Thursday, September 13, 2007

WWII, the Story of the Katyn Massacre Becomes a Movie

The beginning of WWII was marked by the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Almost immediately after that invasion from the west, Poland was invaded from the east by the Soviet Red Army on September 17, 1939. Poland, a peaceful, agrarian country, didn't stand a chance when attacked by these two powerful armies.

When the war ended in 1945 war ravaged Poland was in the hands of the Soviet Union. In the days, weeks, months, and years following the war, many wartime tragedies were revealed to the world. The most well known of those being the Holocaust, the massacre of millions of Jews by the Nazis in concentration camps they built in Poland. But there were other atrocities that occurred in Poland as well. One that was only relatively recently revealed (1990) was the Katyn Massacre.

Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda just recently made a movie telling the story of the Katyn Massacre. Here are a couple of press releases just out on this movie.

Filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, 81, tells story of 1940 Katyn massacre in
latest film
The Associated Press
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WARSAW, Poland: In "Katyn," famed Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda is
finally tackling a painful story he could not tell under communist
— the murder of thousands of Polish officers by the Soviet
secret police
during World War II, among them his own father.

"This movie had to be
made, but for many years it could not be made
in Poland," the 81-year-old
Wajda told reporters after a media
screening in Warsaw. "It might be one of
my last movies."

The communist ban on the subject of Katyn expired with
the arrival
of democracy in Poland in 1989, but Wajda admitted he "needed
to be able to make the movie that also tells his own family's story.
Wajda's father, Lt. Jakub Wajda, then 40, was among the Polish
taken prisoner by the Soviet army after it invaded Poland
in 1939 — and then
killed by a shot to the back of the head in the
Katyn forest near Smolensk,
Russia and in other places in April
1940. Polish officials say almost 22,000

The Nazis discovered the mass graves during their march on Moscow
the fall of 1941, but Soviet propaganda blamed the deaths on Adolf
Hitler and punished anyone speaking the truth with harsh prison
In 1990, Moscow admitted that dictator Josef Stalin's secret
police were

The movie uses stories from authentic diaries and letters
to tell
the fate of four fictional officers and their families. Through
them, it shows the predicament of Poland, attacked from the west by
Nazis on Sept. 1, 1939, and on Sept. 17 by the Soviets from the
east, under
a secret deal between Stalin and Adolf Hitler.

"I tried to build a
mosaic of as many elements as possible to show
the situation of the nation
at the time," Wajda said.

One of the characters shares Wajda's
biography: he lost his father
in the Katyn Forest, fought against the Nazis
and the Soviets, and,
after the war, applied to the revived Academy of Fine
Arts in Krakow.

It recalls the vain hope of his own mother when she
believed that
the officer named Wajda, on the list of murdered officers
printed in
1941 in a Nazi-controlled newspaper, was not her husband because
first name was different. She was wrong.

Young people who
attended the screening found it a moving
experience. "It is a very powerful
movie, I am shaken by it," said
Piotr Szczesny, a 19-year-old student of the
Warsaw School of
Economics. "It tells an important part of our history and
people should see it. It is part of our national identity."

Wajda was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2000 for his lifetime
achievement in cinema.

The movie opens in Poland Sept. 21. Wajda
said there are plans to
show it in Moscow.


master director gets personal with look at WWII massacre

WARSAW (AFP) — Poland's acclaimed director Andrezj Wajda trained the
bright light of cinema on Wednesday on one of his country's darkest
episodes: that of the Soviet massacre of 22,500 Polish army officers
civilians in 1940.

For the 81-year-old director, the film "Katyn" --
presented in
Warsaw and named after the forest where some of the slayings
occurred -- is more than another of his deft political scrutinies:
also very personal.

His father, Captain Jakub Wajda, was one of the
victims who fell to
the Soviet invaders, shot in the back of the head by
Stalin's secret

His death, and his mother's refusal to
accept it, forms the
inspiration of "Katyn", Wajda explained at the press

"My mother fed off illusions up to the end of her life,
because my
father's last name was given with a different first name on the
of massacred officers," the director said.

