Urodziny mlodego warszawiaka (The Birthday) (1980)




Director:     Ewa Patelska and Czeslaw Petelski. 

Starring:     Piotr Lysak (Jerzy Bielecki), Andrzej Lapicki (Jerzy's Father Stanislaw Bielecki), Jolanta Grusznic (Teresa), Gabriela Kownacka (Jerzy's Stepmother Jadzka), Hanna Skarzanka (Jerzy's Grandmother), Kazimierz Kaczor (Karczewski), Roman Frankl (Ziemowit), Tomasz Zaliwski (Walczak), Arkadiusz Bazak (Gustaw), Krzysztof Chamiec (Colonel), Henryk Kluba (Tax Clerk), Witold Pyrkosz (Antoni Jakubowicz).

life of a young man from Warsaw is greatly changed by the German invasion of Poland and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Jerzy Bielecki was born in Warsaw in 1921.  As narrator he says that he wants to tell the audience about four of his birthdays. 

September 24, 1938, Jerzy is 17 years old.  He says he was now a graduate and ready for his yearly military service.  Even at 17 he could drink.  Along with this he could smoke and chase women.  His father has invited him out to a restaurant for a birthday dinner.  Dad introduces Jerzy to his wife, Jadzia.  He says coming back from Venice they saw on the German side of the Czech border columns of army trucks.  Jerzy wonders if the Czechs will give in to Hitler.  Jerzy's nickname is Jurek, and dad toasts to a happy future for Jurek.  Dad says that next year he is going to send Jurek to the Sorbonne in France.

Dad says that maybe they should all go to America, because the situation in Europe is getting worse.  Jurek rejects the idea saying it's his duty to perform military service.  Dad said he thought the same way when he was 17, but later he learned better.  His son answers:  "Because you got rich.  Only poor people love their country."  A military officer comes over and asks dad if he can dance with his daughter?  Dad handles it very well, urging his fourth wife to dance with the soldier.  She dances with the officer.  Dad tells his son not to laugh.  He knows that his wife nuzzles with the young officers.  His father now gives Jurek some cash.  Jurek as narrator comments that dad was both repulsive and appealing at the same time. 

Dad drops his son off at home and Jurek sees four friends of his gathered around a motorcycle.  Ziemowit says that the father of the owner of the cycle bought it for his son to wipe away his tears of getting a C category in school and because the army rejected him.  The owner says that he has an inflammation of the cardiac muscle. He says he is going on to the university.  He gets on his cycle and takes off. 

His friends offer a toast to Jurek saying he will be perfect for the job of cleaning latrines.  Jurek says he is actually going to be in communications in Zgierz.  His grandmother brings the food out for the fellows.  One of the guys, Krzysztof, jokes that Ziemowit, as an aristocrat, will probably go into the cavalry, but Ziemowit says he wants to get into the artillery.  Krzysztof says he himself is going into armor in Modzylin.  As narrator Jurek says this was the last meeting of the four of them together before service in the army.   Krzysztof will be dead and burning in a tank in September 1939. 

September 1, 1939, Hitler has his army attack Poland. 

September 24, 1939, Jurek's 18th birthday.  A soldier awakens Cadet Jurek saying that they need some wires put in place in the castle.  The two men with another soldier start stringing up wire.  An older soldier named Karol tries a test of the wires by getting on the phone to a fellow named Wanda.  Jurek finds a parrot up on a tree branch and puts it on his shoulder.  While this goes on the town is being shelled.  A shell goes off somewhat close to the fellows.  One of the wires gets stuck in a tree, so Jurek climbs the tree and frees the wire from its entanglement.  Now Karol asks if he can go home for lunch.  Jurek okays it and off goes Karol.  The cadet says that it's crazy to fight a war in one's own town. 

Jurek now takes a bicycle and rides home.  Grandmother greets him and then serves him a birthday soup.  Mother ran away to the east because she was afraid of the Germans.  All of a sudden, a bomb goes through their roof and crashes into the second story floor.  Jurek tells his grandmother that it was a misfire.

