I frequently think about the history of Poland. It is a nation with immense pride and a people who have known incredible hardship, hardship beyond belief at times. Sadly, the only thing I knew about Poland, at least until I was a little older, were the crazy Polish jokes that circulate routinely. My guess is that Poles themselves tell jokes simply because it is a coping mechanism for all the suffering these people have known.
As everyone who looks at a map should know Poland is bordered by Germany on one side and the former Soviet Union on the other. This made Poland the center piece in the political chess game of World War II. The Germans came from the West and the Russians from the East. And as soon as the Germans were driven out the Russians began there oppression of the Poles which led to another four and a half decades of misery until the events of 1989. These events were brought about by a confluence of actions but none was more important than the role played by John Paul II and that of the Catholic Church.
I thought about Poland again recently because of a Polish film that I would recommend to every reader of this blog. That film is called Katyń. Directed by the famous Polish film maker Andrzej Wajda, the film is based on the novel Post Mortem, by Andrzej Mularczyk. The novel told the story of the invasion of Poland in 1939-40 by the Germans and then the Russians. After the Germans invaded Poland Joseph Stalin, every bit as ruthless and evil as Adolph Hitler, ordered the liquidation of the Polish military officer corps. He also ordered the removal of many professors from the most prominent universities in the country. This historical, horrific event led to the slaughter of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in the Katyń forest. For a long time this was blamed on the Germans but the truth finally prevailed. The film is the story of this genocide told through the story of four fictional officers and their families as they struggle to cope with their loss and uncover the truth about what happened to their husbands/brothers/fathers. This means the film is really told through the eyes of the women, brave women who endured so much tragedy and loss. It is also a story of faith and betrayal. It is an epic story told with brutal honesty and one of the most devastating revelations of the Second World War I have ever witnessed on film. Katyń received an Academy Award nomination for the best foreign language film and was released in 2007. It is, of course, in Polish with English subscripts. The special features include a 49-minute interview with Andrzej Wajda about the making of the film and of Polish film culture. This was a wonderful treat if you love film and European history as much as I do.
Katyń was the Polish Film Award for “Best Picture” and the European Film Award for the film of excellence. I found it, as I have mentioned here in the past, in my local library but you can get it from Netflix as well. The conclusion, in which the film shows how these 22,000 officers were actually murdered, one-by-one with a shot to the back of their head as they were dumped into open ditches and buried in mass graves, is very hard to watch. I have watched a lot of film about the Holocaust and genocide but none is as well done, as film goes, as Katyń.