Battle for Warsaw ’44
Directed & produced by Wanda Koscia
Produced by October Films, Bow & Axe Entertainment, Maxfilm and SKOK for Discovery Networks Europe
CHICAGO – “Polish-Americans, Polish Canadians, and Polish Britons are aware and fiercely proud of the fantastic heritage and history that is Poland’s,” says PitR alumna Justine Jablonska, “and the onus to tell the world our stories is on us.” Coupling word with action, Justine joined forces with The Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies in Montreal to invite British film director Wanda Koscia to show her documentary, The Battle for Warsaw ’44.
The screening, which took place on October 22, 2008 at Chicago’s Chopin Theater, attracted an animated audience of about 50 that included academics and students as well as a number of Chicagoans who lived in the area and were interested in the film. Special guests included a few AK fighters, veterans of that long-ago battle.
Professor Marek Suszko, who teaches history at Loyola University at Chicago, introduced the documentary and provided a historical background. He asked the audience to ponder the questions that must have nagged all of the AK fighters and their commanders: What to do? How to proceed in the face of Nazi occupation, Russian aggression and British betrayal? Historic events are easily judged from the perspective of time. Professor Suszko, however, wanted the audience to understand the uncertainty of the moment before and during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
The story of the tragic Warsaw Uprising is very personal to Wanda Koscia. Both of the filmmaker’s parents, then only teenagers, participated in this World War II battle. Wanda Koscia noted that the undertaking made her understand them better. The documentary, although produced for large international audiences of Discovery Europe and the BBC, is, in its essence, very intimate.
The objective of a well-made historical documentary is to chronicle, to preserve, and to teach. Wanda Koscia’s film does all of these things by providing the audience with an organized and clear presentation of facts and evidence. But Koscia goes a step further – she makes the audience feel. It is as if one human being were telling another about his or her life’s grandest time of despair, sadness — and hope. The audience becomes personally engaged.
The evening concluded with a discussion in which Koscia answered questions about the historical event, about her experiences during the filming, and about the film making process itself. Many of the participants shared their thoughts and comments about the documentary. One of the AK fighters, Jan Macoch, expressed a great pleasure in seeing, “so many young people at the event. The film was both brilliant and powerful.”
The reception that followed the screening, generously hosted by the Chopin Theatre’s owners, Zygmunt Dyrkacz and Lela Headd, provided more time for animated discussions. The event proved to be a success and we can just hope that there will be many more to come.
Reflecting on The Battle for Warsaw, I still think of that little boy who saw his mother beg a German officer for their lives, and as an old man was haunted by that memory and by his sorrow: both his mother and little baby brother were killed. At first, this filled me with an immense sense of loss, for this story made me question humanity and consider the “banality of evil.”
But later, discussing the film, Justine Jablonska made me think again, when she said, “In watching the film again last evening, I felt this time an enormous sense of hope. Watching Wanda Koscia’s mother’s beautiful smile and the twinkle in her eyes as she described the excitement and belief in the cause of free Poland, I understood why the Uprising had to take place – even if it had been doomed from the start. Because what alternative was there, really – not to do anything? No. As one of the AK fighters so eloquently stated, ‘It is better to die fighting than to die on your knees.'”