describing the movie’s depiction of the event, I mentioned how it used a mixture of real footage as well as re-enacted footage. Some of that was more obvious, like the black and white footage of the woman in the hospital. That’s Rose Cherami, we’ll come back to her in a moment. But some of the footage the filmmakers inserted to make it look realistic was less obvious, like the split second when we see the man filming the President’s motorcade as it’s in Dealey Plaza. That man is supposed to be Abraham Zapruder, who became famous for his 8mm home-movie of the President’s assassination. Of course, he was just there to shoot footage of the President’s motorcade. He didn’t know he’d be filming an assassination and that his footage would forever be known afterward as the Zapruder Film and become crucial evidence in the assassination.

But in the movie, we see Zapruder filming the footage. That’s obviously inserted by the filmmakers, because no one at Dealey Plaza that day was filming Abraham Zapruder filming the motorcade. So, that’s a great example of how they added scenes into that opening sequence to make it seem more realistic.

So, what about Rose Cherami? In the movie she’s played by Sally Kirkland, but Rose was a real person. She was working as a prostitute and had a drug addiction when she was picked up along the highway in Louisiana on November 20th, so two days before the assassination. It is true that she was taken to the hospital, but what we don’t see in the movie was that it was a mental hospital. East Louisiana State Hospital to be precise. While she was there, she started acting violently and saying a lot of things. We don’t know for sure exactly what she said, but allegedly some of it had to do with Kennedy being assassinated. The doctors chalked it up to drug withdrawals, though, so it didn’t go anywhere.

Something else that I mentioned was the seating arrangement in the President’s limo. That’s important for many reasons, but one of the big ones is because even though President Kennedy was shot twice, he was not the only person in the President’s limo who shot that day.

The man sitting in front of President Kennedy, the Texas Governor John Connally was also shot. The reason that’s a big deal is because the trajectory of the bullet going from President Kennedy and into Governor Connally has long been the subject of debate. The term shown in the movie is one put forth by the man at the center of the film, Kevin Costner’s version of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the “Magic Bullet Theory.”

A couple months ago, I had a chat with historian Marty Morgan about it, and he had some great insights to offer. Here’s where I set up how the movie describes the “Magic Bullet Theory” and what Marty had to say.

[02:15:11] Dan LeFebvre: Something that Jim Garrison talks about in the trial, the magic bullet, and Garrison says it was accepted by the Warren Commission report, and I’ll give the movie’s explanation for how he explains the magic bullet.

It says that there were three shots. One of them, or a fragment of one of them hit a man named James Tagg, who was standing near the triple underpass. He was the third wounded man, a bystander who was basically at the wrong place, wrong time. Thankfully it was a superficial wound, but we know that had one of the bullets basically.

And then one of the bullets was the fatal headshot that killed Kennedy. And so the theory here is that. That means there’s one bullet left that had to have caused the remaining seven wounds on Kennedy and Connolly. And this is where Jim Garrison’s character explains the theory, the magic bullet theory.

And I’m just gonna pull this direct quote, if you’ll let me, just direct quote from the movie. I paused it to quote this. It says, The magic bullet enters. President, the president’s back headed downward at an angle of 17 degrees. It then moves upward in order to leave Kennedy’s body from the front of his neck.

Wound number two, where it waits 1. 6 seconds, presumably in midair, where it turns right, then left then left, continues into Connelly’s body. At the rear of his right armpit, wound number three, the bullet then heads downward at an angle of 27 degrees, shattering Connelly’s fifth rib and exiting from the right side of his chest.

Wound number four, the bullet then turns right and re enters Connelly’s body at his right wrist, wound number five, shattering the radius bone, the bullet. Exits Connelly’s wrist, wound number six, makes a dramatic U turn and buries itself into Connelly’s left thigh, wound number seven, from which it later falls out and is found in almost pristine condition on a stretcher in a corridor in Parkland Hospital.

So that’s how the movie describes this. Magic bullet theory. I guess my question about that is a two parter. Is the magic bullet theory really something that according to the movie, it’s recommended that, the Warren commission used it in their report. Also, it seems silly, but how plausible is that theory?

