The Slave | Synopsis



In 1648, during a time of plague, pestilence, and the denial of human rights, the citizens of the Jewish village of Josefov are massacred by Cossacks. During the chaos, Jacob, a young scholar, is manacled and led away.


Four years have passed. Jacob is now the slave of Jan Bzik, a tavern owner in the Polish village of Zagayek. Jacob, waking up in the mountainside barn where he resides, meditates on the loss of his old life. Wanda, Jan Bzik’s daughter, enters. The affection between Wanda and Jacob is palpable. After she leaves, Jacob agonizes over his attraction to Wanda, a gentile.

In Jan Bzik’s tavern, the villagers gossip. Stefan, the bailiff, tells Jan Bzik that Jacob has brought bad luck to the community. Bzik dismisses Stefan’s concerns. When Wanda arrives, Stefan attempts to flirt with her but Wanda rejects him. Wanda’s mother, Anieszka, scolds her for preferring their Jewish slave Jacob to Stefan.

Jacob is startled by Wanda entering the barn. When a storm begins, Wanda tells Jacob that the weather is too bad for her to return home. They prepare to sleep. While lying next to each other, they kiss. Jacob tells Wanda that she must bathe in the stream before they go any further. She does so, then reenters the barn. The two embrace.

As Zagayek celebrates the harvest, Wanda and Jacob help harvest the grain. The peasants make fun of Jacob for being a Jew. When Stefan arrives, he notices Wanda’s attention to
Jacob. He jealously taunts Jacob and encourages the rest of the men to do the same. Anieszka enters and tells Wanda that her father has died and that she is needed immediately, ordering Jacob to stay. With Wanda gone, Stefan’s comments grow increasingly vicious. Suddenly, Jewish men enter with the local priest. They explain that they have come from Josefov to ransom Jacob and take him home.

After a month of travel, Jacob and the men from Josefov are finally approaching home. They tell Jacob that Josefov was destroyed by the Cossacks and that his wife was killed. After falling asleep for the night, Jacob awakens dreaming of Wanda. He is torn between his love for her and his duty to his faith and the community of Josefov.

Jacob has made the long journey back to the barn and finds Wanda sleeping. He begs her to run away with him. When she accuses him of abandoning her, Jacob insists that he loves her. Wanda consents to go with him.


Jacob and Wanda, who now goes by the Jewish name of Sarah, are introduced to the community of Pilitz by the village Rabbi. Jacob explains to the Rabbi that his wife is mute. The Rabbi appoints Jacob to teach at the cheder, or religious school. They encounter Gershon, the manager of Count Pilitzky’s estate and de facto leader of the community, and his wife, Beile Pesche, who are both cold to Jacob and Sarah.

In their new home, Jacob reads to Sarah from Isaiah. Sarah and Jacob discuss the need for Sarah to continue to pretend to be a mute while she is learning Yiddish. If it is discovered that Sarah is a gentile, then they will both be sentenced to death under Polish law. Sarah tells Jacob that she is pregnant.

The Jews of Pilitz are gathered in the synagogue for Yom Kippur morning services. Count Pilitzky storms in, demanding to see Gershon, whom he wants to kill for selling a bull. When Jacob intercedes, Pilitzky redirects his anger towards Jacob. Sarah rushes forward and begs, in Polish, for Pilitzky to spare Jacob. The community, stunned, explains to Pilitzky that Sarah is mute, so this must be a miracle. Pilitzky decides to spare both Jacob and Gershon. He fires Gershon and hires Jacob to manage his estate.

Pilitzky has called Jacob to his manor. After a theological debate, Pilitzky excuses himself but says that his wife has a few questions for Jacob. It becomes clear that Lady Pilitzky knows that Sarah is not mute. She warns him that women cannot help what they say when they go into labor. She gives him his wages for the week and intimates that it is enough money to travel far.

When Jacob returns home, he finds two pilgrims who have heard about the “miracle” and wish to be blessed by Sarah. Sarah begins to feel labor pains. Jacob urges the pilgrims to ask for the Midwife. The Midwife and some local women arrive. Sarah begins to scream and talk. In response the women go to get the Rabbi. The baby is born but Sarah is weak. Gershon and the Rabbi enter and question Jacob. Defeated, Jacob reveals Sarah’s true identity. Gershon says the Rabbi will excommunicate Jacob. The Midwife tells Jacob that Sarah is dead and that he needs to leave with the baby before he is killed. Jacob takes the baby and escapes.


After living in the Holy Land for twenty years, Jacob returns to the cemetery in Pilitz. Talking with the groundskeeper of the cemetery, he is able to find the approximate location of Sarah’s grave. Jacob, weak from illness and traveling, lies down. Sarah’s spirit appears and tells Jacob that he will never have to leave her again.