How did Roman Polanski, one of the world’s acclaimed directors—and a Holocaust survivor—become an international fugitive?
At least he was one, until last Sunday, when Swiss authorities caught up with Polanski in Zurich and arrested him for a sex crime that occurred 32 years ago. Now, Polanski sits in a Zurich prison, awaiting possible extradition to the United States where he faces sentencing for a 1977 conviction of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. Polanski pleaded guilty to the charge more than three decades ago before fleeing the U.S. for France, where he has resided since.
Polanski’s arrest has inflamed the Hollywood community and upset international filmmakers from New York to China. Apparently, a crime isn’t a crime once enough time has passed. After it was announced that the director of “Chinatown,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and the Oscar-winning “The Pianist” would be detained in Switzerland indefinitely, while he fights extradition, film directors rallied with an international petition demanding his release. According to ABC News, directors Woody Allen, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodovar and Darren Aronofsky are among the signatories. In addition, Entertainment Weekly has recently reported that “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner is producing a follow-up to the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” which chronicles the details of the sex case and alleges judicial and prosecutorial misconduct.
And of course, there’s Polanski’s victim, Samantha Geimer, now 45, but a tender 13-years-old when Polanski drugged and raped her, who has also petitioned that the case be dropped. In 2003, Geimer told the Honolulu Star that she forgave Polanski and wanted the media attention to go away: “Straight up, what he did to me was wrong,” Geimer said. “But I wish he would return to America so the whole ordeal can be put to rest for both of us. I’m sure if he could go back, he wouldn’t do it again. He made a terrible mistake but he’s paid for it.” According to The First Post, a British weekly, Geimer re-entered the public eye when the documentary, “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired,” about the infamous sex case, premiered earlier this year. In an interview, she again absolved Polanski of any wrongdoing: “I think he’s sorry, I think he knows it was wrong. I don’t think he’s a danger to society. I don’t think he needs to be locked up forever and no one has ever come out ever - besides me - and accused him of anything. It was 30 years ago now. It’s an unpleasant memory ... (but) I can live with it.”
Understandably, Geimer wants to put the case to rest almost as badly as Polanski does—but the Los Angeles district attorney’s office just won’t have it. According to some reports, Polanski’s boastful lawyer triggered a determined response from the county. According to the New York Daily News:
In paperwork filed as part of his bid to get 31-year-old rape charges dropped, Polanski’s lawyers said the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office wasn’t really trying to hunt him down.
The Los Angeles Times reported that this claim “caught the eye” of prosecutors and prompted them to plot an end to Polanski’s three decades as a fugitive. But the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office contends it has been trying to nab the filmmaker since he fled 30 years ago - including once in Israel as recently as 2007.
Prosecutors released a list Monday detailing their efforts to nab the director since 1978. They sought arrest warrants for Polanski in England, Thailand and France, they said.
Law enforcers will not be dissuaded from having their day in court, but popular opinion is increasingly in support of a Polanski reprieve. In Paris, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.” Mitterrand is referring to Polanski’s turbulent personal history. Polanski was born in WWII-era Paris to a Polish Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother. His family moved to Poland in 1936 and was living in Krakow when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. The family was then forced into the Krakow Ghetto and Polanski’s parents were soon deported to separate concentration camps. According to Wikipedia, his father survived the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, but his mother perished in Auschwitz (Polanski’s maternal grandfather was Jewish and his maternal grandmother, Roman Catholic; in some circles, his mother’s Judaism would be disputed, but the religious disparity was not enough to save her life). In 1943, Polanski escaped the Kraków Ghetto with the help of Polish Roman Catholic families and eventually reunited with his father. Another personal torment occurred in 1969, when Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family.
Considering his troubled past, it’s hard to blame Polanski for seeking freedom. He has already lived inside the confines of a prison and perhaps fear of reliving that particular nightmare prompted him to flee.
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