"In Nomine Patriae"
Written by Janusz Skwara
Translated into English by Jacek Gabryelski
The title has metamorphosed from "Dramat Jerzego Gabryelskiego,"
into "Zerwany Film" and now "In Nomine Patriae"
Special thanks to Jack Brown for his help in translation and editing,
This book would probably never see the light of day, if it wasn’t for fate, a fickle finger of Providence, since there is no such thing as accidents.
Our family came to the United States in 1965. I was fifteen then. My parents believed that the best way to adapt is to immerse oneself in the language and literature. This is why I was sent to a boarding school managed by the Franciscan Fathers, where few spoke Polish. All of the students were of Polish decent, but the Polish language was as distant to them as English was to me. I learned quickly. Maybe too quickly, I lost contact with everything Polish and became an American. I almost forgot the Polish language, not to mention caring for what we call our roots.
After thirty two years in the United States, I was going to Poland only for the second time in July 1997. I had very little time.
Before leaving New York, a friend who observes the Polish press informed me that he had seen an article about my father in one of the weekly newspapers in Poland. Unfortunately, he had no information other than the name of the paper, “Myśl Polska” (Polish Thought). He informed me that it was an article about history of the Polish film and that my father was mentioned as an example of a talent wasted, because of his patriotism and political stance.
Because one of the goals of this trip was to find the author of the article about my father, I went to the offices of the “Myśl Polska,” where I was informed that the article was written by Janusz Skwara. I was told that if I left a message he would get back to me.
I knew that Janusz Skwara was a lot younger than my father and that they had never met. I never met Janusz either. The articles he wrote about my father were published after our escape from Poland. They were full of veneration and solicitude, as if the writer was trying to rehabilitate the name of a friend. Everything he wrote was truthful. It was based on documentation and reports of people who knew the circumstances in pre and post war Polish cinematography.
Among the multitude of documents I inherited, I found a copy of this book, which Janusz Skwara wrote in 1978. Januasz Skwara was a well known Polish film critic and historian. He wrote volumes about Polish and foreign film.
The following day, after my visit to the offices of “Myśl Polska” I received a call from Janusz Skwara’s wife. She invited me to dinner at their home.
I went to Ursynżw (a neighborhood of Warsaw) with a few flowers and a bottle of fine wine from my aunt’s cellar. My aunt made the heavenly beverage every year. After a short conversation, it was as if we had known each other for years. We talked about his book about my father. I told him of my plan to create a foundation in my father’s name. Janusz agreed that the still non-existent foundation should publish his book as its first endeavor. We began to make plans, including his writing a book based on the original screenplay of “Czarne diamenty.” Janusz was ready to begin the work. We planned to meet in the next few days so that I could give him a copy of the film on video tape.
A few days after our meeting I received a shocking call from his wife. Janusz had suddenly died. Even though I knew him only a few hours, it was as painful as saying good-bye to an old friend. I promised that I would have his book published, and here it is, in your hand.
This book is a testimony to what takes place behind the scenes in the film industry. More generally, it reveals how some treat people who are perceived as a threat to their ambitions. And how ruthlessly such competition is eliminated.
The main virtue of this essay is Janusz Skwara’s rendering of my father’s creative and personal life. It is clear that my father neither gave into the communist regime, nor the commercial mentality. This book also provides an opportunity to scrutinize some of the people who served the regime’s ideology. It shows us what we must avoid to remain human.
My father’s life was not an easy one. Regardless of what one may think about his creative work, one has to admit that he was an exceptional person. People who will sacrifice their career, health and family life, not to betray their country even in the most innocuous way are seldom seen. My father never betrayed Poland. He fought against the communist regime to his dying breath. He also stood up against the pre war regime by making a film like “Czarne diamenty,” where the workers become owners of a mine, instead of foreign capitalists only interested in profits and exploiting the worker.
The subject matter of “Czarne diamenty” is as timely now as when it was made in 1939. Today, many foreign investors buy Polish factories, mines, docks and land, only to close them down. This causes devastating ruin, unemployment and poverty -- the present economic situation. This is what forces Poland to import its basic goods.
After reading of my father’s writings and watching his movies, I sometimes think that man was a seer. In the 1950s he wrote the screenplay, “Życie za życie,” about the now Saint Father Kolbe. It was as if he knew that this beautiful man would be elevated to sainthood for his humanity. He wrote the screenplay about Queen Jadwiga, which my father researched before World War II, and she too was canonized for her virtues. His other writings are also as relevant today as when he conceived them.
It’s not like Janusz Skwara was the only one interested in telling the truth about my father. The new Encyklopedia Powszechna (PWN)(Universal Polish Encyclopedia) includes a little note:
Jerzy Gabryelski (1906-1978), director, screen writer: received film training in Paris, where he made an experimental film “Buty” (1934); after return (to Poland) worked with government owned film production company “Kohorta”; there he directed documentary, “COP-Stalowa Wola” (1938), and feature,“Czarne diamenty” (1939)(not distributed) films; chronicler of the Warsaw Uprising, after the war was persecuted and banished from his profession; after 1956 directed documentary films...; emigrated to USA in 1964. (Translated from Polish).
(Encyklopedia Polska, PWN, Warszawa 1995, t. II.)
Prof. Jerzy Robert Nowak in his work entitled “Zagrożenia dla Polski i polskości” (The Dangers for Poland and Polish Origins), writes about my father in the following way:
It is no accident that Polish film has not been spared from the so called “avant garde” that attacks contemporary history and the patriotic traditions. At the top of cinematography was a group of pro-Soviet agitators, formed in 1943-1944 in the Soviet Union and who were under the protectorate of the famous Związek Patriotżw Polskich (Polish Patriot Union). Its leader, Aleksander Ford, was a quasi dictator in the Polish cinema, who ingratiated himself with Bermann, and who in November 1945 became the director of government owned film production company “Film Polski” in Łódź. Ford was known for his antagonism toward film makers with patriotic aspirations. He played an important role in the destruction of one of the biggest talents of Polish film, Jerzy Gabryelski -- a director who once assisted Jean Renoir and René Clair, and the author of a film produced in Paris “Les Bottes” (Boots). Gabryelski made movies of the defense of Warsaw and the Warsaw Uprising, during WWII. Ford informed against Gabryelski to NKWD. In 1946 Gabryelski was arrested and spent 3 months in confinement as a “black reactionary” and “anti-Semite,” where he was tortured and beaten. This talented and aspiring director was destroyed.
(“Zagrożenia dla Polski i polskości” (The Dangers for Poland and Polish Origins), Inicjatywa Wydawnicza “ad astra,” Warszawa 1998, t. I, S. 49).
As planned, after my return to the United States in September 1997, I began formal proceedings to create a foundation dedicated to my father and everything he represented. This is how THE GABRYELSKI FILM ART FOUNDATION became officially recognized.
Publishing of the foregoing book became one of the main goals of the Foundation. The Foundation is doing this to present itself to the countrymen and the public.
The mission of THE GABRYELSKI FILM ART FOUNDATION is to memorialize and publicize the works of Jerzy Gabryelski. Simultaneously, the Foundation has the goal of supporting creative people, whether their interests are in film and theater, or they are other artists, painters, writers, or people of science and education, who wish to realize their talents.
My father’s legacy, in the form of screenplays and other works, as well as the generosity of sponsors, will provide financial independence for the Foundation. The income from the dissemination of films and publication of books, among other activities, will provide the foundation the means for its activities.
Other goals are to copy and transfer all of the existing films to video, and copy and format my father’s writings for eventual publication and production. The income from the sale of books, films and screenplays will allow the Foundation to continue to perform its benevolent tasks. We want to help young people realize their educational and creative dreams.
We want to fund scholarships and awards to support people who by their faith, sense of beauty and creative expression contribute to the enlightenment and temperance of customs.
New York, New York
Film history has both its favored children and those who are not so popular. The former are hailed by critics who are prone to generalizations and habitual hair splitting. The lucky and the famous always have a following. By the same token, the remaining film professionals are forced to struggle for their daily bread.
This essay presents a drama in the life of a gentle man, who as a child fought for his country, and to his detriment wanted to be a film artist. In this story there are both major figures and pawns moved by a calculating hand, motivated by greed and lack of imagination, and positioned to be mean and petty. We encounter this not only in the abstract but manifest in certain individuals who conduct themselves in personal, social and political affairs in ways that often contribute to the deterioration of our humanity.
To understand the drama in Jerzy Gabryelski’s life, we must reach back to the nineteen thirties and examine the environment in which he tried to carve his niche in Polish cinematography. He was well educated in that field and by all reckoning had the right to such aspirations. The events in this story have also been influenced by the capricious nature of the prevailing political and professional environment.
