Katyn (2007)

 

 

Director:     Andrzej Wajda.

Starring:     Andrzej Chyra (Lt. Jerzy),  Maja Ostaszewska (Anna),  Artur Zmijewski (Andrzej),  Danuta Stenka (Rza),  Jan Englert (General),  Magdalena Cielecka (Agnieszka),  Agnieszka Glinska (Irena),  Pawel Malaszynski (Lt. Piotr),  Maja Komorowska (Andrzej's Mother),  Wladyslaw Kowalski (Professor Jan),  Antoni Pawlicki (Tadeusz),  Agnieszka Kawiorska (Ewa),  Sergey Garmash (Maj. Popov),  Joachim Paul Assbck (Obersturmbannfhrer Brunon Mller ).

three women search for relatives killed in the spring of 1940 in a Stalin ordered genocide of 15,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in Katyn Forest

 

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

Poland. September 17, 1939.  One group of Poles are escaping over the bridge from the advancing Germans.  The other group is escaping over the bridge coming from the opposite direction from the Soviet troops.  A woman who is the wife of a Polish general is in a car that is trying to drive over the bridge.  She sees Anna who is looking for her husband Andrzej.  She tells her that the Soviets attacked at dawn.  Her husband told her to return to Krakow immediately.  Anna is determined to move forward with her daughter Nika.  She asks a man if he knows where is the 8th Krakow Uhlan Regiment.  He says the Uhlans are no more.  He suggests she go to the hospital in the church below. 

Wounded soldiers lay on the lawn outside the church.  The priest says the last rites for some of the very badly wounded.  The President of Poland speaks to the people over the radio.  Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, breaks in over the radio saying that Krakow is no more.  The Soviets are everywhere. 

Anna's husband is a P.O.W. of the Soviets.  They have let the enlisted men go home, but are keeping all the officers.  The Soviets have not signed the Geneva Convention.  Representatives of the Germans and the Soviets meet together.  Andrzej says this pact between the Soviet Union and Germany will not last a year, then they will need the Polish officers a great deal.  His friend Lt. Jerzy sees Anna riding her bike.  Her husband goes to see her.  She wants him to come with her, but he says he cannot.  He is bound by his oath as a Polish officer.  Nika comes running over to her father.  The men are moving out and Andrzej has to move out with them.     

Andrzej's father Jan looks at an old paper with Andrzej's photo in it when he was the youngest cavalry captain in the Polish army.  Dad tells his wife that he has to go listen to Obersturmbannfhrer Brunon Mller speak.  He is the police government adviser.   Jan is going to the speech in support of the Chancellor of the university to show that the Germans they are all of one mind. 

Krakow, November 6, 1939, German Occupation Zone.  Muller tells the university people that the university is closed.  It has been a hotbed of anti-German propaganda.  The staff will go to a labor camp.  The Chancellor protests and Muller says that there will be no comments on pain of being shot.  German soldiers pour into the place and start forcefully pushing the university staff out the doors.  The men are placed in trucks to be transported to the labor camps. 

November 1939.  Camp in Kozielsk, USSR.  Some of the men argue about the reasons for the defeat of the Polish army.  Anna applies for the third time to be allowed to return to Krakow to be with her family.  She is turned down for the third time.  Her husband is held in captivity and they expect her to wait here until he returns. 

Krakow, December 24, 1939.  The Polish General speaks to all the POWs in his barracks.  With them are scientists, teachers, lawyers and painters.   They all must stay alive to build a better Poland. 

Anna stays with her sister and family.  The husband of the house asks to speak with Anna in private.  He says he's off to the Finnish front soon and he doesn't think he will be coming back.  If Anna marries him and if he is killed, she as the wife of a Red Army officer, will find it easier to rescue her daughter and herself.  She tells the Captain that she already has a husband.  He tells her being a wife of a Polish army officer means death for her.  The Captain says:  "They are no more."  He goes on:  "Wives of Polish officers will go first."  The Captain says he could not save his own family, but he would like to save Anna and Nika. 

The Soviets arrive and start rounding up people.  The Captain hides Anna and Nika.  Anna's sister Elizabeth Aleksandrowna, wife of the Polish Army officer Kazimierz Ignatowicz, is told to pack her things.  They knock on the Captain's door.  The Captain tells the searchers that he has lived here alone for a year and they should search somewhere else.  They leave.  Elizabeth and her daughter are put into the back of a truck.  The Captain lets Anna come out.  She thanks him.  He tells them that they must run away because they will be right back.   

Krakow, spring of 1940.  Anna and Nika return to grandmother.  Anna explains to grandmother that she had to give all her money and her ring to get over the border into Poland.  She got a letter from her husband in March, but the censors crossed almost everything out.  Grandmother says granddad writes that he's fine and he'll soon return. 

In the labor camp Andrzej's friend tells him that the Soviets are treating them way too well, even letting them celebrate Christmas.  He is extremely suspicious. 

Grandmother gets a package.  The letter with it says:  "The Sachsenhausen camp commander regrets to inform you that on March 4, 1940 Professor Jan died in jail of an untreated cardiac defect." 

In the labor camp a Soviet soldier reads out a list of names.  Andrzej's name is one of them.  Those men named act like they are going to someplace better.  

Krakow, April 13, 1943.  On a loud speaker names of Polish men are read off killed at Katyn.  Anna buys the paper and is happy to report to grandmother that Andrzej's name is not listed there.  Grandmother talks as if her son were already dead.  Anna gets mad at her and reminds her that Andrzej's name is not on the list.  But, says Grandmother, Lt. Jerzy's name is. 

The wife of the Polish general gets a letter.  In connection with the Katyn list the Germans ask that the relatives come to German headquarters.  The German officer through a translator says that the Soviets committed an unprecedented crime on Polish POWs in Katyn.  Now the Germans want her to read a statement that they wrote into a tape recorder.  She hesitates and is threatened with Auschwitz.  She still refuses to read it.  They take her into a room where a film is shown dealing with the discovering of the horrendous mass murder at Katyn Forest.  It was a murder of 12,000 Polish POWs, officers and noncoms in the spring of 1940.  The men were shot in the back of the head.  The General's wife and daughter are released. 

Liberation of Krakow, January 18, 1945.  The Soviets march German POWs down the streets.  The maid Stasia pays a visit to the Polish General's household.    She says they had to hide.  Her husband was in the People's Army.  Now he is a big shot in the new communist government and she doesn't need to be a maid any more. 

Lt. Jerzy visits Anna and her family.  Nika is very disappointed he was not her father.  Grandmother asks why his name was on the Katyn list.  It was a mistake. The lieutenant goes downstairs to get some canned meat out of his jeep.  Anna sees him and the first thing she asks the lieutenant is why is his name is on the Katyn list.  She then asks where is her husband.  The lieutenant says he is here in place of her husband.  He had given her husband a sweater to keep him warn.  The sweater had Lt. Jerzy's name on it and there was a mix-up.  He was supposed to have been executed, not her husband.  She says he's here to tell her that her husband is dead.  "Yes," says the lieutenant.   Anna goes back to the apartment, tells grandmother that Andrzej is dead, heads down the hall and collapses. 

The local chemist is gathering evidence from the Katyn massacre.  He is very scared to see a representative of the new communist government come to his shop.  It's now Major Jerzy.  The chemist knows him, but still is afraid.  Jerzy asks the chemist, if he finds an envelope with his (Jerzy's) name on it, to please send it to Andrzej's family.  He gives him the address written on a piece of paper.  The chemist takes the address. 

The Soviets do an investigation into the Katyn massacre, but blame it on the Germans.  They say the date of the massacre was around the spring of 1941.  The film made of the investigation is shown in the public square.  The Polish General's wife bangs on the door of the truck with the film equipment saying:  "It's a lie!"  Jerzy walks over and grabs her and takes her away before she gets into real trouble.  He tells the General's wife that he was at Katyn when the Soviets sent them to the graves.  The wife is upset with Jerzy because he helped the Soviets corroborate what is a lie.  She tells him that he is the same as the Soviets.  "You may think differently, but you do the same."  In disgust, she walks away from him. 

Jerzy gets drunk at a military bar and starts talking about Katyn.  He is saying in an indirect way that it was the Soviets who committed the war crime.  A friend of his has to fight him in order to push him out of the bar to save him.  Jerzy walks down the street, pulls out his pistol and shoots himself in the head. 

