Poland: Not Just a Camp and Sadness

by Kenneth Rayman on December 31, 2018

Two days until I travel to Poland and I’ve been thinking of the perfect way to introduce this trip like I did Estonia with “A Little Book That Can Open Eyes of Others;” yet I’m reminded of how I grew up seeing Poland, as the country known more for it’s suffering than anything else, as it is presented in the U.S.

While that is certainly not true, I’m reminded of all the imagery of my life in association with Poland. There are plenty of things that once seen, I’ve had a hard time seeing again; (in Russia’s case) the scene in the movie “Romanovs: An Imperial Family” where the family’s walk to the cellar takes four minutes of screen time, while you know what’s about to happen, followed by the brutality of their murder, movies about Poland’s history are filled with similar imagery. “Escape from Sobibor” had the scene with the line to the “showers,” and, as the screaming from inside starts, the child runs away chased by the German Shepherd. “Schindler’s List” had the two appearances of the girl in the red dress, and the final scene with Oskar’s emotional breakdown about all he could have sold to save more people, but hadn’t. “The Pianist” had the chaotic train loading scene, the Ghetto Policeman saving Wladyslaw Spzilman by hiding him behind the police line while you saw his father lose his prized violin and a screaming woman’s face disappear behind a slamming train door. “Katyń” had the last ten minutes be Polish officers being led through a door, to their shock at what they thought would be Soviet acceptance after Hitler’s eventual betrayal, forced to their knees and tied up in front of NKVD troikas, shot and thrown in piles into waiting trucks. Movies like “Ida,” “Aftermath,” and the Hungarian film, “1945,” dealt with the coming to grips of the turbulent experience of those that survived the camps and those non-persecuted, portrayed as somehow complicit to the Nazis, and more specifically of Jewish property re-appropriations.

Poland was once a vast, great kingdom on the world stage, not a small country in between two modern historical players; though it did disappear from the map through annexation, after a civil war, by Russia, Austria, and Prussia only to be reestablished as a sovereign nation after WW1 in 1918. While one of my aims there will be to understand the Partitions of Poland, you’ll find examples of the Polish will and character in the modern era that you may recognize. If it weren’t for Polish aviators, Britain may have lost the war before the United States even entered; one of the bloodiest victories of WW2 was lost to history because of the Normandy invasion a day later, yet without the Poles in Italy, it would’ve been in defeat; or that the first non-Italian pope in 500 years gave the country hope to reclaim it’s narrative.

Through movies/films like “Katyń,” “Aftermath,” and “Poland: The Road of Revival,” as well as television shows like “Bloody Foreigners: The Untold Battle of Britain” and “Gladiators of World War II: The Free Polish Forces” I’ve been able to see prideful countrymen look to restore faith in themselves, learn from the past, and re-establish what was once torn out of the history book and map. It has shed the image of a trodden, depleted and “forgotten” third world, by circumstance, country of the 20th century. I aim to show Poland’s vibrancy to the world!