History, in and of itself, is merciless. But it is not history’s fault, because it is dependant on people who record it according to their own whims and petty desires. As the years go by it becomes increasingly difficult to determine what has caused the flow of venom and the resulting discrimination. Unfortunately, the search for the truth often concludes on dead end roads.
Life was not generous to Jerzy Gabryelski. When we try to read about him in different books dealing with the history of Polish film, we will find either very scant, or apocryphal information. This is because there is a tendency to write half truths and gossip about both the favored and unfortunate ones, except in different ways. He lived among us, walking the streets of Warsaw and Łódź, unnoticed, barely existing. It wasn’t that he lacked talent or skills. It was the people in power who condemned him to vegetate, fearing he might jeopardize their petty ambitions to dominate the playing field.
He also was characterized in a way that did not mirror the truth. But the real tragedy was that he was not allowed to work in his profession.
Gabryelski made several films, which can be viewed and discussed. Liking them or not is a matter of taste. The films he left us are but a small part of the artistic ideas he wanted to bring to life. His ideas never came to fruition because film, aside from being an art form, is an industry where money is controlling. Mainstream film production is controlled by companies advised by lawyers. Within the production companies there are some people who care about making commendable films, and others who only want to please the executives.
Gabryelski’s films appeal to every type of audience, primarily because they flow from a combination of talent and moral fortitude. It is possible to be a great artist and a small human being. Gabryelski was an exceptional human being first and then an artist. Let’s read about his life and times.
Jerzy Gabryelski was born on October 30, 1906, in Lwżw (Lvov). It was there he completed his elementary education. Being raised in the spirit of the great romantics, Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Krasiński, explains his attraction to the dramatic arts. He descended from an artistically inclined family. His father, Filip Gabryelski, owned a showroom and a piano factory.
At the age of thirteen Gabryelski fought in the defense of Lwżw, as Orlątko (an eaglet). While defending the city, he lost his parents. He was then raised by the Jesuit priests in Herżw, nearby Cracow. His performing arts studies began in Cracow. Then he applied to and was accepted by the Instytut Sztuki Teatralnej (the Institute of Theatrical Arts) in Warsaw. Because of his knowledge of literature and drama and his acting ability, he was allowed to skip the first year at the Institute. He finished with honors. His written thesis, “Pierwiastek filmowy w utworach Stanisława Wyspiańskiego” (The cinematographic element in the works of Stanisław Wyspiański) demonstrates the ability of the young graduate.
In the early thirties, Gabryelski was awarded a government scholarship to study in Paris, to pursue his professional aspirations in film. There, he worked in Studio Eclair, assisting Jean Renoir and Rene Clair. Toward the end of the three year-long apprenticeship he made a short film “Les Bottes” (Boots), in French. The film was well received by both French critics and the press. As the result, he was offered work in Studio Eclair, the German company UFA, and American Warner Brothers.
After brief consideration, Gabryelski declined the offers from the foreign studios. As a beneficiary of the National Culture Fund, he felt the need to pay off the debt owed to his country. His decision to come back to Poland was seconded by his mentors and friends, the famous literary critics, Professor Stefan Kołaczewski, Artur Gżrski and Karol Hubert Roztworowski.
“Boots” (1933) was an avant-garde creation. The screenplay was based on a poem by Rudyard Kipling, the author of “The jungle book.” The leitmotif of the film is the grueling march of soldiers, dead tired, fighting against the elements and destiny. This is interwoven into visions of mindless killing, rape and degradation. Avant-garde composition, lighting, camera work by the great Russian cameraman Mikołaj Toporkov, barbed wire, crosses on the graves, all combine into powerfully suggestive antiwar symbolism. The French critics, who were living in the climate of the Socialist Front and resistence against fascism, appreciated the film. We must remember that this all took place when Adolf Hitler was just coming to power in Germany.
Gabryelski’s return to Poland coincided with major conflicts between the unaffiliated film directors and the members of the Association of Art Film Lovers, “Start,” who were all jockeying for position. It is noteworthy that at that time Polish film was undergoing a crisis not only because of the sound revolution, but because of lack of facilities, modern equipment and the technological means to produce films. In the majority of film productions there was a conspicuous lack of imagination and a lamentable abandonment of the great Polish cultural tradition.
Leon Schiller characterized the situation: “I consider the greatest failure of the Polish cinematography to be the sui generis cynicism with which some of the pseudo professional film makers are approaching their work. With a few exceptions, film directors are simply illiterate, with no idea about Polish literature, customs, or history.” (1)
At the head of film trade was Jżzef Lejtes, a director of ability, with several cinematographic accomplishments, like “Huragan” (Hurricane) (1928) and “Dzikie Pola” (Wild Fields) (1932) to his credit. Unfortunately, Lejtes was a driven man, who could not tolerate competition which he felt threatened his continued success. He chose to pursue subjects of commercial appeal, as if to not strain his creative muse. He also surrounded himself with people with no real education, and who lacked basic qualifications as cinematographers. Even though it was against the best interests of the studios, which after all are in business to make money, Polish film was full of small time hustlers and uneducated amateurs. As a result, the shallow, idiotic comedies and romances crafted for undemanding tastes brought Polish cinema close to last place in Europe.
In this time of cultural famine, the Association of Art Film Lovers, “Start,” took advantage of the situation and endorsed the idea of informing viewers about foreign film masterpieces, through various instructional lectures, while promoting its own productions. Exposing Polish audiences to creations of Russian and Czechoslovakian directors from the “independent school” was the most significant contribution of “Start.”
The stature of Polish cinematography continued to be dubious at best. Jerzy Teoplitz, the historian and theoretician of the “Association,” juxtaposed it in writing: “Of considerable value is archivist Chaplin, as is Clair, the creator of the documentary “Tursib, Turin,” along with Jean Painteve who made films about jelly fish and molluscs. These cinematographers begin their work with the premise that their films should not only entertain, but educate as well. These films are not just fireworks and glitter, but, in short, they cause the audience to think.”(2)
Aside from Eugeniusz CŽkalski, Jerzy Zarzycki and Wanda Jakubowska, “Start” was dominated by dilettante film makers, merchants, industrialists and other opportunists with little interest in the “new art,” except for the profits. To make things even worse, Aleksander Ford was trying to squeeze into the professional circles as Lejtes’s rival. He eventually took over the “Association” and endeavored to make his dreams come true.
After the artistic fiasco of “Przebudzenie” (the Awakening) (1934), Ford departed for Palestine. There he made a mystical socio-drama “Sabra,” based on the Jewish experience.
In addition to Aleksander Ford’s, there were other films, avant-garde in nature, produced in the “Start” studios. “Reportaż aktualności Nr. 1 i Nr. 2" (Report of the current events no. 1 and 2) by Eugeniusz C&ękalski, “Morze” (the Sea), also directed by Cękalski with Wanda Jakubowska and Stanisław Wohl. Finally, there was “Today we have a party,” by Tadeusz Kowalski and Jerzy Zarzycki. All these films had quite a few artistically noteworthy features, but were devoid of all of the social concerns allegedly being fought for in earnest at that time. Happier results were obtained with “Europa,” an experimental film by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson, produced outside of “Start.” This film evoked pacifist principles similar to those in the poems by Anatol Stern and approached in its essence Gabryelski’s “Boots.” But “Boots” did not receive favorable reviews, primarily because film critics were disposed to promote insiders. Jerzy Toepliltz always wrote in favorable terms about Ford as well as his friend and colleague, Lejtes. When Gabryelski came back to Poland and did not affiliate with any of the cliques, he was criticized from every angle.
Stefania Heymanowa wrote about “Boots”:
“Mr. Gabryelski’s ambition is clearly evident. For his first work he has chosen a very difficult subject. We do not agree with his approach. First, the script is not sufficiently condensed. Different aspects of the misery of war are too long. This particularly concerns the marching, which is actually the main theme of the poem. However, on film this should be shown in different variants. If not, it is boring and undermines the desired feeling by repetition of mood and background scenery, i.e., the recurring image of the stumbling soldier, the same depressing lighting, etc. The marching soldier and the repeated actions and scenery (depressing panoramas, mud, barbed wire, crosses) are shown in symbolic terms whereas, in contrast, the indoor part is realistic (the rape and killing), which makes the film feel disjointed and gives the impression it was accidently spliced together.”(3)
It is worth noting that the author of this article fails to mention, either out of ignorance or intentionally, that Gabryelski himself played the role of the marching soldier. Gabryelski’s film acting career ended with this film. Nonetheless, this is a film worthy attention.
The unfavorable opinion about Gabryelski’s film, where not a word was mentioned about its political aspects, was merely a prelude to all the vicissitudes that befell the young director after completion of his studies.
