The Best in Documentary Filmmaking: The Officer’s Wife, a Must-See for Polish Americans

The Officer's Wife, a film by Piotr Uzarowicz.

The Officer's Wife, a film by Piotr Uzarowicz.

“The families don’t want retribution,” said Chicago filmmaker Piotr Uzarowicz at the hometown premiere of his film The Officer’s Wife today at the Chicago Cultural Center. “They want Russia to acknowledge the crimes committed at Katyn.”

For seventy years, the murder of some 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia, Uzarowicz’s grandfather among them,  has been the dirty little secret that the Allies, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill conspired to keep quiet in the interest of appeasing their so-called ally, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet empire, which annexed Poland after ‘World War II, with the quiet compliance of the West.

Not only does Uzarowicz’s film set the record straight with the eyewitness  testimony of numerous family members of the victims of Katyn but also with the preeminent historians of the era, including British author Norman Davies, arguably the best writer of 20th-century Polish history in English.

Robert Rusiecki, deputy consul general at the Polish Consulate in Chicago helped introduce the film, calling it “a quest for memory, a quest for justice, but most of all a quest for truth.”

Uzarowiczsaid the impetus for the film came from the discovery of a memoir by his grandmother, which he found in a “treasure box” his father had kept hidden away for his entire life. It was only after his father’s death, Uzarowicz said, that his own search for the truth began. His grandmother’s memoir became the framework for his film and the link to something much bigger that has affected Poles all over the world. The complicity of American and British government officials in keeping Katyn a secret was epitomized by his discovery that when Stalin objected to Poles being included in the London victory parade, England capitulated and they were excluded, even though Polish soldiers and airmen had fought valiant for Britain.

Peppered with questions after the screening, Uzarowicz said is was a matter of “politics” and “alliances” that permitted this atrocity to be virtually wiped off the historical record for 70 years.

The Officer’s Wifeis a beautifully filmed and edited documentary. One of the most striking aspects of the film is the way the director handled the interviews with survivors, who were filmed against a black background that allows the viewer to concentrate on the faces and hands of the speakers. Almost magically, they appear to be speaking again as the children they were when they lived the nightmare of deporation to Siberia, slave labor, starvation, and eventual freedom through Iran to Palestine and on to England, Argentina, and the U.S.A.

The film was shown as part of the 2011 Cinema/Chicago International Screenings programsponsored by the Chicago Cultural Center. Among the guests in the audience was author Wesley Adamczyk, whose account of his own family’s deportation to Siberia and his father’s murder at Katyn, When God Looked the Other Way, was recently translated into Polish and named the best  book of the year in 2010 in Poland.

For an excellent conversation with Uzarowicz, vist the Cosmopolitan Review website.

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