are the forgotten concentration camp prisoners.
Originally, the National Socialists commissioned Auschwitz to hold
Polish POWs and prisoners of conscience.
An estimated 130,000-140,000 perished there due to starvation and
inhumane treatment. Another 15,000
Soviet POWs were also imprisoned there, a substantial percentage of whom were in
fact Ukrainians, according to the historical context provided by Rutgers Prof.
Alexander Motyl before last night’s screening of Marek Pawłowski’s The Runaway (trailer here) at the Ukrainian
Institute of America.
the film’s subjects and the co-sponsorship of the host Institute, the Polish
Cultural Institute and the Ukrainian Film Club of Columbia, the theme of
Ukrainian-Polish cooperation was often expressed. It is not hard to understand
why the three cultural organizations shared an interest in the Polish Pawłowski’s
documentary. It tells the story of the
filmmaker’s countryman, Kazimierz Piechowski, the sole survivor of the first
successful escape from Auschwitz.
was a risky plan largely formulated by Ukrainian Yevhen “Gienek” Bendera, perfectly
executed by the former mechanic, Piechowski, and their two Polish
comrades. However, their clean getaway
was just the beginning of the story. Initially,
Piechowski seemed likely to share the tragic fate that befell his fellow
escapees. As was the case for most
veterans of the Polish Home Army after the war, Piechowski found himself
consigned to a Communist prison on trumped up charges. While his ten year sentence was considered
relatively light, he endured regular torture sessions throughout his
incarceration. When he was finally
released, Piechowski went back to the only civilian job he had known in the
Gdansk shipyards. Right, from there
everyone should have a rough idea how the story unfolds.
a good portion of Runaway celebrates Piechowski’s
resiliency and modest triumph over two of the Twentieth Century’s most
oppressive ideologies. Evidently, Piechowski and his beloved wife longed to
travel the world during the dark days of Communism, so now they do as wonderfully
spry senior citizens. (In a way, they
bring to mind the lovely parents of our Czech friends, who sort of became
home-bodies when their illegally appropriated family home was restored to them
after the Velvet Revolution. God bless them both.)
it is rather refreshing to get some spiritual uplift in a film that covers both
the National Socialist concentration camps and the years of Stalinist oppression.
Indeed, Pawłowski pulls off quite a neat trick in that respect. Visually, Runaway has a bit of a TV production
look, but the scenes of Piechowski revisiting the notorious concentration camp
are powerful nonetheless. As it happens,
Pawłowski’s documentary has had significant television air time in both Poland
and Germany (which is a particularly good thing).
Without question, Piechowski is an inspiring
figure, well worth meeting on-screen. Clocking in at a disciplined fifty-six
minutes, Runaway will broaden many
viewers perspective on the harrowing realities of both regimes he
outlived. It also serves as a reminder
of the tragic legacy shared by Poland and Ukraine that will hopefully lead to
greater friendly solidarity for the two countries (such as that expressed
Miroslav Dembiński’s Dwarves Go to Ukraine). Recommended for anyone who might have an opportunity to see it at
a festival or academic venue, Pawłowski’s The
Runaway really deserves a spot on PBS’s schedule.
Labels: Documentary, Kazimierz Piechowski, Polish Films