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88 of 89 found the following review helpful:
Masterful Film Jun 12, 2009
By Paul E. Richardson
The 1940 Soviet massacre of over 20,000 Polish internees, including some 12,000 officers in Katyn forest, was, by any measure, a horrific war crime, yet one that has never been prosecuted, and one that has been shrouded and confused over the past half century by coverups, propaganda and a general desire to forget the past. (The Soviet government did not officially admit that the killings were ordered by Stalin until 1990.)
Wajda's masterful film centers on this dismal episode by revealing the webs of commitment and interaction that connect disparate lives - from an impetuous youth, to the staid wife of an executed general. Most all of the movie is an examination of these connections, of how lies and fabrications feed terror, of how in war there are seldom good choices between right and wrong. Only in the closing minutes, after all the victims have been deeply humanized, is the brutal, machine-like horror of the killings brought to center stage. The effect is powerful and profound.
The misty cinematography, in hues of brown and grey, evokes the mood and texture of wartime. Characters are richly drawn, and if at times the sudden introduction of new faces is confusing, it is only until one realizes Wajda's intent: these people could be any of us. (As reviewed in Russian Life)
66 of 69 found the following review helpful:
A tragic story that was not allowed to be told earlier because of suppressed truth and political pressure May 23, 2009
By Richard J. Brzostek
If the Poles didn't have it bad enough by having by having nearly the entire German army blitzkrieg it's Western border on September 1, 1939, the Soviet army then invaded from the East sixteen days later. Katyn presents a history lesson that most people never heard about: the mass murder of tens of thousands of Polish officers by the Russians in 1940. While watching this film you may wonder if the Russians mistreated Poland worse than the Germans did during World War II (which is a debate in itself).
The Germans found the massacre site in 1943 and announced it to the Poles, hoping to use it for propaganda against Russia. The Russians denied the accusation and then staged it to appear the Germans were behind the butchery. Katyn doesn't tell the story in a chronological way, but we see it unfold slowly; we see both the men at war and the women at home who love them. The wives, mothers and daughters of the Polish officers spend so much time waiting and wondering what happened to them. Even when the war ends the problems of the war do not - they spill into the decades that follow.
Andrzej Wajda is Poland's best-known director and has been making films for over fifty years. I think it is great Wajda is still making films because his recent work is opening the door to younger audiences who primarily watch contemporary movies. He has long ago established himself as being a brilliant director and Katyn reflects his years of experience and talent.
Katyn is a story that is strongly based on history and is the first film about the Soviet massacre of nearly 22,000 Polish officers. I viewed Katyn with someone who lived through this time and he confirmed that even the smallest details were right on and the way it is presented is how it was. It is a tragic story that was not allowed to be told earlier because of suppressed truth and political pressure. This movie is not just for people that like historical dramas but is one that may be of interest to everyone.
81 of 86 found the following review helpful:
Communist Poland Was Built On The Lies Told About Katyn Jul 31, 2009
By Michael D. Goolsby
This was probably the biggest national heartbreak suffered by a single country other than the Holocaust. It happened when Stalin ordered the NKVD to "liquidate" the captured Polish POW's who had the misfortune of being captured by Timoshenko's troops instead of Guderian's or Runstedt's. The "4th Partition Of Poland" created a problem for the western allies that would not resurface until 1942 when Stalin's government, who adamantly refused the recognized legitimate government-in-exile in London's request to send the Swiss and the Red Cross over to what the Germans discovered at Katyn. The Soviets told the world it was a German Atrocity while the Nazis were telling the world that it was a Soviet Atrocity. Only the Poles and Soviets knew the real truth and no Nazi forensics was going to tell anybody different. The Poles because it affected their families directly when they lost contact with their loved ones captured by the Red Army. The Soviets because they knew exactly who gave the orders as well as who carried those orders out--afterward, many of them who committed the executions themselves would be slaughtered by their co-workers on orders of their superiors. What few survivors there were from the executioners' side were either discredited because of their mental imbalances or they drunk themselves to their deaths. It was the lies of Katyn that compelled Stalin to break relations with the London Government as well as work to crush the Polish Home Army that was loyal to it. The Home Army fought and died with the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Germans while Rokossovsky's troops were ordered to stand back and let the Germans take out the last vestige of Pilsudski's and Paderewski's Pre-War Poland. Once it was clear that the Germans effectively eradicated all Polish military resistance, The Stavka gave the order with Stalin's blessing for Rokossovsky's forces to take Warsaw from the Germans and continue their drive to the west to take up as much land as possible before the Americans and the British take it.
Katyn was the fulcrum by which the Polish people would judge their experience under Communist rule, first under Soviet Occupation and then as a Soviet satellite, a forced ally despite centuries of mistrust between them. The lies of Katyn that compelled Stalin to set up the Lublin Government in 1942 to counter the London Government and when Rokossovsky took Warsaw, the Lublin Government became the de-facto government of Poland--even though many in its government, including its Minister of Defense, Konstantin Ustinovich Rokossovsky himself, were not Poles. Because of Katyn, many Poles after the war did not respect the Polish Government as their legitimate government, Let alone the PRP, the Polish Communist Party.
The Polish Governments of Wladislaw Gomulka, Stanislav Konya, Edvard Gierek, Konya again and Wojciech Jaruzelski had to walk a balancing act between the Polish people and the Soviets despite the fact that the rest of the world did recognize Gomulka's government as the official government of Poland in the mid-1940s. It was fait accompli that made it happen, brought about by a Soviet victory which further tried to bury Katyn to the Poles and the rest of the world--even though the rest of the world knew the truth. Churchill even wrote about it in his history of the Second World War.