Jurek bikes over to his father's house.  With his father and step-mom is a Lt. Colonel.  Cadet Bielecki reports his arrival to the colonel.  Dad explains to the colonel that Jurek is his son.  The colonel is amazed that his dad didn't get him out of the service.  Dad says his son wanted to perform his military service.  The colonel gets up and shakes hands with Jurek.  Before he sits down again he says that the Germans are now bombing the Mokotw Fort, a Warsaw district, four miles from the center of Warsaw.  Tomorrow the Germans will try to take the fort.  He says:  "Now they are mortaring Krolikarnia."   He adds that they can't let them take Krolikarnia (an 18th century historical palace and a neighborhood in the Mokotw district of Warsaw).  As narrator Jurek says that the Lt. Col. will die leading a counterattack by the ruins of Krolikarnia. 

Jurek asks his father why didn't he take himself and his wife out of this situation?  Dad says he's not exactly sure how it happened.  Jurek says he came over because it's his birthday.  Dad and son toast to the birthday.  Dad's wife urges him to flee with her and avoid the possibility of death.  Dad says he can't leave.  He is the captain of OPR of their street. 

Jurek goes to the library to exchange a book.  The young librarian is his age and she scolds him saying shouldn't he be out fighting somewhere?  They both call each other "arrogant".   She laughs.  Her name is Teresa. He tells her he will be back tomorrow. 

The Polish speak about getting aid from the rest of the world.  A soldier who was a foreman in civilian life doesn't believe anyone is coming to save Poland.  It has been four weeks since the war started.  He says they must hold out here for as long as possible.  "We don't want them to laugh later that Poland gave up after a few days."  The two soldiers and Jurek have a toast to Jurek's birthday.  The foreman asks:  "Why do we always get out asses kicked?"

Jurek operates the switch board.  Kazimierz calls a fellow named Jozef and tells him that they should fire their artillery shells at 20 trucks entering Marki (a town just northeast of Warsaw).  Someone now calls to report that a line to the castle is down.  Jurek says he is sending out a patrol.  He sends out two soldiers: Walczak and Karczewski.  As narrator Jurek says he was sending foreman Walczak to die.  They had to bury his body the next day in the square by the Orthodox Church.

September 24, 1943, Jurek's twenty-second birthday.  The radio reports that British bombers are dropping tons of bombs on the German Ruhr.  The Russian army reaches Smolensk.  The liberated cities are:  Czernichow, Chocimsk and Poltawa.   

In civilian clothes Jurek reports to his civilian boss, a revenue officer.  The boss says he knows that Jurek is only here thanks to his father's influence.  Jurek surprises his boss by telling him the news he just heard on London Radio.  Jurek goes outside but rushes back into the door well to hide from a German raid on a streetcar.  They pull off all the people from the streetcar.  One man pulls out a pistol and shoots a German soldier several times.  He then runs down the street, but is shot dead by a German with a submachine gun. 

Jurek walks over to the home of Mr. Jakubowica and says he's came from the revenue office.  He has come to interview him on his income.  The man says he has no income.  So the fellow signs an affidavit to that effect.  Then Jurek says that the revenue office has a note here saying that on December 5, 1942 Mr. Jakubowica imported a load of construction material from the Third Reich worth 500,000 zloty.  The fine and penalty on that amount will be about 200,000 zloty.  Jurek takes a bribe of 20,000 zloty to forget about the case.  Now Jakubowica says there are two more loads coming this year. 

Jurek stops at a kiosk where a woman sells moonshine that she made to her customers.  The woman gives Jurek some moonshine and some sausage.  The drunken men around the kiosk tell Jurek that he could get some money out of the woman vendor if he threatened her with telling the German that she's selling counterfeit goods.  Jurek says he means this woman no harm.  They say if he is an honest man, he would drink the moonshine with them.  Jurek takes a big gulp of it, but hates the taste.  The men encourage him to keep drinking.  He tries to drink the rest of the moonshine straight down, but he keeps gagging on it.  He finally drinks the last so fast that most of the moonshine rushes out of his mouth and onto the ground.  Jurek leaves and the drunks have a good laugh at his expense. 