[02:17:41] Marty Morgan: It’s completely implausible because the magic bullet nonsense failed to account for the fact that the president and the governor were not seated. In tandem, perfectly, the president was in a jump seat that was lower than Governor Connolly’s seat, and then the president was slightly outboard of Governor Connolly within the vehicle.

In addition to that, Governor Connolly had turned and was talking to the president over his right shoulder. Ironically, Because there were some crowds out, Governor Connolly apparently was saying to the president, see, Mr. President, Dallas does love you. Because he had some concerns that there were some big opponents of the Kennedy administration in the city.

And ironically, yeah, he said that, ironically, shortly before the fire opened up, that when the when the thoracic cavity wound hits the president in his back, it exits in his throat. It then travels straight in a perfectly straight line forward and strikes governor Connolly, who once again is sitting slightly inboard from the president, and he’s also speaking over his right shoulder.

It strikes him, passes through his body, is deflected off of the bone, and then lodges in his arm. And when you account for the fact that the two men were not perfectly in tandem, but were offset from one another, the trajectory of the bullet lines up perfect and there’s nothing magic going on at all, but if you’re Jim Garrison and you want to introduce.

The shadow of a doubt. What are you going to do? You’re going to make it sound you’re going to go to the absurd lengths To make it sound like this can’t possibly be true. And the movie depicts it in this powerful graphic way in that he has two members of the DA’s office support team sitting perfectly tandem for one another, just like that.

And he’s using a pointer and he is trying, and he’s sarcastically and ridiculously exaggerating. And it makes this turn. It makes that turn. Then it passes through Rick pauses while he collects its thoughts and he, this is the perfect example. Of the way that Jim Gears deliberately filibustered this idea that he was purposely hunting for and on the lookout for any detail that he could call critical attention to.

And if you imagine the two men sitting in tandem, the magic bullet theory seems like an absurdity. If you picture them sitting as they actually were. It’s not another big issue that comes up within the breadth of the context of the movie. Just a few later, it was a lingering thing. And in fact, it was the big takeaway people took away from the movie after it came out the whole up and to the left, up and to the left.

He repeats it several times in the movie to the point that there was a Seinfeld episode that satirized up into the left, up into the left. Up into the left was intended to call critical attention to the idea of if it’s a single shooter and it’s Lee Harvey Oswald and he’s on the sixth floor of the Texas school book depository building, the shots will be coming from behind the president.

And by calling attention to up into the left he’s inviting everyone to consider that. The headshot couldn’t have come from behind. It had to come from in front of it which is the only big evidentiary weakness to the single shooter idea, in my opinion, but Jim Garrison didn’t stop and pause and feel an obligation to say to the jury, I should tell you, by the way, that the men weren’t sitting in tandem to one another.

They were all set. And I should also tell you, by the way, that part of the reason that the president’s body reacts up and to the left, and then he collapses down to the left is Now that day, the president was wearing his back brace, so the president’s torso is braced. So there are certain ways that man’s body would not move.

And because of his back brace, he’s not going to slap back as a result of a bullet. His body is going to behave different than someone who’s not encumbered by a brace. And if the head shot, if a single shooter is what happened, and the head shot. Came from behind instead of in front that headshot, which was a glancing blow.

It was not a direct hit, but a glancing blow of it hit here with the president’s body confined within his back brace. He’s not going to slash forward like he would expect it to as a result of a shot coming from behind, but he’s going to behave differently. And I think what we see is a body that is locked into.

A back brace and he has was already slumped over a little to the left as it was in favoring the left and the bullet hits a glancing blow. His body is reacting within his back brace and then he slumps over left because there’s structure of the vehicle on the right side. He’s not going to slump over to the right because there’s the vehicle.

The only thing between him and the first lady at that point was the empty part of the back seat. And so he slumps over to the left. So his body doesn’t behave perfectly like Jim Garrison wants it to behave. And, oh, no, wait his body does behave perfectly like Jim Garrison wants it to behave because he wants it to look like he’s shot from in front.

Because then if there’s a shot coming from in front of him, that means yet the grassy knoll, that’s true. That means that there were multiple shooters and this was an ambush. Set up by multiple shooters operating as a part of a coherent plan in concert with one another. And that means that the first shooter on the sixth floor delivered his shots and the grassy Noel delivered this kill shot.

