A Biography of Roman Polanski

October 16, 2019
Roman Polanski survived the Holocaust as a boy and went on to become a renowned film director. At the same time, his life has been plagued by tragedy and scandals.

Roman Polanski is one of the most famous living film directors. That being said, he has also been the center of a lot of scandals. Although they continue to haunt him year after year, they don’t seem to have had a major impact on his success as a filmmaker. He even won an Oscar while a warrant was out for his arrest.

The life of Roman Polanski has been marked by both tragedy and success. He’s a Holocaust survivor and is known by many people to be a “libertine” and a “rake”. What no one seems to disagree on is his talent for making movies.

Today, as he’s nearing 90, he seems to have finally achieved some balance in his personal life. He now lives with his wife, French actress Emmanuelle Seigner, who he had two children with. He has confessed that he sometimes feels guilty for being happy with her. But that’s just it: he has managed to find happiness.

Roman Polanski standing on the red carpet with his wife.

Roman Polanski and his turbulent childhood

Roman Polanski was born in Paris, France, on August 18th, 1933. His father was a Polish painter who wanted to try his luck in France. He didn’t have much success, though. His mother was a Russian Catholic woman. She divorced once before marrying the father of this man, who went on to become a great filmmaker.

A single mistake his parents made ended up impacting the entire family. With Nazism on the rise, they felt they would be safer in Poland than France. They decided to move there when Roman was about six or seven years old. Not long after, Poland was invaded and the brutal treatment of the Jewish population began.

The Polanski family was sent to one of the ghettos in Krakow. Roman witnessed his mother being taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp along with some other family members. His father, though, had to go to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Polanski remembers himself back then as a child who dug in the trash for comic strips.

A beginning and an end

Roman Polanski had to lie his way through the entire era of Nazi persecution. He was blonde and light-eyed, which allowed him to deny that he was Jewish. Several families in the country sheltered him and passed him off as one of their children. In 1943, his mother died in a gas chamber. Fortunately, his father survived the concentration camp.

Then came the communist era. Polanski felt drawn to film early on, after being kicked out of Fine Arts school by a teacher. He made his first short film at 21. Then, taking advantage of a brief change in government, he went to Paris.

He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw Western European and American film productions. Before long, he had made his first feature filmA Knife in the WaterThat film went on to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.

The rest is history, at least in terms of his professional life. His most famous movies are Rosemary’s BabyTessThe Pianist, and Based on a True Story.

A roll of film sitting on a table next to a clapperboard.

Personal life

Roman Polanski said that the thing that truly tore him apart was the death of his wife, Sharon Tate. She was only 26 and 8 months pregnant when she was brutally murdered in her home. The culprits were teenagers under the leadership of Charles Manson.

Polanski said the he felt like something bad was going to happen, but didn’t pay attention to that feeling. He has always felt guilty about what happened. Sharon and Roman had only been married for a year at the time of the murder. Polanski was never the same after that.

In 1977, he found himself in the midst of a serious scandal that still plagues him to this dayIt was proven that he had had sex with Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old girl. He was 43. He drugged and raped her. According to him, it was “consensual”. He went to prison for a few days, then ran away and has never been able to return to the United States.

With the rise of the MeToo movement, more accusations have come to light. Although none have been officially proven, it has certainly played into Polanski’s reputation as a “libertine” and a “rake”. Despite all that, he still managed to start a new family and seems to be happy. He also continues to be successful in the filmmaking world.

  • Moldes, D. (2005). Roman Polanski: La fantasía del atormentado. Ediciones JC.