Polish film director Andrzej Wajda, who directed the film "Katyn", talks to FRANCE24 about the massacre of 22,000 Poles by Soviet forces during World War II.
Filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, who directed the film “Katyn” about the 1940 massacre of Polish citizens by the Red Army in the Katyn Forest, hailed the commemoration Wednesday by Russian and Polish leaders as a step toward “historical truth”.
Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Polish premier Donald Tusk paid homage to those killed in the Katyn Forest massacre of 1940 in a move that filmmaker Andrzej Wajda, who directed the film “Katyn”, said gave him “great hope”.
“I expect more steps in the direction of explaining and reconciling what happened,” Wajda told FRANCE 24.
A 5 March 1940 secret order signed by the Soviet central committee, including then-leader Joseph Stalin, called for the execution of Polish prisoners of war it said were enemies of the state planning “to actively participate in a fight against the Soviet government”. The Red Army had taken some 230,000 Polish POWs after its mid-September 1939 invasion of Poland, which followed the Nazi invasion of September 1.
Between the March 5 order and May of 1940 the Soviet secret police, or NKVD, killed almost 22,000 Poles, mostly military officers but also civil servants, artists, teachers and diplomats.
For Wajda, this crime “lives on in Polish society” 70 years after the events. What happened at Katyn “was never recognised as a war crime”, he says. Thoughts of the 22,000 Polish soldiers and intellectuals who were assassinated “live on in our houses, our hearts, our memories”, he says. “They were killed to pave the way for the Soviet system in Poland, because a totalitarian system, if it wants to exist, must get the intellectuals out of the way. Even Hitler treated Polish intellectuals better than Stalin did.”
It has already been a long road. “In 2000 an investigation was opened, and we hoped the events at Katyn would be brought to light,” Wajda says. “But the inquest was suspended in 2004, unfortunately.” He says this situation, so painful for Poles, has remained an obstacle to any reconciliation between Poland and Russia.
Wajda thus dedicated his film to the Stalinist purges of the spring of 1940. Released in 2007, “Katyn” tried to show “the truth of the brutality and that the victims were not only the assassinated officers but the women who waited for them, day after day, hour after hour, while entertaining horrific doubts”, according to an introduction on the film’s official site.
What Wajda was putting to film was a drama at once shared and deeply personal, for his family had been personally affected. “My father was not assassinated at Katyn,” he told FRANCE 24. “My father was assassinated in the cellars of the NKVD (Soviet secret police) at Kharkov, and buried in the cemetery in that village.”
“Katyn” was aired for the first time on the Russian public television channel Kultura last week. “The Russian public knows of the events but, unfortunately, believes it to have been a German crime,” he says. “One must not forget that for some years the Soviet Union propagated this version of events at Katyn and maintained this version until 1989, when Poland regained its liberty” from the Soviet bloc.
For Russia’s official daily “Russkaya Gazeta,” last Friday’s broadcast of “Katyn” signaled “considerable progress on the part of (Russian) society on the road to restoring historical truth”.