And so it gives Jim Garrison what he wants. Jim Garrison had to have known that the president was in a back brace. He just doesn’t mention it. And Oliver Stone doesn’t mention it either, does he?


If you want to watch the movie that we talked about today that’s the 1991 Oliver Stone film called JFK. We started our segment today right at the beginning of the movie, about four minutes and 25 seconds into it, just before we see the text of November 22nd, 1963 a few seconds later.

And if you want to hear my full conversation with Marty about the historical accuracy of the JFK movie, scroll on back to episode #274 of Based on a True Story. That episode is about three hours long, so we dig into a ton of detail…if that’s too long for you, we did a narrative episode without any interviews that’s about an hour long back on episode #126 of Based on a True Story. As always, I’ll add a link to both of those in the show notes for this episode.


November 22nd, 1963. Dallas, Texas.

Same day. Same location. Different movie.

We’re inside an airplane. A bunch of people are gathered around a small black and white TV watching a news report about President Kennedy. As a little side note, what we see on the TV here is not re-enacted for the movie, this is real footage of journalist Walter Cronkite soon after Kennedy’s shooting.

Everyone is watching Cronkite’s report as he’s talking about how the Ambassador to the United Nations was assaulted in Dallas on October 24th. Then, Cronkite puts on his glasses to read from a flash report that he’s just received. He says:

“The flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

The camera cuts to everyone in the room on the plane, a bunch of men in suits along with one woman as they look somberly at the TV that’s now off frame.

But we can hear Cronkite continue talking as he says that Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we don’t know where he’s proceeded.

The camera cuts to a closeup of Woody Harrelson’s version of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson as he looks down with a stern face.

In the background, Cronkite says that presumably he’ll be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.

Johnson addresses everyone in the room. We can see there are more women now that the camera angles change, and all the men and women turn away from the TV to look at him as he thanks them for getting there so quickly. He says he’ll need their help back in Washington. Then, he asks one of the women to join him in the next room. He leaves, following another man as they walk just down the hall to a room.

He opens the door for Johnson, who walks in and looks at a neatly made bed. Above it is a round design that says: Seal of the President of the United States. This was Kennedy’s room on Air Force One.

Johnson hangs up his coat, and in the next shot we can see him sitting on the bed with the phone to his ear. The other man, presumably a Secret Service agent, stands in the small room as the woman he asked to go into the room with him is sitting at the end of the bed. She’s holding a notepad, ready to take notes for Johnson’s phone call.

On the phone call, he’s talking about how there’s a lot of confusion there and it’s liable to turn into panic. He says it might put a lot of people at ease if he were to take the oath right now.

On the other end of the line, we can see Michael Stahl-David’s character, Bobby Kennedy. He tells Johnson that Washington will still be there when he gets back. Reading between the lines of dialogue in the movie, it’s clear that Bobby Kennedy is implying Johnson can wait until he gets back to Washington to take the oath. But, he says he’s not sure what the hurry is, but he tells Johnson that if he wants to take the oath then take the oath.

Johnson asks Bobby to get him the exact, precise words so they can make sure to do it right. Then he asks who they need to administer it, to which Bobby says any judge can do it. Johnson thanks Bobby and hangs up the phone.

In the next shot, we see a woman holding up a Bible. On top of the Bible is Johnson’s hand. Behind Johnson is a bunch of men and women in the room. Lyndon Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, is on his right side while Jackie Kennedy is on his left side. Since we’re looking at them, though, the camera shows Jackie on Johnson’s right side.

With his left hand on the Bible and his right hand held up, Johnson repeats each the words the woman says as he takes the oath.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie LBJ

That sequence comes from the 2016 film with more presidential initials: LBJ.

That stands for Lyndon B. Johnson, the Vice President of the United States who was two cars behind the President’s limo in the motorcade when Kennedy was shot. Just like we see in the movie, Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, was there as well.

Yes, her name really is Lady Bird. Well, that’s a nickname. She was born Claudia Alta Taylor, but got the nickname Lady Bird as a small child when her nursemaid called her, “pretty as a ladybird.” The nickname stuck and by the time she was an adult it’s what basically everyone called her. Well, again, sometimes that varied. Some people called her Lady, her husband called her Bird, but you get the idea.

After President Kennedy was shot at 12:30 PM, the motorcade rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital. Obviously, the President had been shot, and they weren’t sure if the Vice President had been hurt. There wasn’t an obvious gunshot, but some people thought maybe he had a heart attack or something—they weren’t going to take any chances.

As it turns out, he was fine. Well, as fine as you can expect after seeing the President assassinated a couple cars ahead of you. The Secret Service agents there wanted him to leave Dallas. Again, they didn’t want to take any chances.

But Johnson refused to leave until he knew what happened to Kennedy. While they were at the hospital, the President was pronounced dead. Johnson found out about it about 20 minutes later, at 1:20 PM. About 20 minutes after that, Johnson left the hospital and made his way back to Love Field in Dallas in an unmarked car. That’s where the airplane was—Air Force One, except it’s only called that when the president is on board.

When he got there, he waited again. They wanted to leave, but Johnson refused to leave without JFK’s wife, Jackie Kennedy. She refused to leave Dallas without her husband’s body. So, they rushed to get JFK’s casket onto Air Force One. This time, there was another delay because throughout this time there was no President of the United States. Johnson had to take the oath.

In the movie, we see Johnson calling JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy, before he takes the oath. And that is true, he really did do that. Robert Kennedy didn’t like Johnson—neither did JFK, according to many reports, he was mostly on the ticket to help get votes—but that’s a whole other story. For our story today, yes, Lyndon Johnson did call Robert Kennedy soon after JFK was assassinated.

So, with all of that said, it’s probably not a surprise that the next scene we see in the movie is a good representation of what really happened.

Oh, and something I forgot to mention about the footage of Walter Cronkite that everyone on Air Force One is watching in the movie…I mentioned it is real footage, so it’d be correct to mention how Adley Stevenson was assaulted in Dallas—Adley Stevenson was the UN Ambassador at the time, who was speaking to promote the UN. There were protesters in Dallas who heckled, spit on him, and one woman even hit him with a protest sign. In fact, there’s a photo of that woman, Mrs. Cora Frederickson, sticking her tongue out at him—I’ll add a link to it in the show notes in case you want to see it.

When Lyndon B. Johnson was given the oath of office aboard Air Force One, the movie was correct to show Jackie Kennedy and Lady Bird on either side of him. It was also correct to show a woman giving the oath of office. That was Judge Sarah T. Hughes. There’s a famous photo of that scene, too, that I’ll add in the show notes also in case you want to compare the movie’s version with it.

Speaking of the movie’s version of events, if you want to watch it on screen check out the 2016 film called LBJ. We started our segment right at the beginning, about three minutes in.

And if you want to dig deeper into the true story, we covered that movie back on episode #127 of Based on a True Story.


November 23rd, 1939. Warsaw, Poland.

We’re in a nice room, it looks like someone’s living room or perhaps a dining room. An older man is sitting at a wooden table, looking down at a newspaper that he’s holding in his hands. There’s a red headline on the paper but, it’s in Polish so I’m not sure what it says. Thankfully, since this is a movie, he’s reading the paper aloud so if you’re an English-speaker like me, we know what the newspaper says.

He reads what sounds like the headline, saying, “Free emblems for Jews in the Warsaw district.” Then he’s clearly reading someone’s quote in the paper as he continues reading, “I hereby order that all Jews in the Warsaw district will wear emblems when out of doors.”

The camera cuts to behind the man and we can see he’s not alone in the room. His family is there with him. We know it’s his family because the older man who’s reading the paper is portrayed in the movie by Frank Finlay and, according to the credits, he’s simply cast as “Father.”

In the room there are three other people sitting at the table with him; two women and a man. Based on their ages alone I’d guess it’s Father’s wife seated at the other end of the table while the man and women on either side must be their children. The man just to Father’s right is Adrien Brody’s character, Wladyslaw Szpilman.

There are two other adult children, one man and one woman, sitting in chairs just behind the table in the middle of the room. They’re also listening as the older man continues reading the decree.

“This decree will come into force on the first of December 1939, and applies to all Jews over 12 years of age.”

No one in the room is hardly moving. The only movement we can see is Wladyslaw as he’s slowly tapping his fingers on the tablecloth. There’s no noise at all, the room is completely silent but for the older man continuing to read.