Walking down the street a German car stops right in front of him.  He's scared, but the Germans go after the street vendors and not him.  Teresa comes up to him and says that she was waiting for him.  She senses that Jurek is a bit drunk.  She pulls him into a passageway and tells him that her brother Albin did not come back home.  Krysia and he were supposed to meet together today, but he never showed up.  Jurek says maybe he stepped in on a roundup and was taken.  Teresa says that Zabawa asks if he needs to evacuate his shop?  Jurek says to tell them to hide everything that is counterfeit and make an appointment with Gustaw, local head of the resistance. 

Teresa starts to leave, but Jurek grabs her and gives her the 20,000 zlotys with which to buy weapons.  The amount should cover the expense of four weapons.  She asks him the password.  It's "plaster". 

Jurek now meets with the conspirators plotting out a resistance act.  The young fellows are receiving a training lesson from Karczewski.  Jurek tells them that they are canceling any more training lesson until further notice.  They have to move their equipment.  Jurek says that someone ratted on them. 

The fear is that Albin was captured and will soon start spilling the beans.  Gustaw asks Jurek if Albin had cyanide with him?  Jurek says he was afraid to carry cyanide for fear he might take it if he felt depressed.  Gustaw suggests maybe Albin should not have been chosen for the task since he does suffer from depression.  He also tells Jurek to evacuate the shop immediately. As narrator Jurek says this was the last time he saw Gustaw.  Three days hence he would awaken in his house surrounded by the military police.  He will take cyanide on his way to interrogation.

Jurek complains to Teresa that she knew a fellow for two weeks and now for four years she has been sending him packages.  Does Teresa still love the fellow?  She doesn't answer.  Jurek says he better go now, but she reminds him to take his parcel.  He says the parcel contains his birthday cake and he wants Teresa to eat it for him on this his birthday.  Teresa kisses him goodbye. 

Jurek tells Karczewski about Albin:  "This was a provocation.  They ordered a UKF radio and captured him with it."    Jurek, under the false name of Barnaba, meets a man with the false name of Nadworski, who works in maintenance fixing street cars.  Nadworski says he and his men are from the woods.  They need another radio.  Jurek will see him tomorrow.  As narrator Jurek says this fellow, who seemed to be without fear, was killed in the woods after a long fight with the Germans. 

Jurek tells his grandmother that he will be out for the night.  If the Gestapo come, she is to tell them that Jurek went to work at a farm.  Grandmother warns him that the Germans are going to capture and then kill Jurek and his friends. 

Teresa meets up with Jurek and tells him that they moved Albin to the Gestapo at Szucha Street.  She asks Jurek if they can meet somewhere later?

Jurek sees his father and thanks him for the parcels sent from Portugal.  They are going to have a birthday dinner for Jurek cooked by Jurek's step-mother.  Jurek hears a car screech to a stop and wants to start running.  Dad tells him that it's not the Gestapo.  It's just Mr. Uhlman, who is a German soldier, but one that fixes cars.  Jurek doesn't like him because he is a German.  In his own defense, Uhlman says that actually he is a political liberal.  He didn't order any invasion of Poland.  He also tells Jurek that he has never used his pistol.  According to him, he doesn't even know how to shoot.  Uhlman takes his leave.

Dad tells his son that Mr. Uhlman is an old friend of his from before the time the war started.  Jurek tells his father that the Reds are probably going to kill him for harboring a German soldier in his house.  The son now takes off, despite the fact that it is after curfew.  He wants to meet up with Teresa.  A car comes down the street.  Jurek jumps into a corner not to be seen.  Now he decides to run.  He gets off the street and luckily so, because three German soldiers are walking down the street.

