Rushed to the nearest cinema yesterday to watch Wołyń by Wojtek Smarzowski, the film which had premiered the day earlier. Mr Smarzowski can boast of track record of directing films which authentically, yet sorely lay bare the darkest side of the human nature. I have watched all his films, except Róża, and reviewed Drogówka and Pod Mocnym Aniołem on the blog.
A dose of historical knowledge is essential if you are to fully understand the film which depicts the run-up to and the very Volhynia carnage and unless somebody is familiar with the topic, a thorough catch-up before the trip to a cinema is highly recommended. Despite me doing the homework beforehand, I was kind of astounded to see the joy of Ukrainians who greeted Red Army soldiers in 1939 as liberators setting them free from Polish tormentors and two years later, disillusioned with the new occupier, gave a warm welcome to Nazi army.
The film is less coarse and naturalistic than most previous films by Mr Smarzowski, though sexist scenes of crude intercourses appear to be an indispensable common denominator of all his pieces. In Wołyń, illustration of ordinary life, including its darkest aspects, is skilfully balanced with depiction of historical background of the carnage. The background which reminds a genocide is never a spontaneous misdeed, hatred needs a fertile ground to grow wild.
Dosage of atrocity in the film is, must I say, quite moderate. The film is meant to leave its audience mentally black and blue and renders appositely how the massacre in today’s territories of Western Ukraine actually looked. After reading historians’ records of how cruel the genocide was, the picture of murders comes out mild.
Comparing methods Ukrainian nationalists made use of to kill Poles, I believe most victims of Gestapo and NKVD at least had enviably short deaths. Prisoners of Nazi concentration camps were closed in gas chambers and fell asleep, breathing in lethal gases (most online sources I found while writing the post describe gassing as painless). NKVD officers killed their victims with one shot in a head. Both totalitarian regimes during WW2 ran industries of mass murder meant to annihilate Poles, quickly and efficiently. Ukrainian nationalists, though the death toll of the genocide committed by them is several times lower than number of victims of Nazis or Stalin, wanted not just to eradicate Poles from their homeland, but also did it with inhuman atrocity.
The film is a vital step towards truth and I hope it brings closer the carnage to Poles, as the matter is less known than several other acts of violence against Poles during WW2. The Wolhynia slaughter has also not been the subject of broader debate for the sake of building good relationships with independent Ukraine (how could it be possible without facing the truth?).
Germany has apologised and atoned for its WW2 felonies.
Russia, as a heir of the Soviet Union, has not atoned for its WW2 sins and cruelty, yet in 1993 when Russia seemed to be a civilised country (I longer consider it so since March 2014) its president Mr Jelcyn apologised to Poles for Katyn and in November 2010 its parliament passed a resolution condemning Katyn massacre. Today these might appear as hollow gestures, yet some steps were undeniably made towards reconciliation.
In 2001 president Kwaśniewski on behalf of Poles apologised to Jews for Jedwabne massacre.
Ukrainian intellectuals and artists have apologised for the Volhynia carnage to Poles several times, but Ukraine’s governments still take efforts to sweep the topic under the carpet. Remember the visit of former president Komorowski in April 2015? Mr Komorowski delivered a speech in the house of parliament, while a few hours later deputies passed a resolution glorifying Ukrainian nationalists responsible for genocide on Poles. Soon after the Smolensk disaster, Katyń by Andrzej Wajda was broadcast in Russian TV. In today’s Russia it would be unimaginable, however I doubt in the foreseeable future Wołyń could be watched by masses in Ukrainian TV.