Krzysztof Kunert talks with Stanisław Srokowski, a writer, a poet, a playwright, an expert on the borderlands history and culture, whose works became the base for the film ‘Wołyń’

KRZYSZTOF KUNERT: - Is ‘Wołyń’ a breakthrough which will cleanse history from its lies?

STANISŁAW SROKOWSKI: - This is astonishing and characteristic how viewers react to ‘Wołyń’ by Wojciech Smarzowski. In cinema halls there is prevailing paralyzing silence which is somehow an expression of helplessness and also human silence which is deep. And, in the background, there are questions: What to do with the world? How to cope with tragedies which are constantly touching us? Which direction will our fates go? I think that this film which shocks human consciences and human memory so strongly, is a very good sign of our times. It says that we must remember, we must know, we must understand and we must defend ourselves from the evil. In ourselves and in our surroundings.

– But aren’t you worried by the title of the film? Murders on the borderlands comprised not only Wołyn.

– Indeed, when we say: Wołyń, we locate our memory in one borderlands province. Whereas the borderlands before the war were eight provinces. Crime which is illustrated by the film comprised provinces of: Wołyń, Tarnów, Kraków. Wherever murders were committed with the same cruelty. Pre-war borderlands comprised 52 per cent of the territory of our country. In my book ‘Hatred’ on which the film is based, I sketch a broader background. The film director chose Wołyń symbolically. It is good to compare the book with the film – then on can understand the reality of that time better. In my borderland trilogy: ‘Ukrainian lover’, ‘Betrayal’ and ‘The blind go to Heaven’, one can also find atmosphere of that epoch, attitudes of heroes, customs, traditions similar to the ones which are in the film.

– ‘Wołyń’ is a film about a historical tragedy which took place a few dozen years ago on the Polish borderlands. But is it a film about genocide?

– This film is a whirl of matters which concern that epoch. It touches on a lot of problems and says about a lot of time signs. Firstly, this is a film about the war, what the war is and how tragic it is.

– So, what is this tragedy?

– This is a film about a disaster of the Latin civilization, because after this crime the Catholic Church on those areas stopped existing and it was so for many years. It is also about a loss, division, destruction to which the Polish culture fell prey. There are scenes which show how terribly churches, monuments, our Polish soul were destroyed. This is also a film about civilization disaster, because after those crimes on those areas, a spiritual desert appeared. This is also a film about fragility of the human life. We see characters who devote themselves to build their lives and one can only point with a finger and somebody is killed. This is also a film about great and beautiful love, about motherhood, which defends itself from death. And it wins.

– You present a shocking event after which a desert appears…

– Poland was feeding itself culturally, philosophically, artistically, in a literary and scientific way. The borderlands had been creating great national, religious values from the very beginning. They had been building the identity of the nation, forming memory, creating the Polish language. Beginning with Mikołaj Rej, who was born near Lvov. It was the beginning of the Polish language in literature. Rej raised the language of the Polish people to literary heights. In fact in XVI century literature began to be written in Polish. And later we can see hundreds of examples of prominent Polish writers, like, among the others, Franciszek Karpiński, about whom we do not remember every day but when the Christmas comes, we start singing carols, for example, ‘God is being born’. Karpiński was an inhabitant on the borderlands, was born near Kołomyja. Later we can mention great giants of our culture and literature: Adam Mickiewicz – born near Vilnius, Juliusz Słowacki – born in Krzemieniec, Aleksander Fredro, whose monument is in Wrocław… Every century brought us a great person of literature but not only, as also theatre, music and painting. Zbigniew Herbert is the greatest person of the contemporary times, which derive from the borderlands. As for science, I will only point to one sphere: a big Lvov mathematic school with prof. Stefan Banach at helm. This great richness derived from the borderlands. If it had not been for it, Poland would be much poorer.

– You speak about the significance richness of the film ‘Wołyń’. What is the most shocking for me is the reality without God. His death, which means the human disaster….

