A meeting with Edmund Wojtyla

Piotr Waszek talks to Stanislaw Janicki, director of the film ‘Brat Papieza’ [The Brother of the Pope].

Piotr Waszek: – Your several years of artistic work abounded in various challenges. Was your work on the film about Edmund Wojtyla of the same character?

Stanislaw Janicki: – Yes, it was. When Dr. Adam Kwiecinski, a physician and at the same time the initiator of the film, asked me to make a movie about the physician Edmund Wojtyla I only knew that he was the elder brother of Karol and that he died very young working in the hospital in Bielsko-Biala. That poor knowledge and a few photos, his birth certificate, his baptism certificate and his school records were too little to make a film, in a responsible and interesting way, about the Pope’s brother. But this is the challenge and essence of the job of every maker of documentaries, including short films, to reach the uncovered materials, to reach the places connected with the life of the hero in order to show future spectators what is worthy and valuable and what has not been discovered yet. But above all, you should have a proper attitude towards the man you are going to make your film about. And you should not only get to know the hero but you must understand him and love him, especially when your hero is such a person as Edmund Wojtyla.

– Your work on this film lasted a few years...

– Every film requires a lot of preparations. You should prepare the necessary documentation; reach the places of the story. Fortunately, it occurred that most of the places where Edmund and the whole Wojtyla family experienced their moments of joy, tragedies, education and professional work, including trips to the mountains, have remained almost untouched. I mean the family house, the church, the gymnasium in Wadowice, the military barracks in Hranice in the Morawa district, the buildings of the Medical Faculty of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, the students’ house of residence where he lived, the aula hall where he received his diploma of a medical doctor of ‘all sciences’, the hospital in Wadowice where he had his medical internship during his studies and finally the city hospital in Bielsko-Biala where Edmund Wojtyla worked and died. This is an extraordinary feeling: to be and produce a film in the places where he lived. The most dramatic scenes and most difficult to shoot because they were fictionalised with the role of the excellent actor Wlodzimierz Pohl, who played Edmund, and the children who acted for the first time in their lives, were unique and moving, and I think unforgettable, for me and for all the film crew. But first of all you had to spend much time writing the screenplay. I used all available preserved materials, including the statements of John Paul II about his brother and the fragmentary information in some documents. My talks to Dr. Richert and Dr. Kossowski were very valuable and thanks to them I avoided many possible gaffes and I could reconstruct the interior and the atmosphere of the hospital in the early 1930s.

– Finally, you completed the film with the Publishing House and Film Studio Anima Media, which belongs to the Diocese of Bielsko-Zywiec...

– After several years of work, with compulsory organisational breaks, Anima Media joined the project and our common efforts yielded the fruit of the film on the 100th anniversary of Edmund Wojtyla’ birth in 2006. The premiere, which I hope was moving to me and to the whole film crew that worked with unique dedication and often in difficult conditions: the cameramen Krzysztof Tusiewicz and Tomasz Wojcik, art director and costume designer Joanna Brzeska-Klinik and production manager Bartosz Klinik, took place in the Polish Theatre in Bielsko-Biala in that year.

– The person of Edmund Wojtyla is little known, but he was a real ‘Dr. Judym’...

– Unfortunately, there are no sufficient studies concerning Edmund. The information is inadequate and incomplete. His retouched photographs in the family albums distorted his appearance. We managed to gain the unknown pictures of adult Edmund Wojtyla, which had not been known before. During our work we met some people for whom Edmund was a very important and unique figure. I hope that ‘Brat Papieza’ will unveil and bring closer this extraordinary figure. At first, he was an outstanding student coming from a poor family. Then he was a very talented physician and hospital director deputy. He was loved by his patients. They mentioned that he had used to amuse his smallest patients organising a one-actor theatre so that the children could forget their hospital loneliness and monotony (the infectious diseases ward!). He was a man of blood and iron. He had a good sense of humour, a passion for sports and mountains as well as for theatre. Undoubtedly, he was an uncommon figure that people remembered many years after his death.

– Your work on this film abounded in surprises. One of them was the fiancée of Edmund.

– Seeking various sources is always an interesting job. The biggest surprise and at the same time the hidden and dramatic one, was the fact that Edmund had a fiancée and she was not his patient, as people used to say, whom he treated and from whom he caught the incurable infectious disease (scarlet fever). When I was making the film in July 2005 I learnt from Mrs Katarzyna Klosinska from Katowice that in her family there was a woman who had known Edmund very well and who was very close to him. Her name was Jadwiga Urbanowna (who was then 97 years old). She was a very good friend and then an official fiancée of Edmund.

– That news must have changed a lot...

– Yes, it did change. I did not expect such a discovery. I learned that Edmund had liked bacon and eggs very much, that he had worn knickerbockers and a cap and when he had become a doctor he ordered a uniform – grey czamaras recalling the time of the Kosciuszko Insurrection. But the most important information was about Edmund and his relationship with Jadwiga, his letters and mountain excursions and future marriage plans, which the tragic death of Edmund stopped. Founding Jadwiga turned my script upside down. I had to change many scenes and to include numerous new items of information. And what was most important, I could use the original photographs of Edmund and Jadwiga, including the only authentic photo taken during their last trip to the mountain (summer 1932).

– Edmund was older than Karol. Can we say anything about his influence on the younger brother?

– Edmund, who was 14 years older, had a very close relationship with his brother from the very beginning, especially after the death of their mother. Karol used to visit his brother in Bielsko. He came with his father. Then they set out for walks in the mountains. But even earlier Edmund made his younger brother like sports. They walked in the neighbouring hills (Leskowiec was their favourite). Moreover, Edmund who was fascinated by the theatre inclined Karol to pick up the passion for the theatre as well. Looking at the lives of those two brothers very carefully one can easily notice that Karol owned his many interests and hobbies to his older brother. I assume that their spiritualities were similar, too, although Edmund wanted to help the suffering and needed as a layman. He regarded his doctor’s calling as most appropriate. He paid the price of his life, in terrible sufferings. His last words repeated in the fever were ‘Why me?’ Because he was a man who regarded helping others as his most noble obligation.

Next week ‘Niedziela’ is going to publish an interview with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz about the Wojtyla family, an especially about Edmund, the brother of Pope John Paul II.

Stanislaw Janicki
He wrote the screenplay and directed the film ‘Brat Papieza’. He finished journalism at Warsaw University. He is known for his famous TV series ‘W starym kinie’ [In the old cinema] (1967-99). Since 1953 he has been working as a journalist, showing great dedication to his profession. He has collaborated with many TV and radio programmes as well as with the press. The result of his passion and artistic activities is over 40 short films and TV series as well as 10 books about cinematography, most of which have been also published abroad.

Professor Wladyslaw Szumowski, a lecturer of Edmund Wojtyla at the Jagiellonian University: There is a symposium of three people at a patient’s bed: a doctor, a patient and God. Any physician, who wants to use a maximum of his medical skills, must influence the patient’s body and soul. Life requires detailed rules, paragraphs, codices and sanctions. You can do this and you must not do this. However, life is very complicated. No code can foresee all the complications. The highest authority should be the doctor’s conscience dominated by nobleness. A physician should look at his patient as his neighbour whom he should help and his help should be his noble human task.

"Niedziela" 13/2008

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl