Koch Lorber Films
A scene from Andrzej Wajda’s “Katyn,” which deals with the massacre of Poles in 1940.

February 18, 2009
Bearing Witness to Poland’s Pain

Published: February 18, 2009
The first scene in “Katyn,” Andrzej Wajda’s solemn and searing new film, takes place on a bridge somewhere in Poland in mid-September 1939. The bridge is aswarm with people fleeing in opposite directions. Panicked families trying to escape the Germans, who invaded on the first of the month, collide with equally terrified compatriots coming from the eastern part of the country, scene of a recent Soviet intervention.
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Film: Enduring Witness Honors the Sacrifice of His Fellow Poles (external - login to view) (October 12, 200

The chaos and terror form a living tableau of Poland’s terrible predicament in the middle of the last century, when it was caught in the pincers of two toxic strains of European totalitarianism. In 1939 Hitler and Stalin pledged mutual nonaggression, a pact that lasted long enough for their armies to collude in the destruction of Polish sovereignty.
In the spring of 1940 the Soviets proceeded with the “liquidation” of the Polish officer corps, shooting nearly 15,000 men in Katyn Forest, including Mr. Wajda’s father, and burying them in mass graves. As Mr. Wajda makes clear, the intent was not simply to destroy Poland’s military command but also to purge its population of engineers, intellectuals and other citizens whose education and expertise might help the country to function independently.
The Nazis, meanwhile, contributed to this project by shutting down universities and rounding up professors. Just as one character, the army captain Andrzej (Artur Zmijewski), awaits his fate at the hands of the Russians, his father, a professor in Krakow, falls into the hands of the SS.
Afterward, when the Nazis and the Soviets resumed their customary aggression, each used the other’s barbarity for propaganda. The Germans dug up the bodies in Katyn and promoted themselves as protectors of the Poles against Bolshevik terror. When the tide of war turned, the Red Army repeated the exercise, blaming Hitler and fudging the dates of the massacre so it could be added to the list of German atrocities.
After the war the falsified Russian version of history was enforced by the usual police-state means. Even as the truth about Katyn continued to haunt Poles’ memories, it became, for much of the rest of the world, a hazy footnote, a symbol of Poland’s enduring historical bad luck.
But Poland has at least been fortunate to have, in Mr. Wajda, a tireless, clear-sighted chronicler. At 82, he has produced, in movies like “Ashes and Diamonds” and “Man of Marble,” an unparalleled cinematic record of Polish history, and “Katyn,” nominated for an Academy Award last year, is a powerful corrective to decades of distortion and forgetting.
With elegant concision, the film explores both the events leading up to the massacre and its aftermath, following a group of officers and their families through the agonies of war and the miseries of peacetime under Communism, circling back to end with an unsparing reconstruction of some of the killings.
The deaths are terrible and painful to watch, but the film’s dramatic momentum is carried by the sisters, mothers and widows of the dead, whose attempts to hold on to the truth are almost unbearably poignant. Maja Ostaszewska is quietly magnificent as Andrzej’s wife, Anna, who clings to the hope that he has, somehow, survived. Others, like the sisters of a young lieutenant, try to figure out how to honor his memory and carry on with their lives. One of them risks arrest by commissioning a gravestone with the accurate date of his death, while the other resigns herself to an occasional gesture of subversion and the knowledge that “Poland will never be free.”
The existence of “Katyn” contradicts her certainty — Poland is now free to take stock of its own past — but Mr. Wajda is too honest and sensitive a filmmaker to foreshadow an eventual redemptive ending. Instead, he focuses on the grief and confusion of his characters, and on the ferocity with which they hold on to the dignity that history conspires to strip from them. The result is a film with a stately, deliberate quality that insulates it against sentimentality and makes it all the more devastating.
Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Directed by Andrzej Wajda; written by Mr. Wajda, Wladyslaw Pasikowski and Przemyslaw Nowakowski, based on the novel “Post Mortem” by Andrzej Mularczyk; director of photography, Pawel Edelman; edited by Milenia Fiedler and Rafal Listopad; music by Krzysztof Penderecki; produced by Michal Kwiecinski; released by Koch Lorber Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, West Village. In Polish, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. This film is not rated.
WITH: Maja Ostaszewska (Anna), Artur Zmijewski (Andrzej), Andrzej Chyra (Jerzy) and Jan Englert (General).

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34 (external - login to view) .
February 19th, 2009
1:11 am

A response to: Russians are not guilty for Katyn massacre. Soviets did it! Remember!

Does it matter? In history, human brutality is the same. The victims at one point become the oppressors at another. Poles, too, have committed crimes- not on the extent of Nazi Germany or the USSR, as is often mistaken- but enough.
I am grateful to Mr. Wajda for producing films about misunderstood and terrible periods of history. I hope that these films will encourage a dialog between everybody- no matter what nationality- so these events will never happen again.

— Marysia, new england Recommend (external - login to view) Recommended by 1 Readers

33 (external - login to view) .
February 19th, 2009
1:11 am

It's about what haven't been told so far
If you think that the Germans were the only bad people during the WW II, think again. Do you know that Stalin killed as many people as Hitler? Not only enemies. He killed his own people too, millions of them! And he killed Polish people in Katyn. When the Germans found the graves in a small village (forest near the village) Stalin and later Russian government blamed it on... Germans! Andrzej Wajda - thank you for this movie, one of the most important for Poland, ever! For us, you are an Oscar winner already, even if you don't win on Sunday!
— kosheen81 Recommend (external - login to view) Recommended by 6 Readers

32 (external - login to view) .
February 19th, 2009
1:11 am

you must see it
good film ... about how soviets (russians) treated people..... nowadays president putin (some guy from KGB) treat good strong countries bad small countries
— waskow Recommend (external - login to view) Recommended by 3 Readers

31 (external - login to view) .
February 19th, 2009
1:11 am

Russians were not guilty for Katyn. Soviets only!
Russians are not guilty for Katyn massacre. Soviets did it! Remember!

Russia was under Soviet occupation since 1917. It was not Russian (except Lenin) regime, but cosmopolitan gang consisting of gangsters of several nationalities: (alphabetic list of some) Bulgarian, Czech, Georgian, German, Hungarian, Jew, Latvian, Polish communists. The last were practically physically eliminated just before WW_2.

After Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939 until German attack on SU neither Germany nor Soviet Union did extermination of Jews. In 1940, next year after German/Soviet invasion on Poland, that started WW_2, the only nation exterminated in the two regimes were Poles. About 30% of Polish army officers in 1939 war were Polish Jews. After detailed preliminary examination through NKVD, in group of officers directed to the death in Katyn almost 100% were of Polish nationality! It was pure genocide murder directed against people of one nation! It is not my bidding with Jew holocaust here. I have full respect and give honor for all Jews killed that war time! But I am to indicate that Poles were very first nation exterminated both through Nazi an Soviet ruling gangsters.

I am old men. I know the truth on Katyn from my early childhood. Face of dead uncle of my mother was shown between first pictures Nazi propaganda shown in 1943. Father of one my class-fellow in the primary school was murdered in Katyn.

I am to say it is not very common to see THE TRUE on the moving picture. Katyn of Wajda is an positive exception - regardless of the result verdict of the Hollywood Academy.

Thank you Andrzej Wajda!

— bejka Recommend (external - login to view) Recommended by 6 Readers

30 (external - login to view) .
February 19th, 2009
1:11 am

Finally the truth has been told
This is an incredible movie. After so many years of endless lies and ways of trying to hide the truth - we now know the real story. This is what Poland was all about - the heroism, faith and fight for freedom. Imagine a country being torn apart from both sides - two powerful enemies - Germany and Soviet Union were both trying to claim the land for themselves. For some reason the tragic story of Polish nation has always been neglected in the world history - the truth about suffering of that nation has never been told. I can only say to Mr. Wajda thank you for making such incredible movie with such powerful message. And I can only hope that people around the world will learn about Katyn and find out about these heroic people who gave their lives during the WWII for the country they loved. And by the way - really, this is not about Jewish - the film does not specify the religion or faith of these people - they were just polish - and this is all what the movie is about - this is about a polish history - about polish people no matter of what religion - who were brutally killed and about the truth which was hidden from the world for a half of the century.
— mar138 Recommend (external - login to view) Recommended by 5 Readers

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The Katyn Massacre has facinated me for many years. I have read quite a bit about it online. The absolute scale and selection of the victims is mind boggling.

Half the Polish Officer Corps, Cops, Doctors, Teachers, Artists, etc. People who may have been a threat to Soviet control of Poland. About 20,000 executed by the Soviet NKVD.

What gets me is the pictures of the victims. Young and old... but each one got a bullet in the back of the head and tossed in a pit.

You can watch this movie on Yutube but I want to see it on TV. Being that it is a foreign film it may take some time.
I'm sure the Russians pay reparations for their atrocities against the Poles.
Quote: Originally Posted by dancing-loonView Post

I'm sure the Russians pay reparations for their atrocities against the Poles.

You are using sarcasm here correct?
Quote: Originally Posted by dancing-loonView Post

I'm sure the Russians pay reparations for their atrocities against the Poles.

Yup, I'm sure it is just as much as they paid for atrocities against their own citizens.
Quote: Originally Posted by EagleSmackView Post

You are using sarcasm here correct?

Naaww... do I look like that??
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