Christmas Eve 1939 in the detention camp in Kozelsk
• Katyn was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for best foreign language film.
This film is the first account of the long-suppressed Katyn massacre of 1940, in which more than fourteen thousand Polish prisoners-of-war, were murdered by the NKVD, the Soviet secret police.
Andrzej Wajda on his movie
Katyn is a special film in my long career as a director. I never thought I would live to see the fall of the USSR, or that free Poland would provide me with the opportunity to portray on the screen the crime and lies of Katyn.
While Stalin's crime deprived my father of life, my mother was touched by the lies and the hoping in vain for the return of her husband.
The creation of the screenplay about Katyn took several years. The long, arduous process of looking through huge quantities of individual recollections, diaries, and other mementos confirmed my determination to base this first film about Katyn on the facts these materials related. And this is how the film's opening scene on the bridge, as well as the one featuring Soviet soldiers defacing the Polish flag, came to be. Most of the incidents depicted on the screen actually happened and were reported by eye-witnesses. While it is true that the details of the Katyn crime are now known, I couldn't omit, in this first film about the event, the image of death; death that met twenty thousand Polish officers. They were murdered, one at a time, a fact that was recorded in their personal files. This is evidence that the Soviet Union failed to recognize or respect any international standards, not even with regard to prisoners of war.
All the men who died did so as members of the Polish intelligentsia, and this paved the way for Stalin's subjugation of Poland.
Down on the Gniezdowo railway station (near Katyn)
A parallel theme to the Katyn crime is the Katyn lie and the official Soviet line that the Germans had committed the deed in 1941 after invading Soviet territory during the war.
This lie had its greatest impact on the wives, mothers, and daughters of the murdered officers. For it was these women, in their struggle to discover the truth, who experienced the greatest repression from the new government following 1945.
This is why, for years, Katyn has been an open, festering wound in the history of Poland that begged for a Polish film to address this topic. The first film.
From the Soviet archives
Women of the Katyn movie
This work, the most important in the director's career, is saturated with one emotion – pain, a pain that permeates the viewer. After Katyn, one can only be silent. Andrzej Wajda believes that now, after Katyn, other films will be made about this crime. I've allowed myself to disagree. Wajda's film opens up and closes the issue of Katyn in Polish cinematography. Following the shocking last sequence of the film, nothing can be added.
(...) It's no accident that the characters in the film have no family names, although we assume that the the character of the General is Mieczyslaw Smorawinski. The other characters in Katyn, Cavalry Captain Andrzej, Lieutenant (later Major) Jerzy, Lieutenant Pilot, are archetypes of Polish officers. They are husbands, sons, fathers. Out there, near Smolensk, it wasn't just men and prisoners-of-war who were murdered with a shot in the head from a Walther 7.65 mm.
(...) The most horrifying of all is that the demise of that Poland was truly irreversible. The director succeeds in depicting the generation brought up either on the motto Country, Education, Virtue or, the then scouting motto of Faith, Hope, and Love. The next generation, as we see in the character of young Tadeusz "Tur", who dies similarly to Maciek Chelmicki in Ashes and Diamonds, is faced with a choice – "live or lie". But Wajda succeeds in touching on the pre-war school of patriotism, which, in trying moments, taught you that you have only one life story.
Naturally, this refers not to the entire generation, and many write newer and newer versions of their life stories, and before long new generations are brought up in this efficient educational system that demands that all conform to the motto of Baseness, Fear, and Crime.
Krzysztof Maslon, Po "Katyniu" mozna tylko milczec (After "Katyn" one can only stay silent), "Rzeczpospolita", 13.09.2007
(...) This film asks nothing of us, it doesn't convert us. The color palette of Pawel Edelman's cinematography, Krzysztof Penderecki's music (excellently chosen phrases from whole works), the subdued acting – they combine to instill the viewer with the impression that this film is sprinkled with ashes. The tone is one of mourning, atonement (...).
The film depiction of Katyn will enter the common imagination as a representation of innocent Polish death, a silenced truth, which is portrayed with full brutality. This in itself must have been argument enough for Wajda to undertake the making of this film. To become the new Matejko, Grottger, the new Polish Goya painting patriots gunned down. In his film, the Katyn scenes have a power about them, but also a certain aesthetic modesty. There is no forced symbolism, no additional effects save the prayers repeated by the officers, which is entirely natural. The music fades to silence. And then comes up again. The final words of the film, just after the images of the hasty, factory-like killing, come from Penderecki's oratorio "Requiem aeternam dona eis" – "Eternal rest grant unto them".
