September 4, 2008

"Katyń"

From my movie review in The American Conservative:

It often seems as if humanity's seven decade struggle with Communism has disappeared down the memory hole. While Nazis in glistening black leather remain our culture's omnipresent exemplars of evil, Communists were apparently too dowdy to bother remembering.

A few filmmakers have begun to dissent, however. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's superb drama about the East German secret police, "The Lives of Others," won the 2006 Best Foreign Film Oscar and ran for a half year in American art houses.

In Warsaw on September 17, 2007, director Andrzej Wajda, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, premiered "Katyń," his long-awaited epic about the 1940 Soviet decapitation of the Polish nation in which perished his cavalry officer father. The 82-year-old cinema legend reminisced, "I can’t really talk about him, except to say that he was my ideal and that he died at the age when I needed him the most." The mass murder's cover-up then lasted a half century in Soviet-run Poland: not until 1989 was Wajda free to inscribe the year of his father's death on his tombstone.

A blockbuster in Poland, "Katyń" earned a Best Foreign Film nomination here. It hasn't, though, found an American distributor. Fortunately, you can buy the Polish DVD on eBay for $25. (Look for "English subtitles" and "Region Zero.")

"Katyń" begins September 17, 1939 as Polish civilians flee eastward over a bridge from the invading Germans -- only to collide with countrymen running westward from the Soviets, who, pursuant to August 1939's Hitler-Stalin pact, are now grabbing their share of Poland.

The rest of my review is in the September 8 issue of The American Conservative.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

20 comments:

rightsaidfred said...

Interesting point how the Nazi's are able to monopolize the bad guy image. Maybe it is because we expected better from the Germans, while we expect the Slavic types to be terrible as a matter of course.

I remember hearing a dark joke from the Soviet days when I was in Moscow:

A high school student in the far future is given the topic of Adolf Hitler for a research paper. No one he knows has heard of Hitler. He goes to a University and asks and old, gray haired hisory professor if he has heard of Hitler. The man sits back in his chair and ponders. "Hitler, Hitler,..." he mutters. "Oh yes! Hitler, a petty tyrant under Stalin."

Jeff Burton said...

Communists were apparently too dowdy to bother remembering

Checkists wore leather jackets. In fact, they were so cool, western leftists copied their attire. Maybe that was part of the problem. Also - they were able to keep their atrocities under wraps because we never defeated them in a war and occupied their country.

halfbreed said...

As you point out, Nazis are of course Hollywood's everlasting personification of evil. Next in line in the pantheon of villains come Arabs, then skinheads (the Nazis' dim nephews), followed by men with upper class British accents, and after that generic conservatives. In teen comedies and romances, the jocks are almost inevitably the bad guys. If you're looking for a signal that somebody is good, just listen for that giveaway Brooklyn accent. I can't think of a single movie I've ever seen where a Brooklyn accent signaled anything but a mensch.

Gee, I can't make any sense of it.

ht said...

Mr. Sailer:

I don't have access to the full article, but judging from the title it will end up being about Jews. Blaming Jews for Katyn is morally wrong, anti-Semitic, and dispicable.

Re the "Soviet decapitation of the Polish nation", you forgot to mention that Nazis killed 1-2 orders of magnitude more ethnic Poles between 1939 and 1945 than the Soviets. Also, to be consistent why don't you remind readers that Poland is within Russian "sphere of influence"? After all, much if not most of Poland had been within the boundaries of the Russian Empire for ~120 years from the conquest of Catherine the Great through the dissolution of the Russian Empire following WWI. This is not to mention that the "Polish" territories annexed by USSR in 1939 were ethnically largely Belarusian and Ukrainian, two minorities that did not enjoy equal rights in Pilsudski's Poland.

nox said...

ht sed:
"Blaming Jews for Katyn is morally wrong, anti-Semitic, and dispicable."

Katyn is known as a Soviet smear of the Wehrmacht. Polish officers were massacred by the Soviets and they blamed the Germans for it. The smear was only officially refuted after 1998, albeit with a whisper. It never occurred to me that it had to do with Jews.

icr said...

Flashier villains. For example, the SS had uniforms designed by Hugo Boss.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Boss

Svigor said...

Gee, I can't make any sense of it.

(Don't forget urban vs. rural!)

Lol, yeah I love the few babe-in-the-woods comments that precede yours. WTF? Live under a rock, or plain dishonest much?

(why does iSteve's captcha code always add two characters the second time around? Shouldn't it get easier for me to post over time?)

Buckaroo said...

I really like ht's initial comment because it resembles so strongly the denunciations of Solzhenitsyn's works from "ordinary Russians" printed in places like Pravda. They generally boiled down to "I haven't read the book in question but I condemn it ."

As for the Germans killing vastly more Poles than the Russians during WWII - that is of course true, though few people in the West have any idea of the scope of those atrocities either. And if Steve were reviewing Wajda's earlier film "Kanal" then he would presumably talk about that. But that's not what "Katyn" is (primarily) about. Also, the war crimes portrayed there have the additional dimension of having been perpetrated by a future US ally in WWII who then covered them up blaming them on the Germans. Russia has been reluctant to acknowledge the Katyn murders, much less express any kind of regret for them, all the way up to the present day.

I am also a bit confused by ht's "sphere of influence" comment. I don't think Poland willingly "joined" it when it succumbed to the overwhelming superiority of the combined forces of Russia, Prussia, and the Habsburg Empire at the end of 18th cnetury. Are you suggesting that the unilateral declaration of this status by Russia/Soviet Union gives it blank check to murder, imprison, and deport hundreds of thousands of Poles it finds inconvenient?

Buckaroo said...

One more thing: ht's statement about the parts of Poland taken by the USSR in 1939 having large Ukrainian and Belorussian populations is correct but I fail to see how it is relevant. Uncannily, though, it again echos the official Soviet line that the invasion's purpose was to "protect" these peoples. This protection (thoroughly tested during the Ukrainian famine of the 1920s !) worked so well that German troops were often initially greeted as liberators in 1941 and significant Ukrainian army units were created to fight along the Wehrmacht against the Russians.

halfbreed said...

Svigor -- Good point, I had forgotten about urban vs. rural. Another common movie plot: the sophisticated, attractive, intelligent, loving, caring, sensitive white collar couple take a drive in the country and have their car break down in the wrong place. They are then kidnapped and assaulted by drooling, inbred, semi-retarded monsters who want nothing more out of life than to torture and rape the female and just kill the male, possibly after torturing him as well.

In real life, I've lived in the greater NY area for the past 26 years, and whenever I travel, I'm usually struck by how polite people are in the hinterlands.

It's so confusing.

Richard said...

Strictly speaking, Katyn wasn't a war crime. Although the Polish government-in-exile hadn't formally surrendered, by April 1940, hostilities has been over for 6 months.

ben tillman said...

I don't have access to the full article, but judging from the title it will end up being about Jews. Blaming Jews for Katyn is morally wrong, anti-Semitic, and dispicable.

Methinks thou dost protest too much. Denying a non-accusation suggests guilt. Are you conducting some sort of anti-Semitic false flag operation?

Anonymous said...

I think the sphere of influence idea is try and drag the Georgia/Ossetia issue into play.

hkogtyqd said...

"ht said...

Mr. Sailer:

I don't have access to the full article, but judging from the title it will end up being about Jews. Blaming Jews for Katyn is morally wrong, anti-Semitic, and dispicable.

Re the "Soviet decapitation of the Polish nation", you forgot to mention that Nazis killed 1-2 orders of magnitude more ethnic Poles between 1939 and 1945 than the Soviets. Also, to be consistent why don't you remind readers that Poland is within Russian "sphere of influence"? After all, much if not most of Poland had been within the boundaries of the Russian Empire for ~120 years from the conquest of Catherine the Great through the dissolution of the Russian Empire following WWI."

I have no idea who you are ht, but I feel compelled to condemn you for anti-semitism, just on the off-chance that you may be an anti-semite.

Poland is not now in the russian sphere-of-influence, as indeed it was not throughout most of its history (prior to the partition). And there is no need why should again enter Russia's sphere-of-influence. It is a NATO member, and provided we leave a suitable neutral buffer around Russia (Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic states - that means you), this shouldn't be a problem with Russia.

By the way, until comparitively recently, and for longer than Poland was in Russia's orbit, Israel was in Turkey's sphere-of-influence.

ht said...

For those apparently puzzled about my reference to anti-Semitism, it is in response to the title of the full article at The American Conservative, "Stalin's Willing Executioners", which is also the title of Kevin MacDonald's infamous review of Yuri Slezkine's The Jewish Century over at VDare.com. The review in question pretty much blames Stalinist crimes on Jews. I didn't outright accuse Sailer of anti-Semitism in his article, and I even admitted that I haven't read it and that I don't know for sure. Why would I admit I haven't read it if my goal was to smear Sailer? And if the fact that the title is the same as MacDonald's is unintentional Sailer could have simply said so.

buckaroo:
"But that's not what "Katyn" is (primarily) about. Also, the war crimes portrayed there have the additional dimension of having been perpetrated by a future US ally in WWII who then covered them up blaming them on the Germans. Russia has been reluctant to acknowledge the Katyn murders, much less express any kind of regret for them, all the way up to the present day."