A blonde named Agnieszka comes in to speak to the priest.  He tells her he was there over the Katyn graves in 1943.  He has the rosary taken out of her brother's hand.  She takes the rosary and leaves.  Agnieszka then takes a photo of her brother to Anna to make a better picture out of it.  In the photo is Agnieszka, her brother and her sister.  Looking out the window, Anna sees a young man named Tadzio.  It's her nephew.  She is very happy to see him.  He and she both don't know exactly what happed to his mother.  They go into the shop and the photographer takes a passport photo of Tadzio. 

Tadzio goes to register for courses at the university.  Agnieszka's sister is the director. There's a problem on his form.   He says on the form that his father was killed by the Soviets in 1940 in the Katyn forest.  That is not the official point of view of the Soviets, who still maintain the Germans did it. Agnieszka's sister tells him to change it.  He objects but she insists.  So he takes the forms back and leaves.  She tells her aide to admit him and then see to it that Tadzio behaves himself. 

Outside Tadzio starts tearing down a Soviet poster.  Two Soviet guards chase him.  He grabs Ewa, the Polish General's daughter, and tells her to show him where to hide.  She finds a place to hide.  When the coast is clear he thanks her and then asks her when they will see each other again.  They agree on tomorrow in the movie theatre at 6 p.m.  He kisses her.  Tadzio starts walking but is recognized by the guards again.  He takes out his pistol to shoot, but is hit by a military jeep and killed. 

Blond Agnieszka has her hair cut short and sells it to the theatre.  A woman who was at Auschwitz and is virtually bald will have it made into a wig.  Agnieszka gives the money to the men who made the headstone for her brother's grave.  She goes to see the priest, but he was taken away by the Soviets because he was with the Germans in 1943 when they dug up the graves.  Agnieszka says she wants to put up the new headstone in the church.  Another priest looks at it and says he can't put it up in the church because it says her brother was killed in 1940, which is not the official Soviet view.  Agnieszka says everyone knows it was the Soviets that killed those at Katyn.  He tells her to please take it away.    So she takes it to be put in the cemetery.  Her sister catches ups with her and tells her that she cannot have anything to do with this.  She is afraid of the repercussions.  Agnieszka sarcastically tells her to join the Communist Party, that's the way to power. 

The authorities come and pick up Agnieszka for spreading false information about Katyn.  She is accused of slandering their Soviet comrades.  She refuses to sign a statement that it was the fault of the Germans.  She is taken away and put in jail.  The gravestone is destroyed. 

A woman brings the Jerzy envelope to Anna.  It contains her husband's diary.  He kept account of who came in and out of their barracks.  One page is from Kozielsk, April 7, 1940.  "For two days they've been deporting us.  Where and why nobody knows."  He writes about being taken out of Kozielsk and arriving at Jelnia Station.  They think they are going to Smolensk. They arrive at Gniezdovo.  The Soviets take the general inside a building, verify his identity and take him into a small brick-lined room where he is shot in the back of the head.  The bodies are pushed through a hole in the a wall and put onto a truck. 

Andrzej and the others are taken to a forest.  In the diary he wonders what will become of them.  One after another the men are taken out of the bus.  Their hands are tied behind their backs and then a rope is placed around their necks and tied to the ropes around their hands. They are brought over to the long trenches and shot in the head.  The dead men fall into the long trenches.  A bull dozer then pushes the earth back over the trench, thereby burying the men.  Agnieszka's brother is one of those executed. 

 

Good movie.  It shows not only the massacre but it's effect on family members of some of those who were executed.  It's good to have such a movie as a reminder of the horrors committed by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  The film is also about the Soviet cover-up of their massacre.  Those Poles who refused to go along with the cover-up were imprisoned or killed. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

Katya is located a little west of Smolensk.  Smolensk is a little east of the eastern border of Belarus. 

The total number of those massacred is estimated at about 22,000.  The figure contains those executed elsewhere than Katyn. 

The proposal came from Lavrentiy Beria and the order was signed by the entire Soviet Politburo (including Stalin). 

It was not until 1990 that the Soviet Union acknowledged the massacre was carried out by their NKVD (the public and secret police that carried out the reign of communist terror).  

 

 

 

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