Upon return to his homeland, Gabryelski tried to participate in the cinematographic endeavors in Poland, but all his efforts were halted by Lejtes. “I remember, reminisces Stanisław Brzozko, when I was with Jan Maklakiewicz, the composer, and overheard the conversation between Gabryelski and the composer. Gabryelski said, “I met Lejtes on Krakowskie Przedmieście and he said that I should go back to Paris, because he is the boss around here and I will not work in any of the studios, if he can help it.” During this conversation I saw a strong and determined face of the young director making the statement, “I am Polish and my place is in my homeland.” It was in our presence that Mr. Gabryelski decided not to return to Paris and stay in Poland to fight for the integrity of Polish film.”(4)Brzozko in the United States.
Other members of “Start” could not accept the idea of Gabryelski’s return to Poland either. Subsequently, he was accused of nationalistic chauvinism. Gabryelski was left with no other option but to work for the government owned Polish Telegraph Agency.
In 1937, the young director won a competition with his screenplay about the newly organized Centralny Okręg Przemysłowy (the Central Industrial District). The forthcoming film, “C.O.P. – Stalowa Wola” (1938), was partially financed by the Ministry of Defense. It is worth mentioning that among the competitors were establishment favorites Adam Grajnuta-Siedlecki, Tadeusz Peiper and Anatol Stern. The narration for the film was written by Jan Ulatowski, music was composed by Jan Maklakiewicz and Henry Vlassak assisted in the direction.
Thanks to the Department of Defense Gabryelski found other financial support from Stafan Dękierowski, which assured that the film was finally produced. The film was well received by some of the critics, but because of the war it did not receive wide distribution.
The Department of the Defense and critics alike received the film very favorably. They praised the pathos of the story. Gabryelski was lauded as well for his ability to observe human endeavor, and the authenticity of the performed tasks. Thanks to the clarity and honesty of the film, it has strong documentary value.
According to Jerzy Toeplitz, in his film Gabryelski was trying to show the planning stages as well as the completed work. He writes: “The shortcoming of this film is the romanticizing and hyperbolic commentary which dwarfs the images. It shows too much machinery, cement and scaffolding, and too few human beings. In sum, this is not a film that moves and mobilizes, it is cold.” (5)p. 386.
In 1938, Gabryelski procures the copyrights from Maria Rodziewiczówna to adapt her novel “Florian.” Unfortunately, he did not get to direct the film, but acted as the artistic director. The film was finally finished under the direction of Leonard Buczkowski, who was one of the outstanding polish directors, primarily known for his postwar films, “Zakazane Piosenki” (Forbidden Songs), “Skarb” (Treasure) and “SS Orze&ł" (SS Eagle).
At the end of production of “Florian” Gabryelski went to Śląsk (Silesia) where he planned to make a film about the life of coal miners. And this is how, at the eleventh hour before WWII, “Czarne diamenty” (Black diamonds) (1939) was created.
Right after his arrival in Katowice (the capital city of Silesia), Jerzy Gabryelski attempted to make contact with the well-known writer, Gustaw Morcinek, who specialized in subject matter dealing with miners. Morcinek had experienced success with the publication of “Serce za tamą” (Heart behind the dam), “Wyrąbany chodnik” (Chopped sidewalk) and “Inżynier Szeruda” (Engineer Szeruda). He thought that he could interest the young director in basing the proposed film on one of his books. But Gabryelski brought his own screenplay. The young director primarily wanted help with the linguistic nuances of the dialogue and native customs. This was an obvious disappointment to Morcinek and it explains his subsequent negativity toward the project. Morcinek declined the offer to work on the project, particularly after he noticed the social and political underpinnings of “Czarne diamenty.” He simply did not want to aggravate the local authorities.
Unfortunately, Morcinek did not stop in his refusal to work on the project. He tried to sabotage the project by going to Edward Kostka, who was the advisor to the office of the provincial administrator, Michał Grażyński. As a result, none of the large industrial complexes wanted to cooperate with the young director. Without even a reading of the screenplay, “Czarne diamenty” was judged to have “subversive elements.”
Morcinek was the type of a writer who did not want to make waves. In his books he shied away from dealing with economic and social conflicts in Silesia, as did Halina Krahelska in her book, the “Zdrada Heńka Kubisza” (Betrayal of Heniek Kubisz), and Pola Gojawiczyńska in her book, “Ziemia Elżbiety” (Elizabeth’s earth). It may be that Gabryelski made a mistake. Had he come to an understanding with one of the two women writers, it is possible that the outcome would have been different. But neither one of the ladies could guarantee him that the specific character of the region would be truthfully rendered. This was of the utmost concern to Gabryelski. Like Gabryelski, neither of the two women were Silesian natives.
The director began to look elsewhere for help. He finally found it in the young writer, Wilhelm Szewczyk. Szewczyk remembers that his work consisted of correcting dialogue, which was finally polished by Wacław Grubiński. In this respect, Wilhelm Szewczyk’s help was indispensable. His father was a coal miner at a mine called “Dębieńsko” in Czerwionka, and he helped procure the traditional parade uniforms from his coworkers, which were sent to Warsaw for studio filming. The authentic outdoor scenes, which were necessary to underscore the genuineness of the film, were shot along the road to Siemianowice.
Szewczyk wrote: “It was the habitat of the unemployed miners, called the “cave dwellers,” who lived in burrows dug in the coal heaps. It is true that by 1938 and 1939 the homeless “settlement” was diminishing, partly because many of the unemployed were put back to work. The workers without any nationalistic and political attachments were conscripted by agents of the Jungdeutsche party to work in mines on the German side of Upper Silesia. In 1939, the main workforce, the so-called Freicorps, not long before the German aggression, terrorized the industrial plants close to the German border. The unemployed workers who were left in their burrow settlements were considered to be the “subversive element” and any kind of contact with them caused suspicion.” (6)
The production of the film began in earnest in 1939. Unfortunately, this was not the end of Gabryelski’s problems. It was only the end of act one. Mikołaj Toporkov was the cameraman. Stanisław Lipiński was engaged as the assistant cameraman. The possibility of work with Józef Lejtes caused Lipiński to show the freshly shot footage to his prospective employer. This provided Lejtes with first hand information about the film and its thematic valor.
In response, Lejtes decided to start production of a film about miners in an effort to subvert Gabryelski’s production. After Lejtes found out about the misunderstandings between Gabryelski and Morcinek, he proposed to Morcinek an adaptation of his novel “Engineer Szeruda” for the screen. To assure his cooperation, Lejtes agreed to Morcinek’s whims and desires. Once Morcinek agreed to work with Lejtes the film press hailed this work as the first creation of its kind about miners.
Gabryelski finished production of “Czarne diamenty” in July 1939. Lejtes had nothing left to do but to block “Czarne diamenty” from the screen. Since he had close relations with many theater owners and managers, he promised them that his film, “Engineer Szeruda,” would soon be completed and ready for the screen. As the result, “Czarne diamenty” never had an official premiere before the World War. Lejtes himself ran into difficulties and never finished his adaptation of Morcinek’s novel.
In the fall of 1939, the International Film Festival in Cannes, France, was going to take place for the first time. Representatives from France came to Poland looking for films to compete at the festival. After viewing several films, they concluded that “Czarne diamenty” was the best Polish film they had seen and extended an invitation for it to be shown at the festival. Ryszard Ordyński left Poland to take a copy of “Czarne diamenty” to the festival in France. Thanks to this, a copy of the film survived the war in the Polish community (Polonia) in Canada. The film was well received by audiences in Toronto and Montreal.
O. Dunin-Borkowski in the “Głos Polski” (Polish Voice) wrote: “‘Czarne diamenty’ is a great film, said one young Canadian of Polish extraction, that stands very high technically, on the same level as the French, English or any other foreign film. It goes without saying that this film has to be measured by the techniques of the period, and cannot be compared with, or to modern films.”(7)
A similar opinion was rendered by A. Azarjew in the “Kurier Polsko-Kanadyjski” (The Polish-Canadian Courier). “The author of the first Polish film about the coal miners, “Czarne diamenty,” was able to show truthfully and in great detail the life of the Silesian workers and their hard underground labor. He created a film, which by all measures deserves a secure place in Polish cinematographic history. “Czarne diamenty ” is one of few valuable prewar contributions of the Polish film industry.”(8)
What kind of reviews did “Czarne diamenty” receive from the Polish film historians? Professor Władys&ław Jewsiewicki wrote somewhat favorably about Gabryelski’s debut in his book “Polska kinematografia w okresie filmu dźwićkowego” (Polish cinematography in the period of sound films), “‘Czarne diamenty’ differs from other films... produced in 1939 by director Jerzy Gabryelski, it is based on the novel by Gustaw Morcinek. The screenplay was written by Jan Fethke. The storyline is based on the struggle of miners with foreign industrialists at a Polish mine. The camera work by Stanisław Lipiński, under the direction of the well known Russian cameraman, Toporkov is particularly good. The studio shots of the mine designed by Czesław Piaskowski are also praiseworthy.” (9)
A negative opinion, as usual, was rendered by Jerzy Toeplitz in his “Historia sztuki filmowej” (History of Film Art.” It is interesting and worth reading. “‘Czarne diamenty’ is Jerzy Gabryelski’s feature length debut. It is an adaptation of Gustaw Morcinek’s novel completely stripped of its social commentary. The class conflicts were replaced by national solidarity slogans in the struggle against foreign industrialism. Artistically the film is weak, and from the propagandist standpoint, inappropriate.(10) p. 385-86
It is amazing how casually and how little is written by the cinema academics about an event of such importance. After all, “Czarne diamenty” is the first film of Polish production about the worker. Where did the two professors find Morcinek, anyway?