– Yes, it is a very important dimension of this work. Among many questions which this film asks, there is a question about God. What is happening with the world, which loses God? Which loses metaphysics, thinking about eternity, infiniteness, about the supreme signs of history and religion? This film makes us ask questions: Why? What happened with the man that such a crime was committed? Why did such ideologies appear which led to this situation? What comes to our mind is a beautiful and wise saying of St. Augustine: ‘If God is in the first place, then everything is in their right place’. When we are looking for a cause of this big betrayal committed by the man towards God, we see which direction the world is going, when God is thrown away from heart, from mind, from memory from human imagination.

– Life without God brought bad results.

– In Wołyń 60 thousand Poles were murdered, whereas on the whole borderlands investigators speak about the number of 200 thousand, and even more. Nearly 1.5 million Poles were sent to Siberia, nearly 1.5 million – to work in Germany. Moreover, the Soviets and the Germans who invaded the borderlands, murdered the Polish educated people, Polish scientists. This is what the world without God looks like.

– The world whose tragedy did not end in 1945….

– Later there was a tragedy of extermination from the Polish land. Inhabitants of the borderlands were disavowed people who did not have any rights to speak about their fate at the communist times. For about forty years, inhabitants of the borderlands had their mouth shut. At that time, a false myth of the Polish-Soviet friendship was being built, and the borderlands were conquered by the Soviets. So, there was silence. Please, imagine this deep suffering of people, whose mothers, fathers, sons were killed with axes, knives – and they could not speak about it! They could not write any books, articles. If something was presented, it was removed, destroyed by censorship. It was so at the communist times, but also after the year 1989, when there was fashion for political correctness. And again this disavowed nation had its mouth shut. If there appeared the borderlands societies, their range, their territory of action were very limited. And the Polish country did not contribute to show the truth of that time.

– Can the film ‘Wołyń’ change Poles’ awareness about what happened on the borderlands?

– Human awareness is changed by faith and religion and culture. The film is a part of culture, the most important one besides media. ‘Wołyń’ is already working. Its great success is that a lot of people – nearly 250 thousand – went to the cinema to watch it, on the first days. What does it mean? Finally Poles started feeling that somebody is telling them a fragment of nearly completely unknown history about their country. Later they will talk about it at home. There will be questions in media, there will be meetings. This film opens a road to schools, universities, to collective memory. I hope that teachers, headteachers will take young people to cinemas and will discuss it with them at schools. This excellent lesson of the truth. Parental committees should take care about helping the youth and teachers see this excellent work by Wojciech Smarzowski.

– We are talking about perception of the film by Poles, the Europeans. And what about the Lower Silesians? Here this perception will be emotional…

– That is true. In the Lower Silesia we have 47 per cent of Poles coming from the borderlands, and in whole Poland there are about 6 million people with the borderlands pedigree. This film is a big chance for inhabitants in the Lower Silesia. They can look at it like at a mirror and say: God, finally somebody said it, finally we can see the truth, somebody takes care of us. Because for decades nobody has taken care of it and the truth has remained covered. This is a great compensation. Through this film the borderlands inhabitants and also all Poles, regain their dignity. After the film nobody will dare to tell a lie. Poles will not let anybody deceive them.

– ‘Wołyń’ shocked the Polish public opinion. And what will happen later? Even the best film is not enough…’If people keep silent, stones will cry’?

– I believe in the young generation, which begins to speak with its own voice. It wants to know the truth, arrange its life according to the God’s order and base on the order resulting from our faith. Because diminishing this order leads only to crime. There is no other way. If we reject God, we can do everything with the world. I think that the young generation will understand what it means to live without God, what the world is in which God is pushed aside.

– Is this a generation which will discover the disavowed nation?

– I think so – this is a generation which will give the sense of justice. In history it happens that sometimes it seems that the truth is buried and later it turns out that the reality changes. I think that we are in such a stadium now. This is a process which we cannot stop.


„Niedziela” 44/2016

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