Posts Tagged ‘Poland’
Ryszard Kapuściński. A Life. Artur Domosławski. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Verso).
In 1953, an acquaintance of Kapuściński, Teresa Lechowska, was sent to prison. A Warsaw she got two and a half years for making political quips. One was about Soviet (Lysenko) genetics. “Why is a good idea to cross an apple tree with a dog? Because it waters itself, and if anyone tries to steal the apples, it barks?” At the time that this real-life Milan Kundera’s “joke” took place, Kapuściński was a committed Communist and member of the party’s youth-wing (ZMP). He wrote a poem with the lines, “We, – stronger by a billion hands, mightier, by force of Stalin’s mind” (page 60) He was a member of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) until the declaration of Martial Law by General Jaruzelski in 1981.
Domosławski’s biography is not just the story of somebody caught up in Polish Stalinism. It is a critical, deeply researched, “warts and all” account of one of the 20th century’s leading field journalists. Kapuściński’s reportage, his books, The Emperor (1978), on Haile Selassie, the Shah of Shas (1982), are not only exceptional, they form part of the mental furniture of millions of readers. Domosławski’s unravelling of the factual basis of much of these books has created the most visible controversy. But it is perhaps Kapuściński’s political engagements, including the Stalinism just cited, that make for the most troubling discussion.
Turning the pages, again, of The Shadow of the Sun (2001) is to be reminded of just how fine a writer Kapuściński was. In this collection of African reports his Lecture on the Rwandan genocide ends with the Tutsis’ return and the flight of Hutus implicated in the mass killings. Read the rest of this entry »
In Darkness (Polish W ciemności) is a film about Europe’s Eastern Borderlands (or as Timothy D. Snyder, called them the Bloodlands) during the Second World War. It is set in the murk of the sewers of the Polish town, Lwów (now Lviv) as it is occupied by the German army with its Ukrainian collaborators.
It opens with Leopold Socha, a worker in these drains, plundering a flat with his workmate. A woman arrives with a German soldier, but they escape to woods with their booty, only to witness German soldiers chasing terrified naked women – immediately assumed to be Jewish – and gunning them down. Undeterred the pair split up and Socha returns home with his loot.
The brutality of the German occupiers, and the causal indifference, easily boiled into hostility, of the population to the fate of the Jews, herded in a ghetto and humiliated, is the backdrop. As the ghetto is liquidated Socha discovers a group of Jews trying to hide in the sewers. He offers to protect them, for cash. Eventually only a tiny number can be sheltered in the most secure area. The rest of the film is played out in its shadows, as small betrayals, confusion, torrential downpours and the ever-present threat of discovery, pen them in.
At last a gentle sense of humanity works its way throughout the gloom. After 14 months the Jewish sewer dwellers emerge into the sunlight as the Russians arrive to drive the Germans and their Ukrainian allies out.
Holland’s film is factually based.. Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) was a real sewer worker in Lvov, a small thief prepared to take advantage of Jews trying to get away from the German. He is coarser and colder than Schindler but the film has some points in common with that portrayal of how humanity can prevail over mixed motives. Socha is a hard man in hard conditions. His Catholicism, or any moral feeling, is superficial, until his wife points out that “Jesus and Our Lady were Jews”.
Dead after the war, in an accident, Socha was posthumously honoured as a “righteous gentile” in Israel.
The director is Agnieszka Holland. In Darkness was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards.
This is a stark and riveting picture, without any glossy surface. It does the survivors and Socha, its cast and director, honour.