Wilhelm Szewczyk astutely observed that when the lazy pseudo-historians think of Silesia, without any research, they immediately allude to the author of the “Chopped sidewalk.” This was so, because, at that time, Morcinek was the only well known writer dealing with the subject of miners.
There is nothing that can be said to excuse Jerzy Toeplitz for repeating or creating false information, like that the film was based on Morcinek’s novel, or that it was “completely stripped of its social commentary.” It is obvious that this type of biased criticism by one of the members of “Start” could find no valuable social commentary in work other than that of his colleagues.
Toeplitz, wrote, for example, about the “Legions of the Street” (1932): “Finally the truth of life is illustrated on the silver screen. A world so near, yet so far, is pictured. Finally, the ties with all commercial recipes for film production, the hurrah-patriotism and sensationalism have been severed.” He wrote about the “Awakening” (1934): “From the perspective of time we have to look at Ford’s film as a brave attempt at inspiring discussion about the central issues and realities of the Polish capitalist regime.”(11)p. 395-398
It is worth noting that in the case of the “Awakening,” it happens to drown in symbolism and naive metaphors which tend to irritate the viewer, instead of raising interest or evoking emotions. A bourgeois is shown caressing a safe. A proletarian orator says that “life is like a child’s nightgown, short and dirty.” A white collar gets stomped into the mud, as a symbol of soiled love. The “Awakening” was strongly criticized by independent reviewers and rejected by audiences.
“Czarne diamenty” never had an official premiere, however, a copy survived and we can appreciate the director’s vision.
“Czarne diamenty” (Black diamonds) opens with a meeting where it is agreed that the “Mars” coal mine, will be closed. The foreign owners, whose nationality is not disclosed because of its irrelevance to the subject, decide that the mine is a losing proposition which requires enormous input of work and funds. The engineer in charge of the mine, Franciszek Nawrat, learns about this new development. He is a popular and respected young man. He has gained the trust of his fellow miners because of his modesty, friendliness and professionalism. He comes from a poor Silesian family. His father was a resistance fighter during the Silesian insurrection. There were times he sacrificed himself and the family by going hungry just to educate his son. The memory of old Nawrat helps his son gain the needed support.
Nawrat is outraged at the closing of the mine. He calls a meeting of the miners and proposes that they buy the mine from the foreigners. He envisions the enterprise as a cooperative owned by the workers, who would be working on their own and for themselves. He wants the foundry workers to join this effort and to this end seeks the support of Pogorzałka, an old and revered foreman. The elder foreman gets his workers to the assembly hall and presents the issue of helping brother miners. After initial indecision, the miners grow enthusiastic. Realizing this is serious business, that there may even be disobedience, the management agrees to sell the mine to the workers.
Everything goes smooth as butter. Nawrat is declared a hero, may be even a savior. Unfortunately, he is blinded by a cosmopolitan romance. This would be the end if it wasn’t for a fire in the mine. After getting urgent calls, Nawrat leaves the party he is attending and with a small group of volunteers proceeds to extinguish the fire. When he gets to the destination with his crew, there is a cave in and they are all trapped. They try to keep up their spirits, but all know that sooner rather than later the air will run out. If the rescue crews don’t arrive soon, they will suffocate. Fate smiles. All is well that ends well. Personal good fortune is combined with the larger good of society. Soon, everyone will go to work and jointly manage the underground treasures.
It would be a lot simpler if the film were only about the struggle of the miners fighting for their mine. But this would not be well received by wider audiences, not to mention the producers, who are more interested in love high jinks than solidarity meetings. Neither would agree to forego the love escapades. Those were the rules of prewar cinema, when it primarily catered to middle class tastes. It is important to recall “Znachor”(The Medicine Man), “Profesor Wilczur,” “Wrzos” (Heather), and other works like “Dzieje grzechu” (Times of the sin), or “Granica” (the Border), films based on well known literary works, which were reworked to emphasize the love interest.
To satisfy the public Gabryelski decided to give Nawrat a spirited lass. The hero doesn’t have to devote too much attention to her, since he is preoccupied with the mine, and she is always nearby. This role is assigned in “Czarne diamenty” to Pogorzałka’s daughter, Tereska. She works in the “Mars” office as Nawrat’s secretary, and silently sighs at the handsome engineer. Tereska also has an admirer, a miner, but he is no competition for the handsome Nawrat. In the end he becomes a traitor, led astray by his unrequited love. Something has to be done with this fellow. And, since every bad deed deserves punishment in the end, the ill-fated Kałuża, Tereska’s unsuitable suitor, dies in the cave in. With his dying breath he confesses that it was he who started the fire in the mine. Finally, in what was unheard of in prewar films, Gabryelski allows the villain to redeem himself.
Tereska also has a rival. For a brief time, engineer Nawrat becomes involved with Irena, a French girl, who tempts him with posh parties and visions of international travel. But have no fear, the director is able to overcome these dangers and lead the hero to safety with a protective hand. Thus, Gabryelski weaves the love story into the larger theme by counterposing one beautiful, upper crust, cosmopolitan woman, against another who epitomizes national virtues. If Gabryelski had merely stopped here, we would be wading in the shallow depths of a love triangle.
Instead, Gabryelski boldly approaches Silesian folklore and customs. The regional Trojak (name of a dance) performed with imagination and vitality easily competes with the sophisticated tango. It is worth noting that bringing authentic folklore to the screen was unheard of in those days. No one cared about folklore. Sometimes there were instances, where scraps of stylized dance were shown, but it was all done in a patronizing way. Generally, it was in the context of the rich beneficent landowner smiling and happy with his yokels fussing and getting into mischief.
In “Czarne diamenty” Gabryelski decisively broke all ties to the style of showing social issues in a burlesque like manner. He introduced the use of authentic regional folklore, which is both interesting and informative. But Gabryelski did not limit himself to dances. Under his direction, the popular stage actors known for their habits make the audience believe they have lived around Katowice all of their lives.
It is now time to examine the social and national issues, about which the critics were so confused, but which are an integral part of what the film conveys. Gabryelski did not name the foreigners competing for the mine. It makes no difference what nationality they may have been. However, the dark clouds of war were looming over Poland, and everything bad was associated with the Germans.
Gabryelski shows the workers as a united front, deeply immersed in patriotic ideals. For one thing, we are talking about showing the poorest elements of society, who after all are most qualified to speak about the real conditions in their country. Secondly, Polish workers have never before been shown in any cinematic work as a united force.
It is clear in “Czarne diamenty” that even the management of the mine holds different points of view. Some are trying to please the foreign owners, while others foresee the destructive results of foreign management. This explains why some of them are so receptive to the miners in their effort to save the mine. The basic premise is not a figment of Gabryelski’s imagination, the facts are drawn from actual events.
Gabryelski’s ideals lie on a different plain than those of Toeplitz, who continually looks for “nationalistic solidarity.” The creator of “Czarne diamenty” sees the glaring class disparity, and the fragile commitment of the industrialists and bureaucrats, who would just as soon leave Poland, versus the durability of the miner and worker unity in general.
“Czarne diamenty” is a radical film in the sense that it shows Polish miners taking over a foreign owned mine. This must have appeared dangerous to the regime, because it catered to the industrialists whose property it was protecting. In this film, Gabryelski clearly shows the worker working on his own soil. When Nawrat is unsure of his fellow workers’ cooperation, Tereska underscores this premise with great simplicity when she says “Everyone will give their savings, after all, it is for themselves.”
There is no question that “Czarne diamenty” is not only radical but utopian in comparison to some of the most well known productions of “Start,” like “Strachy”(Ghosts), or “Ludzie rzeki” (River People), where the causes of pre-war poverty were shown, but no solution was offered to better the condition. Looking at “Czarne diamenty” from this perspective -- the social radicalism and the patriotic ideals -- we can see that the directors’ bravura was unmatched at that time.
