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Originally produced in: Polska
Also available in: en

2. The Promised Land (original title Ziemia obiecana), excerpt from the feature film directed by Andrzej Wajda

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Source: The Promised Land, directed by Andrzej Wajda, 1974, Poland.


The Promised Land is a film adaptation of Wladyslaw Reymont's novel of the same title. It is a story of three friends – a Pole Karol Borowiecki, a German Max Baum, and a Jew Moryc Welt – who agree to jointly set up a textile factory in Lodz (Poland). It is also a story of the city which for entrepreneurs, is the biblical promised land, where you can make a fortune and spend a life of luxury. However, for the multitudes of workers employed in local factories, it is hell on earth. The book and the film show how the city and pursuit of fortune can destroy lives, break ideals, and lead to the moral fall of a man. They are also a perfect portrait of a nineteenth-century capitalist city and everyday life of its residents.

Mechanization - the improvement of production techniques through introduction of specialized machinery and equipment in place of human labour.


  1. What are the main problems of labour and the legal position of workers presents in the excerpt from Wajda's film?
  2. How does Karol Borowiecki justify the need of reductions in the factory run by him?
  3. How, in your opinion, did the development of technology influenced the position of workers in the nineteenth-century cities?
  4. Do you think that the mechanization of production is a threat also to modern societies?

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Description and Analysis

  1. This part of the movie raises the following issues of social and legal position of workers: lack of personal insurance against accidents at work, lack of social protection for widows and orphans of the workers who died at work, lack of safety checks in factories.
  2. Borowiecki believes that machines are able to replace workers who gradually become redundant for the factories.
  3. The technological development resulted in reduction of employment in factories. The need to operate complicated machinery also increased the demand for skilled labour. This way, crowds of workers, without education, usually of rural origin, were left destitute, which not only resulted in depletion of this social class, but also led to acute social conflicts (strikes, revolutions).Today, from time to time there are voices that full mechanization of production will replace the work of people, but different employment structure means that mechanization is not a threat for society in the contemporary world.

Geographical/Historical Context

Andrzej Wajda (born in 1926) is an outstanding Polish film director, considered as one of the founders of so-called Polish film school. Wajda received an honorary Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "in recognition of five decades of extraordinary film direction”. In his films, he often reaches for the historical and literary themes to search for universal truths about the human condition, also in the modern world. The most important films in his career are: Ashes and Diamonds (original title Popiol i diament, 1958), Man of Marble (original title Czlowiek z marmuru, 1976), Danton (1983), Katyn (2007).

The Promised Land (1975) is an adaptation of the novel of the same title by Wladyslaw Reymont (1867-1925) – winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is a portrait of a capitalist, industrial city – Lodz, which for a fortune-hungry entrepreneurs (but also troublemakers) can become biblical Canaan. Often, however, the price for the wealth and success is the moral downfall and destruction of all, even the noblest, ideals of youth. Three friends who agree to jointly establish a factory in Lodz – Pole Karol Borowiecki, German Max Baum and Jew Moryc Welt pay such a price. Reymont and then Wajda use their story to portray a group of capitalist industrialists – enterprising but often unscrupulous people who pursue of money and prestige which they want to buy by demonstrating luxurious lifestyle that suppose to hide their lack of education and noble origins. The second social class described by Reymont (who knows life in Lodz from personal experience) are industrial workers. Splendour and wealth of factory owner residencies clashes with poverty, dirt, and degradation of workers’ existences which leaves no prospects for improving the odds.

The workers, not only in Lodz, but in the majority of European industrial cities, remained a social class financially and legally disadvantaged almost through the entire nineteenth century. It was not a consistent group. Qualified workers can count on much better pay and working conditions. Their ability to operate machines guaranteed the employer that expensive equipment is not damaged by rough handling. Often, in return for their commitment to work in a factory until retirement, workers got apartments close to the factory, access to schools nearby, shops, and hospitals exclusive for employees of the plant. But even in this case it could not be called a comfortable standard of living. These flats made of brick were cleaner with less bugs usually with one or two rooms. Although workers of this group could afford to buy coffee, milk, white bread, the meat was on their tables typically once a week. This lifestyle was definitely a determinant of social promotion, since unqualified proletarians, who could barely find an employment in positions not requiring special skills, inhabited mostly poor neighbourhoods surrounding the city. In these slums, without sewerage system, maintaining basic hygiene requirements was out of the question. Underfed workers and their families who lived on the cheapest products, can afford to buy meat only a few times a year, fell victims to disease and exhaustion.

Mechanization was a source of concern and anxiety about the future for all classes of workers. It was a threat of replacing workers with machines. For people of those days, it was the biggest – and what worse –a real threat to society


http://www.wajda.pl – Andrzej Wajda official webpage.

http://lodzwirtualnie.prv.pl – webpage that allows virtual walk around old Lodz – the city portrayed by Reymont and Wajda.

http://old-cities.blogspot.com – webpage that presents archival videos from different European cities.