Tadeusz Sobolewski, Gest Antygony (Antigone's Gesture), from www.gazeta.pl
The audience at the screening I attended was comprised mostly of young people, not a huge crowd, but still. They sat riveted on the film to its end. And these weren't activists from some political party or history or film studies students. They had certainly come of their own accord. And ultimately, 70 years after the event, for whom was the first film about Katyn made?
(...) Having avoided conversations about the film, having not read the initial reviews, I didn't know whether Wajda had decided to film the executions. My view was that he shouldn't have; that it would have be better to use some sort of metonymy or metaphor. But I was wrong. With just slight missteps – a rosary-clutching hand sticking out of the sand – the execution scene is great. I felt what my uncle, Reserve Lt. Leon "Dzidek" Szostkiewicz, must have felt in those Katyn woods.
Adam Szostkiewicz, Polityka, 5.10.2007
Although the film is entitled Katyn, most of the action takes place in Krakow. The families of the Polish officers imprisoned by the Soviets lived there (Wajda also spent the war in Krakow). The choice of Krakow is not accidental. This city is a symbol. Not only of the ancient Polish stronghold. Krakow is also associated in our minds as the world of culture and intelligentsia. It was indeed the Polish intelligentsia that was murdered in the Katyn forest. And without the intelligentsia, relates one of the characters in Wajda's film, there will be no free Poland.
Setting the film in Krakow permitted Wajda to counterbalance the crime committed by the Bolsheviks and the crime committed by the Nazis. Katyn also includes a scene that portrays the arrest of the faculty of the Jagiellonian University.
(...) The Russian reaction to Katyn is interesting. They certainly maintain that Wajda's film is yet another example of Polish anit-Russian hysteria. However, Katyn is not an anti-Russian film. And not just because of the appearance in the film of a "good Russian", the captain, who, knowing what fate awaits the interned Poles and their families, tries to save Anna and her daughter. Katyn stands as an accusation of criminal, totalitarian systems. The executioners in the film are nameless. Rarely does the camera show their faces. Not until the final scenes, when subsequent Poles fall into the hands of the executioners, does the portrait of Stalin appear on screen. It was on his order that nearly twenty thousand Poles were murdered.
Elzbieta Ciapara, film critic at the monthly Film, Dziennik, 17.09.2007
(...) The decision to tell the story of this tragedy from the female viewpoint, that of the wives, mothers, and sisters who waited for their men and fought for their memories, may be the most justified of Wajda's moves as a director. Thanks to this, the tragedy takes on a human proportion, and not just a Polish one. Also astonishing is how wide Wajda's vision is of the whole "Katyn affair" and how true to documented historical facts he remains. This is evident in in both the details (the reaction of Krakow to the news of the massacre, the lists of Katyn victims, the fate of the personal effects found with the bodies, Nazi and Soviet documents from the crime scene, the affair of the Soviet officer), and certain generalizations (the protagonists are merely "representatives" of the fates of the victims and their families, and not actual historical people). Wajda has touched on such a topic, that, even today it remains hard to predict whether anyone will have sufficient strength, desire, and determination to bear the burden (and it is enormous) of pushing through another film that perhaps focuses on other aspects of those months and years.
Dagmara Romanowska, Pozostaje tylko milczenie (Only silence remains) Onet.pl, 21.09.2007
Katyn – the album
This book tells the story of the movie Katyn.
Commentary by Andrzej Wajda and his film crew is accompanied by stills from throughout the film.
The chronology of the Katyn crime and the lies surrounding it as well as the numerous historical photographs from Andrzej Wajdas personal archive are valuable resources regarding this event.
This book is especially compelling in its presentation of the objects that were discovered during the exhumations of the Polish officers.
Page translated by Jennifer Zielinska
Katyn • Films
Wajda on his 80 birthday • Wajda about himself • The director's two eyes
Oscar in 2000 • Other awards
Theatre • Polish Television Theatre • Why do I work in the theatre?
Why Japan? • Favorites • Picture gallery
About Wajda • Steven Spielberg's letter • Books by and about Wajda
How this site was created? • Site authors