While praising the film’s plot, we cannot forget about its artistic performances. Except for the protagonist, played by Zbyszko Sawan, in a rather one dimensional performance, all the other appearances are beyond reproach. This applies to Zofia Kajzerowiczżwna (Tereska), a beginning actress, as well as veterans like Aleksander Zelwerowicz (foreman Pogorzałka), Stanisława Wysocka (Nawrat’s mother), Tadeusz Kondrat (Tereska’s brother), Ina Benita, Włodzimierz łoziński and Franciszek Dominiak. All these actors are truthful, believable and simple in the portrayal of Silesian customs, language and mannerisms.
The scenes of the fire and the cave-in are incredibly powerful. From the standpoint of realism and technique, everything was done superbly, even compared to similar scenes in later films. Gabryelski did not dwell on the special effects of an event like a fire or a cave-in. He dramatizes the event not by featuring it, but through the response of the miners in their struggle against the unforgiving power of nature. In this way the audience feels the struggle of the miners. The director was also examining psychological and moral conflicts specifically caused by the fire and cave-in. The value of this film in terms of portraying the human condition is priceless.
“Czarne diamenty” was completed and the overall work situation improved. In March 1939 the Polskie Zakłady Filmowe “Kohorta” (Polish Film Works), was directed by government connected Senator Tadeusz Katelbach. Since he was also the chief of Polska Agencja Telegraficzna (Polish Telegraph Agency (a government news agency)) he surrounded himself with cameramen and others who had already worked in news reporting: Jan Skarbek-Malczewski, Marian Fuks, Albert Wywerka, Stanisław Lipiński, Henryk Vlassak, Zbigniew Jaszcz, Wacław Kazimierczak and Roman Banach. He also employed directors and editors like Aleksander Świdwiński and Romuald Gantowski. Among the directors of this film crew were Jerzy Gabryelski and the former member of “Start,” Eugeniusz Cękalski.
“Kohorta” was envisioned as a film production company that would cover the front lines in the event of war, delivering the most important news. There was substantial financial backing and the possibility of a wide range of activities. Most importantly, a large two set studio was going to be built on the outskirts of Warsaw. In the meantime, the old spot where the circus was located on Ordynacka street, was adapted as a studio on a temporary basis. The company was also organizing a chain of independent movie theaters. The senator’s brother, engineer Stefan Katelbach expressed the belief that the attitudes of film makers could be changed in relation to issues connected to the government, the country and art. In an interview for the magazine, “Film,” he said that “the recipe for this new film production company is more patriotism and more culture.”(12)
The company was particularly interested in the Polish Armed Forces. Eugenisz Cękalski wrote in his memoirs that the promise of the “work on the front” convinced him to sever ties with his associates from “Start” and make himself available for “Kohorta.”(13)
In mid 1939 Ce˛kalski began production of his first full length feature, a comedy called “Przygody pana Piorunkiewicza” (The adventures of Mr. Piorunkiewicz), based on a screenplay by Tadeusz Do?e˛ga-Mostowicz. Ce˛kalski also intended to make a short film about the deceitful propaganda generated by Goebels against Poland. Everything would have been just fine if the war didn’t interfere with the production of these films. At the same time Gabryelski was going to bring to the screen a novel by Maria Rodziewiczżwna, “Mi“dzy ustami a brzegiem pucharu” (Twix cup and a lip there is many a slip). But here too war destroyed all of the plans.
At the end of August 1939 there was a conference at the Ministerstwo Spraw Wojskowych (Ministry of Military Affairs), initiated by Zofia Kajzerowiczżwna, the leading lady of “Czarne diamenty.” Discussions were held on the feasibility of film crews covering the front. “Kohorta” was represented by Romuald Gantowski and Jerzy Gabryelski. The Army was represented by Captain Jerzy Ciepielowski, who worked for the Wojskowy Instytut Naukowo-Oświatowy (Military Institute of Science and Education) and was assigned to work with “Kohorta” as a screenplay writer.
Stanisław Ozimek wrote, “One of the participants of the conference came up with the idea, that in addition to the ground coverage, the film crews should be provided a military plane, an attack bomber PZL P-37 "Łoś.” This became the central theme of the conference. "Łoś" was a state of the art machine, designed for low altitude flight, which facilitated the cameraman’s ability to film front line fighting from just above the trenches. All of the flight crew positions, the pilot’s, the navigator’s, and the gunner’s, provided excellent visibility. At that time there were already specialists in the field of aerial, or bird’s eye view photography. One was Jan Skarbek-Malczewski, the other Zbigniew Jaszcz. Jaszcz acquired his camera skills in the Warszawski Instytut Lotnictwa (Warsaw Institute of Aviation). The only drawback was that there were only 36 “ŁoÑ” planes in operation and the rest were either being serviced or rearmed. Therefore, with the prevailing shortage there was no chance of placing a cameramen on board any of these planes.”(14) Warszawa (1974).
The conference at the Military Institute of Science and Education turned into a fiasco. It was virtual bedlam. This did not bode well for the film crews. The cameramen and directors each went their own way. On August 30 Jan Skarbek-Malczewski went to Silesia. He recalls, “I went to Krżlewska Huta (King’s Foundry). I walked all over the city, but could not see anything special going on. Suddenly, the passerbys looked up and we all heard the sound of the German planes overhead. As I grabbed the camera and set up, I felt someone’s hand on my shoulder: “Come with me.” They took me to what must have been a counterespionage unit located in a cellar somewhere. The lieutenant was lying on the couch. He was told by his men that they had a fellow with them who was taking pictures. Without a thought he ordered, “Lock him up” -- wait a minute, not so fast -- I showed them my papers and then he apologized and ordered my release.”(15)
The day before war broke out the film makers in Warsaw received shovels instead of cameras. Jerzy Gabryelski and Romuald Gantowski were among those digging the ditches. Eugeniusz CŽkalski wrote in his memoirs, “During the day we are supposed to dig anti-aerial ditches. Down the street march the elegant directors and actors. Shovels in hand, “Where do we dig?... The distinguished Brodniewicz and fat Waszyński dig... sitting on benches. The delicate hands, not used to work, first blister, later turn into bloody wounds....”(16)No. 1 (1942).
The first of September 1939 found the film makers unprepared to make documentary films. Not one production crew was at the front. Some of the cameramen, like Jan Skarbek-Malczewski and Zbigniew Jaszcz, worked on their own. There was nowhere to develop negatives. Film footage stored in private homes was eventually lost in the turmoil of war. The situation was not helped by the creation of the special Ministry of Propaganda, headed by the ex-chief administrator of Silesia, Michał Garczyński. In accordance with the order from the Commander and Chief, beginning September 4th, all of the government offices were evacuated to the right bank of Vistula, and later deeper into the country. The newly appointed Minister of Propaganda Garczyński, took this opportunity to leave Warsaw along with his film crew, without concern about propaganda.
“Kohorta,” which was supposed to organize a film crew during the war had a crew in action, but its effectiveness was very limited. Along side the Katelbach brothers was director Romuald Gantowski and cameramen, Stanisław Lipiński and Zbigniew Jaszcz. By September 7th they left Warsaw and went toward Lublin. This is where Eugenisz C“kalski met the rest of the crew. He wrote in his diary: “Gantowski perkily declares that tomorrow we’ll be filming. Lipiński has his camera, car and the wife. Why are we stopping here? Things are better then they were. We’ll get something going....”(17)
C“kalski’s plans failed again. He crossed the Hungarian border by himself, while the rest of the crew headed by the Katelbach brothers headed for Rumania. Wacław Kazimierczak tried to film the retreat. Stefan Dominkowski worked by himself. Unfortunately, all this footage was lost. Even the well known film theoretician, Bolesław W. Lewicki, went to the front with his camera. Being stopped and accused of spying almost cost him his life. He was only saved thanks to a bomber attack.
In the meantime Warsaw prepared to defend itself from the enemy. On September 8, President Stefan Starzyński took on the role of commissioner of the Civilian Defense of the Capital. Immediately thereafter he received a delegation of film makers. Starzyński accepted the proposal to organize a film crew. The film crew was supposed to be under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wacław Lipiński, who was newly appointed as chief of propaganda in the Defense of Warsaw Command.
The crew was composed of well known film makers. The directors were Juliusz Gardan, Mieczysław Krwawicz specializing in comedies, Jerzy Gabryelski, Roman Banach, Edmund Baczyński and a former member of “Start,” Jerzy Zarzycki. Among the cameramen were Aleksander Świdwiński and Henryk Vlassak (nota bene a Hungarian citizen). In the technical department were sound engineer Jżzef Bartczak, electrician Tadeusz Zając, scenographer Czesław Piaskowski and lab technician Stanisław Kieman. Eugenia Skrzywanowa supplied the raw film.
The crew found a location by the Dąbrowski Square where the old “Komisfilm” was once located. During the first meeting Wacław Lipiński declared that all footage taken was going to be community property. But one copy was going to be kept by the Museum of the Polish Army, which already possessed a substantial collection of films concerning the army. All members of the crew were provided with special written authorization to film the events and which declared them to be part of the Defense of Warsaw Command. These permits were approved by Stefan Starzyński. Wacław Lipiński began dialogue with Adam Drzewiecki, the co-owner of the film studio “Falanga,” to secure developing and related services in a state of the art laboratory on Leszczyńska 6 street.