It wasn't until Gorbachev became General Secretary in Moscow and his calls for openness after the Chernobyl disaster that forced a discussion about Katyn in both Poland and the Soviet Union. The Poles also learned other truths about their leaders as well, especially Jaruzelski, who during that time was arrested by Smersh troops and and hauled off to a gulag in Siberia, only to be rehabilitated after the war and brought into the ranks of the new Polish Army and the PRP. By discussing the subject of Katyn, the Poles confirmed their beliefs in their common loss, which until this time was considered a loss suffered by specific families. By this time, the Polish government found itself in an untenable position with their own people and without Gorbachev and his government to support them further. If it was the will of the people to undo their government by either coup or reform, the Red Army would not stand in the way. The only guarantee that Gorbachev would give to Poland was that their territorial integrity especially against Germany would be defended.
Jaruzelski had to give opposition parties more legitimacy and even had to allow for the possibility that the PRP could lose its monopoly on political power, especially when the government thus far failed to deliver prosperity to the people it served. He also had to allow for the possibility that he may also be tried for crimes either for what he did in World War II or even afterward. The government was between a rock and hard place. Eventually, that government dissolved peacefully and the opposition parties gathered together with the PRP's successor party, the USDRP. In the early-1990s, even Jaruzelski tried to paint himself as a reformer in the Gorbachev mold, but his past caught up to him, especially what he did in 1981 trying to squelch the Solidarity movement.
The lessons of Katyn are that no matter how deep one tries to bury the truth behind an atrocity, It will always be in the background and will determine how one perceives people who either built the lies or benefited from them. Katyn founded Post-War Poland twice--first in 1942 by its lies and then in 1990 by its truth.
18 of 18 found the following review helpful:
An Outstanding Movie is Finally Widely Available May 12, 2008
By Jan Peczkis
"Scholar and Thinker"
Andrzej Wajda's masterpiece, KATYN, was recently nominated for the Oscar. It is a very moving, educational, and thought-provoking film.
The movie begins with the German-Soviet conquest of Poland in 1939. The viewer senses the actions of the aggressors through the eyes of the civilians.
But this is only the beginning of Poland's sufferings. Both enemies of Poland begin their genocide of Poles with the cream of Polish society. The Germans invite some professors to the university, only to promptly arrest them (for shooting, or slow deaths in concentration camps). The Soviets hold the captured officers and intellectuals at places such as Kozielsk, where the prisoners sing Christmas carols in December 1939. It will be their last Christmas. By spring 1940, the Soviets decide to shoot nearly all of the captive Polish officers.
The movie also shows the life of relatives of the Soviet-held men. First there are the letters, and hope for a speedy reunion. Then...silence. Finally, the Germans break the news of their discovery of the Katyn mass graves, and exploit it for propaganda purposes--hoping to divide the Allies. The relatives face the fact that their men will never return.
After the war, the suffering of the Katyn relatives continues. Information about the exact fate of the missing men is skimpy. The Soviet puppet state, using the Communist terror police (the UB), tries to force the grieving relatives to sign a statement blaming the Germans for the crime. The relatives also face pressure from others to "accept reality" that Poland will never again be free, and must align itself with Soviet dictates. They refuse. Then they have problems sending their son to the university because they won't bow to the Soviet lie about Katyn.
Polish movies tell it like it was, and often don't have a happy ending. WARNING: This movie has graphic scenes of the Polish officers being shot and blood being spilled. This may upset sensitive viewers. These scenes come near the end of the movie, as the victims are trucked to the sites of death, and, one-by-one, shot point-blank in the back of the head. The beginnings of the "Our Father" are the last words on their lips.
A superb movie! I only wish that it was translated into English, and widely used in history classes throughout the English-speaking world.
17 of 18 found the following review helpful:
Finally, the Truth Aug 23, 2009
By Alice S. Faintich
My great uncle is identified as body number 758 of those dug up from the pits at Katyn Forest and identified. I therefore could relate strongly to this powerful movie. There were few happy endings for Poles during and after World War II, and unlike Hollywood movies, this film shows the stark reality of the situation for Poles caught between the brutality of the Germans and the Soviets. Both my great uncle and grandfather were officers (doctors) with the army reserve who were mobilized in August 1939. Both were rounded up with their units by the Soviets and separated from other ranks. My grandfather managed to escape when they were first rounded up and before the rest were transported elsewhere, but like the officer in the movie, my great uncle decided to stay with the other officers. No one ever saw him again. When the pits were dug up, we believe the Germans sent for his wife and youngest daughter to help in the idenfication. They were never seen again either. This movie is faithful to the history as we now know it and to the story as I heard it growing up in London surrounded by emigre Poles. It's time the rest of the world understood what went on in Poland during this dreadful time in its history.
Not long after his escape, my grandfather, along with my grandmother and father (at age 14), were rounded up and deported to Siberia as slave laborers (along with 1.5 million other Poles, roughly half of whom did not survive). My father has written a memoir of his experiences in the labor camp and his journey to freedom. The first edition of his book sold out in the U.K. and Poland, but the second edition will be available worldwide in February 2010, the 70th anniversary of the first deportation of Poles by the Soviets. [...]
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