“The emblem will be worn on the right sleeve and will represent a blue star of David on a white background. The background must be sufficiently large for the star to measure eight centimeters from point to point. The width of the arms of the star must be one centimeter. Jews who do not respect this decree will be severely punished. Governor of Warsaw district.”

He finishes reading the paper and looks up at his family around him. There’s a moment of silence before the man in the background is the first to speak. He says he won’t wear it. The woman at the table agrees, saying she won’t be branded. Wladyslaw asks to see the paper, and Father hands it to him. Father then says, aren’t we asked to provide these armbands ourselves? Where will we get them?

The man in the back says more sternly now, saying they’re not going to get them because they’re not going to wear them.

The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Pianist

That sequence comes from the 2002 called The Pianist. The event it’s depicting is when the Jews of Poland were ordered to wear the Star of David, which was a decree that was ordered this week in history on November 23rd, 1939.

And right away, I want to point out there may be a slight discrepancy with what we see in the movie and the date that I gave in the opening of this segment. The reason for that is because the movie doesn’t really show us when they’re reading the newspaper. Maybe it’s the day after it was printed, maybe it’s the same day, maybe it’s some other time.

There’s also a difference because the announcement we hear them reading in the paper is from the Governor of the Warsaw district. That’s how the quote is signed at the end, as we just heard.

The decree that took place on November 23rd, 1939 was not just for the city of Warsaw in Poland, but for all of Poland. That decree was made by Hans Frank, who was the Governor General of Nazi-occupied Poland.

But the movie’s mention of other details in the decree were pretty accurate. Frank’s decree said that starting in December, all Jews in Poland over the age of 12 had to wear a white armband with the blue Star of David. Considering the Nazis had invaded Poland in September of 1939, then this identifier was forced upon them just a couple months later—that’s fast.

While I didn’t cover this part of the movie in my description, just before today’s segment started there were mentions in the movie of how Jews aren’t allowed to enter certain locations. They can’t be on public benches, and so on. Those sorts of restrictions were very true and, sadly, while the Star of David was a notable one as it made public mockery, torment, and abuse a lot easier for the assailants, it was not the only restriction on Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland.

So, let’s back up for a moment to get an overview of the restrictions in Warsaw.

On September 1st, 1939, Poland was attacked by Germany, the Slovak Republic, as well as the Soviet Union. That was officially the start of World War II.

A little over a month later, on October 12th, the Nazis imposed the first restriction on Jews in Warsaw when they said Jews weren’t allowed to withdraw more than 200 zlotys per week, and Jewish families weren’t allowed to have more than 2,000 zlotys in cash at any given time.

As you can probably guess, zlotys is the Polish currency.

In 1939, $1 U.S. dollar was worth about 5.31 zlotys. So, 200 zlotys per week was about $37.66 per week in 1939’s dollar. That’s the same as about $800 in today’s U.S. dollars, to adjust for inflation. So, that means the 2,000 zlotys maximum for Jewish families in Warsaw was about the same as $188.32 in U.S. dollars back in 1939. Adjusting for inflation between 1939 and today, that’s a little over $4,000.

That was just the start of the restrictions.

On October 21st, Jews were restricted from dealing textiles or processed leathers.

On October 22nd, Jews weren’t allowed to own radios or go to movie theaters. Any Jewish teachers in schools were also prohibited from teaching.

On November 15th, Jewish women weren’t allowed to be prostitutes.

On November 17th, no Jews were allowed to be outdoors after 5:00 PM.

Then, on November 23rd, the Star of David decree was made. That went into effect on December 1st, 1939.

And the restrictions continued…Jews couldn’t enter the central post office on December 3rd, any and all Jewish educational institutions were closed on December 5th, on December 22nd, Jews weren’t allowed to own telephones. On December 23rd, all Jews were ordered to declare the property they owned. At this point, just declare it so Nazi leadership would know who owned what—but it’s no surprise where that’s going.

And that’s just in 1939. I’ll include a link in the show notes to the Jewish Virtual Library’s article listing out the dates for restrictions going into the next year as well.

But if you want to watch the event that happened this week in history in a movie, check out the 2002 film called The Pianist. We started our segment today at about 10 minutes into the movie, and covered that story in more depth way back on episode #34 of Based on a True Story.



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