Jurek climbs up the stairs and knocks lightly on the door.  Teresa lets him in.  Jurek tries to kiss her but she says she will make them some tea from Portugal.  When they have tea, she is still pulling away from him.  He sleeps over for the night, but they sleep on separate couches. 

September 24, 1944, Jurek's twenty third birthday.  He listens to the switchboard.  There are four tanks at Pulawska coming from the train station.  Then there are three tanks 800 meters from Kolikarnia.  Today is the 56th day of the Warsaw Uprising.  Teresa kisses him because it's his birthday.  German planes drop bombs on the buildings still standing. 

Jurek runs into Gustaw, who says he hasn't slept in three days.  A superior officer complains to Jurek that he's been trying to get through to Sofia, but he can't.  So Jurek personally goes to check on the line.  He finds Karczewski wounded laying in a ditch.  Karczewski tells him to fix the broken cable.   He fixes it and tests it, finding it satisfactory.  Now Jurek must take Karczewski to the hospital.  With the help of Jurek, the two men slowly walk through the streets on their way to the hospital.  Jurek gets his man to the hospital and they place Karczewski on an operating table.  In the same hospital, he sees his father in bed and his step-mom feeding him with a spoon. He asks his father why didn't he stay in Warsaw?  Why is he here helping with the uprising?  Dad says he has the right to die as he wants to. 

That was the last time Jurek saw his father.  His wife carried him on her back to a place outside Warsaw.  Dad died in Milanowek two months later of a heart attack.  After the war Jadwiga married the owner of an auto-body shop.  She had two children. 

Karczewski is all bandaged up now and removed from the operating table.  He has an inflammation, but the doctors don't have the medicine for him.  Jurek asks the doctor to take a piece of shrapnel from his buttocks. 

Jurek leaves the hospital and runs into two of his crew heading to the fighting and leaving behind their cable jobs.  As narrator Jurek says that Corporal Bramin dies while defending the school at Woronicza.  Ulik dies two days after the corporal.  Jurek picks a flower to give to Teresa when he sees her.  The situation is becoming really hopeless.  Jurek yells a bit at Krysia for crying and Teresa asks him to leave her alone.  Teresa now wants to be assigned to the fighting units.  She and the other women don't want to wait to die in the basement.  He gives his okay for them to fight with Ziemowit. 

Karczewski is brought back to the basement.  He says he wants to die among friends if he is to die. 

Teresa and Jurek go out on the streets to fix another cable.  They fix it and call Ziemowit.  Ziemowit says he wants to see Jurek and Teresa, so Jurek says they will go over to him.  The pair make it over safely to see Ziemowit.  They are all happy to see each other.  Ziemowit says he invited them over because he is going to marry a young woman named Przybyslawa.  The priest is brought in.  There is quite a turn out for the wedding.  Now Teresa and Jurek step forward saying they would like to marry.  The priest carries out another ceremony. 

Teresa and Jerek find a private room.  They blow out the candles and have sex (some nudity). 

"This way ended the day of my birthday.  At that time I wanted to live so badly.  I didn't know that I was going to be by myself.  At dawn all hell broke out and at night we got lost with Teresa in the canals and I have never seen her again.  She died somewhere quietly in the dark."  A woman comes to tell the lieutenant that he has to come on the double because a counterattack is being prepared to take back the Krolikarnia.

In the fighting, Jurek sees their machine gunner get hit.  He goes over to man the machinegun.  He fires away at the Germans. 


The film deals with several periods of time:  the time before the start of World War II with the German attack on Poland;  the actual attack of the Germans on Poland on September 1, 1939; the build-up to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; and the actual Warsaw Ghetto Uprising itself.   Four birthdays of Lt. Jurek Bielecki are covered in order to tell the above stories.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not mentioned formally, but it forms the backdrop to the third and fourth birthday celebrations.  There is also a slow-starting love story between Jurek and Teresa.  Just when you think it's hopeless for the couple, love just blossoms forth at the right time.  I thought the acting was good all around.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


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