During the siege of Warsaw, the film makers of the so called “Starzyński crew,” and the newly arrived American reporter, Julien Bryan, captured the initial damage to the Royal Palace. They continued on September 17, when the fire crews were trying to save the King Zygmunt Tower, its clock frozen at 11:15.
Roman Banach recorded the lives of the inhabitants of Marszałkowska (Marshall’s street), Krżlewskiej (King’s street), Nowy Ðwiat (the New World street), Czerniakowska street and PowiÑle (part of the city by the Vistula river). Jerzy Zarzycki worked in central Warsaw. He filmed the fire at the church on Moniuszko street and also scenes of homeless escapees on the Krakowskie PrzedmieÑcie square. The crew had at its disposal 35 mm. “Debrie” type cameras. All of the film makers were on foot, except for Aleksander Ðwidwiński, who had a small “Polish Fiat-508,” and Czesław Piasecki who was the proud owner of a motorcycle.
Henryk Vlassak and Jerzy Gabryelski were inseparable. They went everywhere and always brought interesting material back to base on Dąbrowski Square. Negatives were developed immediately upon delivery. Unfortunately, it was not possible to show these films in Warsaw theaters. The inhabitants had other problems.
According to Jerzy Gabryelski, out of 8 thousand meters little has survived. One box of film was unearthed after the war in the Old Town. Part of the material was taken to Rumania, then to France, where it was included in the “Pathe Journal” chronicles.
Jerzy Gabryelski gave a lengthy interview to Włodzimierz Piotrowski about his work with the “Starzyński crew,” published in the “Wrocławski Tygodnik Katolikżw” (WTK) (Wrocław Catholic Weekly) in 1958, entitled “Cudze chwalicie ... Jak kr“ciliÑmy filmy w obronie Warszawy” (Praise the foreign; How we made movies during the defense of Warsaw).
“When it comes to the heroes who distinguished themselves during the bloodiest times in our history, Jerzy Gabryelski was not even mentioned. Only now has he been recognized, after he stepped forward when he saw articles printed by the “Express.” Bryan, on the other hand, had columns written about him, accompanied by photograph after photograph. He was not willing to share any of the fame with his Polish equals.”(18)
Why did Piotrowski write like this? In mid 1958, the “Express Wieczorny” (Evening Express) devoted a large article to Julien Bryan, because the well known reporter arrived to Poland. Everything written in Poland about his work was very favorable. This suggested that his making a big movie about the defense of Warsaw in September 1939 was so exceptional that it overshadowed all the heroic acts under enemy fire by Polish film makers now deliberately ignored.
Following Jerzy Gabryelski’s trail after he contacted the “Express Wieczorny,” Włodzimierz Piotrowski visited him in his apartment in Łżdï. The result of this visit is informative from the historical standpoint. The report provides valuable supplement to the body of knowledge about the work of Polish film makers, particularly the “Starzyński crew,” during the siege of Warsaw.
In the WTK article Piotrowski writes as Gabryelski reminisces:
“The day before the war started, I received credentials from the Wojskowy Insytut Wydawniczy (Publishing Institute of the Army) as a front line film correspondent. After the Institute was evacuated, I reported to Captain Hempel along with the other film makers at the Komenda Miasta (City Command). He in turn sent us to President Starzyński. Starzyński ordered me to organize a film crew. We began work right away.
Our first shots were of the bombs. We caught them flying through the air. Then, there were the fireballs on the Poniatowski bridge, in Praga and in the Phillips’ gardens on Mazowiecka street....
“On the Plac Trzech Krzyży (the Three Crosses Square) bombs were falling right onto the fleeing refugees. Later we saw the ZUS building on Czerniakowska street and the gasworks destroyed by bombs. Our zoom lenses were too weak to capture the black crosses on the wings of the planes. We heard the clatter of machine guns positioned on top of the BGK building, on the corner of Boulevard NiepodległoÑci and New World street. Suddenly, there was a black plume from our feeble anti aircraft guns. On the square, by the corner of Zgoda and Jasna was the first civilian grave.... We’re looking for people now. The air raid sirens keep them running back and forth into hiding. It’s harder and harder to find shelter. The inhabitants of Warsaw are not that easy to scare....”
Next, Gabryelski proceeded to the English Embassy. The inhabitants of Warsaw continued to hope that the West would quickly deal with Germany. Let’s read on:
“There is a demonstration in front of the English Embassy on New World street. Instead of the ambassador, the butler appears in his sartorial splendor and tries to calm the Polish crowd. There is something symbolic in this....”
What follows next is a report of the daily life and the hazards of filming. “On Praga we see a platoon of walking soldiers: You gentlemen are film makers? When you see my old lady, tell her we will not give up Warsaw!” -- yells one of the soldiers....
“An old Jew is showing us his house ripped in two by the bombs. We film this scene. Then, only a moment later we film him hit by a bomb fragment and torn apart, like his house.
“Later we film the bombing of the hospitals. On Kredytowa 5 street rescuers are digging up people stiff as statues. Everything is grey with dust. A moment later, a man runs out of the rubble with his nose missing. He screams, “Where is my nose, where is my nose....”
“And now about the animals.
“In the neighborhood of ZUS a wounded horse is looking sadly at his master, a dead cavalry man. A few steps over, by a military wagon, another horse is chewing his cud. Another is still hooked up to the wagon, lying in a gigantic pool of blood....
“Two stray horses are running through empty Nowy Ðwiat street. All around there is artillery fire and bombs are falling from the sky. One of the horses stops, looks at us as if he were asking for help, then takes off in this macabre gallop....
“Shortly thereafter we see a dirty mutt ripping pieces of bloody flesh out of a dead horse. By his side sits a pure bread setter looking at his companion with repugnance. The mutt stops for a second and barks, as if to say, “Eat you jerk, this is war....”
“In the Grochowo section of Warsaw the concussion from a bomb blows our little Fiat, driven by Swidwiński, off the road causing damage....”
Gabryelski goes to Starzyński’s headquarters, where stage actors of Warsaw performed duties as the Citizen Guard.
“It just so happens that at that moment they were escorting in a German spy. I used to see him in the Warsaw cafes. One of the officers loses his patience and shoots him. “We don’t have the time to play around,” he says....
“Later, they are walking with a prisoner of war, a paratrooper. He is dressed in his coveralls and the special paratrooper boots. Not for a moment does he waver in his resolve: “It’s all going to be ours, give up,” he says....
“We see a crowd running from the direction of the Dworzec Głżwny (the main train station). Someone yells, “Gas!” The panicked crowd is running away to avoid the gas. On the corner of the Aleje and Bracka our lenses catch the startled faces. This type of a scene is impossible to direct. Even the wild crowd scenes in American movies cannot compare to this.
“At the flea market at Hoża and Three Crosses Square incendiary bombs fall. People are trying to save what they can. Our lens captures something we have not seen before; the plane’s machine guns cutting people down like a sickle does wheat....
“A dove is helplessly flapping its wings in the clouds of dust and smoke -- so symbolic of the global situation. This dove is supposed to represent peace....
“On a happier note, happier for us at least. Zarzycki and I went to a restaurant, “Pod Bukietem.” We ate, and on the way out, at the door, we let a woman leave ahead of us. We heard an announcement that fresh and tasty sandwiches were being served, which is why we went back.... Right at that moment, a bomb fell outside and killed the woman we let out in front of us....
“I say only the good die young. Had we not gone back for the sandwiches....”(19)
The matter-of-fact and cool, but at the same time disquieting report by Jerzy Gabryelski brings us closer to some unforgettable days of the defense of Warsaw. There is no bitterness in his revelation, even though we now realize that the hard work of many of the film makers had been lost forever. No one was thinking about film even though the potential was there to powerfully influence public opinion in Poland and throughout the world.
With shameless perfidy Hitler stated on the day war began: “I don’t want to fight against women and children.” Herman Goering seconded. He also agreed with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s appeal upon the declaration of war, that it be conducted by both sides in accordance with the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Hitler and Goering’s lies could have been readily exposed if the Luftwaffe bombings of residential neighborhoods were shown.(20)
The failures of the Polish propaganda department were not only caused by the chaos of war, but also by minister Grażyński’s lack of initiative. One could suppose with virtual certainty, that PAT and other institutions connected to film production were infiltrated by the “Fifth Column.” A lot of the film materials disappeared without a trace. No one was responsible for their safekeeping and no one could say what became of these documents. In the war’s first days it was clear that the Germans still wanted to “save face” in the world’s opinion, and they were simply pursuing the grand plan.