Wajda -- who won an
honorary Oscar in 2000 for his lifetime's work,
including such Polish
classics as "Kanal" (1957), "Ziemia Obiecana"
(1975) and Czlowiek z zelaza"
(1981) -- said "Katyn" was to get its
public premiere on September 17, the
date 68 years ago that the Red
Army pushed its way into Poland, already
half-occupied by the Nazis.

The movie starts on that fateful day in 1939
with two mobs pushing
past each other: one to flee the Soviets, the others
the Germans.

It ends with powerful and disturbing depictions of the
executions in
Katyn Forest. Thousands of Polish officers and civilians
deemed "counterrevolutionaries" were killed.

The episode remained
obscured for a long time, even after the Nazis
revealed the existence of the
mass graves in 1941 following the end
of the German-Soviet pact after Nazi
troops invaded the Soviet Union.

Moscow blamed the Germans for the
massacre, and the West remained
silent so as not to antagonise the Soviet
Union, then a valuable
ally in the fight against Hitler. In Communist
Poland, the subject
was taboo.

It was only in 1990 that then Soviet
leader Mikhail Gorbachev
admitted his country's responsibility.

Wajda stressed that "this film would not have seen the light of day"
during Poland's Communist years.

"No sane-minded filmmaker would
have been able to make this during
the Communist era, unless it was to
present an official version," he

"I hope there will be other
films on the same topic," he said.

It will be interesting to see if there is any mention made of the Katyn Massacre in Ken Burns' documentary on WWII coming up later this month. If you're interested in learning more about the Katyn Massacre check out the Wikipedia page on the topic, and the CNN web site. If you are a Polish genealogy researcher you'll want to check out the Katyn Memorial Wall web site which lists the names of the thousands of victims.


  1. Kudos on the great article, Jasia. Another example of how the real history was re-written by the victors. So glad the truth is coming out.


  2. Thanks for the comment Janice. I'm always rooting for the under dog and in the case of WWII, Poland was surely the under dog. I do what I can to help people realize how badly the Polish people have been treated throughout history.

  3. Poland "a peaceful, agrarian nation" that was "badly treated throughout history"? However well-meaning your are, you imply that Poland was a passive victim, and as such you paint an utterly wrong picture. The Poles fought countless wars over the long history of their nation, and fought them hard - Mongols, Swedes, Russians, Ottoman Turks, Tartars, you name it. It is no coincidence that the Polish-Lithuanian Republic used to be almost the largest country in Europe. At the end of the 18th century the country was illegally partitioned and subjugated by foreign powers, but for the next century the Poles actively seeked independence, either in rebellions or by means of terrorist acts against the foreign officials. In WWI Poland regained independence and bravely fought for its territorial base. Then the Bolsheviks invaded, but were decisively repelled. Poland became first a democracy and then a moderate military dictatorship. In the late 30's Poland invaded and annexed parts of Czechoslovakia (Zaolzie). The brutal onslaught of German Nazis and Russian Soviets in WWII made Poland yield within a month, but the then Polish army was no match either for the much larger Soviet army, or the technologically superior Nazi army. Still, Polish nation supplied the Allies with the 4th largest troop contingent against the Axis. After WWII Poland was indeed betrayed by its Western allies and practically "sold" to the Soviets, but the Poles did not give up and for subsequent decades incessantly sought freedom. Their efforts culminated in the 80's, when the Solidarity movement began the process of dismantling communism in the whole Eastern Bloc.
    You see, the problem with your argument is that it is in fact insulting for the thousands that died in the Katyn Massacre and the millions (1/4 of the population) that died in WWII. Had Poles in fact been "a peaceful, agrarian nation" they would not have opposed the Nazis and Soviets. But they did, they paid the price and must be commended for that. Instead of shedding tears over those aspects of Polish history that suit your theory, try to see the facts and take due pride in your nation.

  4. Well Robert, if you're looking for an argument you won't get one from me. Absolutely everything you said is true. I guess I chose my words badly if they made you think I feel differently about the situation than you do. I don't.

    Just for the record, I'll rephrase my sentence. I guess I can see how it could have been misunderstood.

    "Poland, a country at peace at the time and populated largely by farmers and their families, didn't stand a chance when attacked by these two powerful armies."

    (For the sake of my readers who aren't familiar with Polish history I was trying to paint the picture that Poland didn't do something for which the Russian and German armies were retaliating but rather were attacked without provocation.)