This is fair, but what set me off is the phrase "the Soviet decapitation of the Polish nation", which is absurd given the discrepancy between the actual number of Poles murdered respectively by the Nazis and the Commies.

"I am also a bit confused by ht's "sphere of influence" comment."

This phrase has been used repeatedly by the Paleo right to justify and rationalize Russia's occupation of Georgia. I'm against Russian aggression in both Georgia and Poland, and anywhere else as well.

"One more thing: ht's statement about the parts of Poland taken by the USSR in 1939 having large Ukrainian and Belorussian populations is correct but I fail to see how it is relevant. Uncannily, though, it again echos the official Soviet line that the invasion's purpose was to "protect" these peoples."

The Soviet 1939 and post-Yalta annexation of eastern Poland is commonly talked about by Sailer and others as if it were a crime against Poles specifically. The fact is that the lands taken by the USSR had been taken by Poland by force during the Polish-Bolshevik war and against the respective wills of the local Belarusian and Ukrainian populations. The Soviet annexation of those lands in '39 and '44 is in itself hardly more morally rephrehensible than Pilsudski's taking them in his quest to rebuild the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the height of its former glory, from Baltic Sea to Black Sea. The ensuing mass murder of officer and intelligencia by the NKVD is a different story, though.

ben tillman said...

This is fair, but what set me off is the phrase "the Soviet decapitation of the Polish nation", which is absurd given the discrepancy between the actual number of Poles murdered respectively by the Nazis and the Commies.

Perhaps you could come back and try again after you've learned what "decapitation" means. For those of us who do know that word, your argument is laughably stupid.

Tom Piatak said...

ht is well off the mark. During the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, the Communists deported approximately 1.2 million people (most of whom were ethnic Poles) to the Soviet Union, where at least half of them died. In addition, there were the mass murders at Katyn and elsewhere. Had the Nazis not launched Barbarossa, the body count of Poles killed by the Soviets would have been even higher.

Ethnic Poles accounted for a slight plurality of the population in the territory seized by the Soviets, which included areas, such as eastern Galicia, that had never before been part of Russia. The Soviets used their control of the areas they captured to engage in the typical Communist atrocities, as well as to drive ethnic Poles out of historic areas of Polish settlement (such as Lwow) and to suppress the Ukrainian Catholic Church that is prevalent in eastern Galicia, a church that until 1989 was the largest underground religious body in the world. To compare this to what Pilsudski did after World War I is nonsense.

ht said...

Mr. Piatak,

If you count those who died after being deported in the same category as those killed in Katyn-type mass executions, then indeed the number of ethnic Poles killed by the Soviet Union becomes about half a million (depending on your source; Wikipedia claims 350,000 deportees died), about a quarter of the number of Polish victims of Nazi Germany. The difference is still dramatic, and I wouldn't consider such counting fair.

On the other point, I'm not comparing Soviet atrocities to what Pilsudski did, I'm comparing the Soviet annexation of Polish territory to what Pilsudski did. Obviously, for a member of an ethnic minority in the interwar period, living under Polish rule would have usually been preferable to living under Bolshevik rule. (That's why, when faced with the choice, many of them chose to fight with Pilsudski against Soviet Russia in 1920!) This makes for faint praise, though. Being second class citizens in interwar Poland, many Belarusians and Ukrainians initially welcomed the Soviet invasion (ironically, much like their Soviet bretheren would welcome the Nazis). That's why I maintain that the fact of the invasion itself is not the gross injustice that it is made out to be, and should be talked about separately from the NKVD atrocities that would follow.

Tom Piatak said...

ht,

What could possibly be not "fair" about including the Poles who died after being deported to the Soviet Union among the number of Poles killed by the Soviets? You are aware, I presume, that many victims of Communism died in such a fashion, and that many Polish victims of the Nazis also died as a result of mass deportations rather than summary execution? The only reason even more Poles did not die was that, after Barbarossa, the Soviet regime was fighting for its life and found it politically useful to release Poles that it had previously deported to bleak and barren regions where death was a likely consequence. Steve Sailer's essential point is correct: even to this day, Communist crimes are ignored, belittled, excused, and justified.

James Kabala said...

I think Brooklyn accents as a common element in movies went out about the time the Dodgers left. Time to update your conspiracy theories.

The latest Indiana Jones movie treated Soviets as villains as a matter of course (or so I read; I haven't seen it).