In an interview given to Włodzimierz Piotrowski, Gabryelski expressed his certainty that a large part of the footage produced by him in Warsaw was spirited out of the country. Some material was used in the French newsreels. By the order of Lieutenant Colonel Wacław Lipiński, one day before the surrender, all of the film made by the “Starzyński crew” was confiscated by the army. Some of the film boxes were buried. Efforts were made to take others out of the country. According to Gabryelski, it is almost certain that some of his footage was used in the production of a feature film “Koncert Warszawski” (the Warsaw Concerto). He did not know who made the film. Allegedly the music for this movie was composed by an Englishman who survived the bombing of Warsaw.
In this interview Gabryelski did not mention the colleagues who were hostile while he was searching for work in Polish cinematography prior to 1939. They were the same members of “Start” who forgot their patriotic duty and fled across the border. Only a few, like Jerzy Zarzycki, Mieczysław Krwawicz and Juliusz Gardan remained in the besieged Warsaw,
The “boss” of Polish film, Jżzef Lejtes, and his would be rival from “Start,” Aleksander Ford, both quickly left the country as soon as the war started. It seems that their loud public statements about the great artistic and social purpose of the cinema, were at odds with their interest of getting rich. In any event, when the time came to turn words into deeds during the September massacre, they were missing and out of action.
Even though he was closely connected to “Kohorta,” Jerzy Gabryelski still joined the “Starzyński crew” and stayed on the battleground. He rejected invitations from friends on their way to Rumania. Instead he took his camera in hand and shot film of the barricades of the capital.
The German occupation completely paralyzed artistic life in Poland, including film. In October 1940 a directive was issued by the Wydział OÑwiaty Publicznej i Propagandy Generalnej Gubernii (Department of Education and Propaganda for the Occupied Territories) to register all the cameras and film equipment. Those who disobeyed faced severe sanctions. In December of that year the Germans took over “Falanga’s” film studios, including copies of 87 feature films.
At the same time a FIP (Film und Propagandamitttel Vertriebsgesellschaft G.m.b.) film production crew was organized to propagate art and culture. The executive positions were taken by Volksdeutsch (ethnic Germans living in Poland), and after Poland was annexed into the occupied territories, it was the Ukrainians who collaborated with the Germans. The film laboratory used by FIP was located on Leszczyńska street. This laboratory added Polish subtitles to German films and advertized pre war Polish movies like, “Przez łzy do szcz“Ñcia” (Happiness through tears) and “Złota maska” (Gold mask) by Jan Fethke, along with “òołnierz krżlowej Madagaskaru” (Soldier of the queen of Madagascar) by Jerzy Zarzycki. Zarzycki finished his debut work, and then refused to work with FIP.
Things were different with Fethke, who was originally from the Opole area and declared himself a German. Fully aware of the burning desire of many film makers to make money, Fethke was counting on a quick reactivation of Polish artistic creativity. This is clearly evident from an interview given to “Nowy Kurier Warszawski” (the New Warsaw Courier) on February 15, 1941, where Fethke said: “The main task is to work for art. The environment has to be healthy and conducive for everyone. Film is a great thing, it must have dignified limits... We have the conditions, there is a lot of good intention, all we need is work and more work.”(21)
Among other production ideas was a film based on the “dramatic experiences of the Germans” in “the Polish concentration camp at Bereza Kartuska.” This film was never even started.
FIP produced only a few short documentary and propaganda films, among which was an anti-Semitic lampoon, “òydzi, wszy, tyfus” (Jews, lice, tyfus) (1941). Leonard Buczkowski contributed to this film. But it ended there. The Ministry of Propaganda of the Third Reich had to worry about production of an anti-Polish film called “Heimkehr” (Return). It was made by Gustav Usicke. One of the main roles was played by Bogusław Samborski. The Polish clerks in this movie were stand-ins conscripted by a character actor, Igo Sym. It turned out that before the war Igo Sym was a German spy infiltrating the artistic circles of Warsaw. Gabryelski recalled seeing him as a member of the Straż Obywatelska (Citizens Guard) around President Starzyński.(22) Igo Sym was executed on March 7, 1941, by a member of ZWZ, for spying and his contributions to “Heimkehr.”
All of Jan Fethke’s efforts to produce Polish films during the German occupation failed. There was only a handful of actors, Kazimierz Junosza-St“powski, Władysław Walter, Adolf Dymsza, who performed in small theaters opened by the Germans. That was the sum of what could be called the official “artistic life” in Warsaw. To survive, actors performed diverse functions. Generally, they worked in restaurants and cafes as waiters, cloak-room attendants and clerks.
One of the most popular restaurant/cafés where many actors worked during the occupation was “Fregata,” located on Mazowiecka street. Nina Sobańska-Bednarzowa described the make up of the personnel as follows: “The owner of the establishment, Zofia Dziakiewiczowa, the wife of a colonel of the Polish Army, by employing waitresses coming from diverse intelligencia circles, wanted to draw a clientele from all walks of professional life and associations.... Kazimierz Junosza-St“powski, who was working as maitre-a-die, represented the literary and art circles. Nina Andrycz, the two “singing” Burski sisters, Pola Gojaczewska’s daughter, Wanda.... were employed on consignment percentage basis, 7.5% of the daily income, which was -- if my memory serves me right -- around 80 to 150 złoty. With an 8-10 hour workday, we’d receive a dinner, which was actually cabbage with potatoes or beans, under which we always found a piece of meat or meatloaf, thanks to the generous chef, who considered us “exploited ” by the owner.”(23)
Other actors, like Marian Wyrzykowski, Elżbieta Barszczewska, Karolina Lubieńska and Jan Kreczmar worked in a restaurant “U Aktorek” (actresses’ place). Kreczmar also moonlighted, acting in small underground theaters in productions such as “Iridion” by Zygmunt Krasiński, “Kleopatra” by Cyprian Norwid and “Wesele” (the wedding) by Stanisław Wyspiański. In 1943 a underground military theater began its operations under the auspices of KG AK (Home Army), directed by Jżzef Wyszomirski. The theater group consisted of well known names, like Danuta Szaflarska, Andrzej Łapicki, Tadeusz Fijewski and Jan Ciecierski.
At about the same time Gabryelski opened a café/ restaurant called “Antresola,” located on Złota 7, in the neighborhood of the movie theater “Palladium,” where he employed film and stage actors, like Lidia Wysocka, Zbyszko Sawan and Jżzef Kondrat, among others.
Gabryelski distributed free dinners to those who needed it most. What’s more, he turned the restaurant into a underground meeting place. He hid Jews there. He sent anti-tyfus vaccine and money to buy arms for the Jewish fighters in the Ghetto. Stanisław Brzozko recalls: “I carried money and vaccine to doctor Zygmunt Fajcer. Sylwester Czosnowski, the composer, was also a courier delivering supplies to the Ghetto.(24)
Because Gabryelski was not connected to any underground organization, he did not participate in the efforts to organize the underground film industry in 1942. Under the protection of KG ZWZ AK (a cell of the Home Army) the Department of Propaganda was created under the code name “Rżj” (the Swarm). “Referat Foto-Filmowy,” was assigned to prepare the necessary film equipment, crews, directors and laboratory service in anticipation of the armed uprising. At the head of this organization was Wacłążarski. He oversaw the still photography aspects, while Antoni Bohdziewicz dealt with moving pictures. Surrounding Bohdziewicz was a group of enthusiastic directors. Among them was Jerzy Zarzycki, Wacław Adamiecki, Janina C“kalsa, Andrzej Ancuta and Leonard Zawisławski. Raw film was acquired from the people working for FIP. Cameras were purchased on the black market. Around that time, a special course was started for would be cameramen.
Stanisław Tomaszewski reminisces: “... on the second floor, in a house on the corner of Marszałkowska and Złota, we had a camera with a zoom lens. The camera was camouflaged with specially made drapes. The photo-reporters kept regular watch, waiting for “special operations” organized by the enemy on the streets of Warsaw.”(25)p. 122 Warszawa (1962).
In February 1944, Jerzy Gabryelski armed with both a movie and a photo camera traveled to the AK partisans in the area of Nowogrżd. The expedition did not fare well. The main camera was damaged in transit. The only harvest of this mission were photographs which were later sent to London. Similarly, Jerzy Zarzycki and his cameraman, Leszek Ruger, went to Lublin. Their trip was also unproductive and they almost fell into a German trap. They returned to Warsaw, unable to make contact with the partisans.
Roman Banach was a bit luckier. Along with Stanisław Sebel, he was able to film on the streets of Warsaw. They worked for the Home Army division “Jeleń,” filming and identifying Gestapo collaborators through their footage. These risky film escapades took place in close proximity to the German government offices. Banach and Seleb devised a special periscope lens so they could take pictures with their backs turned to the subject. (26)
With the approaching uprising in Warsaw, among other sections, all the film cells of “Rżj” were mobilized. By June 26 they were all on alert. At noon, on September 1, 1944, the chief of “Rżj,” Zygmunt Ziołek, informed Antoni Bohdziewicz about the imminent “W” hour. Women couriers carried the news throughout Warsaw.
The improvised base for the film makers was located in an old photographic studio in the Pałac Staszica (Staszic Palace), where the classes for cameramen were conducted. The crews had three 35mm. cameras, two 16mm., a few interchangeable lenses and one zoom lens. Jerzy Zarzycki, Andrzej Ancuta and the graduates of camera operation courses, Halina, Stanisław and Władysław Batowy and Leszek Ruger reported for duty. Antoni Bohdziewicz took command of the crews.
A few days after the uprising started, Stefan Bagiński, Jerzy Berger, Wacław Kazimierczak, Seweryn Kruszyński, Henryk Vlassak, Antoni Wawrzyniak and others joined the filming endeavors. Jerzy Gabryelski was already prepared for action and planning to film in the most dangerous locations. Some of the former employees of FIP were also given work as an opportunity to redeem themselves for their shameful cooperation with the Germans.
Andrzej Ancuta was working with his camera from the balcony of a house on Szpitalna 8 street. He had a strategic view of Napoleon square. This is where bloody battles took place to defend the Main Post Office building and the “Prudental” building. Jerzy Zarzycki was located on the intersection of Ðwi“tokrzyska and Marszałkowska streets. Henryk Vlassak had a film camera with a zoom lens that could peak behind the enemy lines. He captured the shocking scene of the Germans hiding behind women and children, while storming a barricade.
Jerzy Gabryelski, with Seweryn Kruszyński behind the camera and a helper, Kazimierz Pyszkowski, filmed at the outposts, where the inhabitants were fighting desperately without adequate munitions, or supplies. This crew was financed by Gabryelski and was not a part of the Antoni Bohdziewicz ensemble. Gabryelski provided the camera and film, which he secreted in his warehouse. The exposed footage was delivered to the “Falanga” laboratory for developing. The footage taken by Gabryelski was censored by the resistance command and shown publicly under the title “Warszawa walczy” (Warsaw is fighting).
Incorporating the film maker’s recollections, Włodzimierz Piotrowski has also written a report about Gabryelski’s work during the dramatic days of the Warsaw Uprising. The article was published in the 1959 “Wrocławski Tygodnik Katolicki” No. 2.
Gabryelski begins his story:
“It was August 1944... I reported to the chief of the Press Department and the chief of Wojskowe Zakłady Wydawnicze KG AK (Military Printing Works). They were Lieutenat Michał Kmita and Jerzy Rutkowski. Rutkowski was also the director of “Inco.” The headquarters of this department were located on Buduena street, number two. Four of us, Seweryn Kruszyński, an assigned woman courier “Katarzyna” (a code name), helper Kazimierz Pyszkowski and I started out from there. First we went to Napoleon square, where our boys were storming the Main Post Office building. We witnessed the first plumes of explosions, the first dead, the first prisoners of war and the first trophies -- the captured weapons.
“We took the camera to the resistance outpost called “òywiec,” on the corner of Aleje Jerozolimskie and Marszałkowska street, which was under attack by the Germans and Unkrainians, who were armed to the teeth.
“A little later we began to film German tanks as they approached a resistence outpost located above the restaurant “Pod Bukietem,” on the corner of Marszałkowska and Złota street. We filmed young kids attacking the tanks with bottles filled with gasoline.
“One of the boys scores a bull’s eye. A personnel carrier full of soldiers catches on fire and this causes their disgraceful retreat. We film their withdrawal all the way to Jerozolimskie boulevard.
“Then, we were sent to 113-115 Marszałkowska street, where “Własowscy”(Ukrainian soldiers) had massacred the civilian population. They sneaked in through the nearby Main Train Station, where they bivouacked in some wooden shacks. It was as if the images of murdered civilians forecasted the extermination of Warsaw, but no one thought of it that way at the time....
“We aimed our lenses toward the civilians, including women and children, building a barricade. We also captured, among other shots, screams of the wounded and dying. Dozens worked on the barricade. To the young boys it was like play -- they seemed to like this job. The flak was increasing. The people lined up next to buildings and passed the building materials from hand to hand. The barricade on Celna and Pierackiego streets was growing. The Germans reached with their shots all the way from the tower of the Holy Cross Church and the BGK building.
“Now we film the Home Army soldiers attacking a German outpost. Many German soldiers are defending it.... On Gżrski street we film the Holy Mass for the resistance fighters. Through the rays of the sun we can see a lookout in a window -- our boys are wearing coveralls. A young priest is performing mass. Several of the resistance fighters are receiving communion, among them a wounded boy supported by his sergeant and nurses.“(27)
The following memoir was written by Ms. Gabriela Mystek:
“... August 13. Today Holy mass was conducted at the assembly hall... Many civilians came from the neighboring buildings. Young boys found a portable organ and were playing church songs. A camera crew showed up and was taking pictures. I wondered if I’ll ever see myself in the movies, I’d rather not. I was crying. Every time I hear “Boże coÑ Polsk“” (God’s Poland, a religious hymn), something happens and I have to cry....”(28)
“Later, another Holy Mass. Bishop Adamski was conducting it on Warecki street, number 11, We filmed fervent faces of the insurgents and civilians who fought for the Main Post Office. Among all of the other people the camera also caught the famous opera singers, Adam Didura and Wiktoria Calma....
“Still another Mass. This time for the soldiers of the Polish People’s Army, who were stationed in the Philharmonic Hall. This mass was taking place in the famous restaurant “Alhambra.” After the mass we filmed the swearing in of new soldiers. The next day many of them were killed by an ultra heavy bomb, in virtually the same spot.
“Now we film German prisoners of war in the PKO building (Polska Kasa Opieki, Polish national bank) on Ðwi“tokrzyska street. There, we also find “Monter” (code name of the commander) at the main command post of the Home Army. After that we wander through the hospital halls, where Prof. Dr. Zaorski, assisted by Dr. Jan Wżjkiewicz, operates on the wounded. The operations are performed without anesthetic, by candle light.... Lights for the cameras are improvised from carbide lanterns.
“We’ve moved to Krżlewska street (King’s street). We find ourselves in the midst of a fight against German tanks. When we win, we’ll be able to retrieve supplies dropped during the night by parachute in Ogrżd Saski (Saski Gardens), which they were blocking.
“In “Adria” on Moniuszki street we film explosive experts disarming an unexploded bomb that penetrated through all the floors of a building. The German prisoners of war help disarm the bomb. The lens observes concentration comparable to that in the PKO field hospital during the operations.
“The cow (an unexploded bomb) threw me seventeen meters when it landed,” recalls the “cook” from “Adria,” the famous musician Tadeusz Kwieciński. It is worth noting that Kwieciński, code name “Dziubas” weighed 130 kilos. We film these scenes from different angles, from afar, close-up, the hands, sweat pouring off the faces of bomb experts, a muscle spasm on a startled face....
“We were scared, too. But later on it wasn’t so bad. I guess one gets used to it....
“On PowiÑle we film a deeply moving and tragic scene. A young man was hit, and his father, a retired officer who once gave him his gun belt, gun and an army hat, holds his son’s body. He quickly gains composure, takes the belt and the gun off his son’s body and reports to a young commander.
“I am taking his place. I will fight like he did, as a private....”
“In the St. Kazimierz monastery on Tomka we film a bakery and cows that have been providing milk to infants from PowiÑle and the hospital staffed by nuns. We are caught in an attack by the German tanks supported by aerial bombing. We lose the light reflectors we commandeered from the Main Post Office (the same ones that provided light there for ages). We move toward Wisła (Vistula) and under enemy fire film a bridge on which the Germans transport supplies and arms to their forces in BGK.
“In the old automotive repair shops on Złota street there is an improvised slaughterhouse. We film one horse a moment before its death. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a horse cry. Except that it was another horse’s tears, not the one waiting to die.
“By a tragic coincidence, we are summoned from the horse slaughterhouse to film the human slaughter on Gżrska street after a bomb attack.
“On Złota street we film a lost and hungry great dane. Sometime later soldiers of the AK invite us for veal stew. Later they joke that we ate our “movie star,” the great dane. This is how it really was.
“On Wiejska street people are feverishly scooping water out of a giant crater in the middle of the street. This water is expensive. A diving airplane shoots at the people. There are dead and wounded. Despite this the water gets scooped up to the last drop....
“On Gżrski street, number four, we get some dramatic shots of a burning building. People try to save what they can. The well known actress, Sulima, endangers her life to protect her Stradivarius violin. After the building burned down, two girls, soldiers of the AK, create a make shift bath from a barrel of water they found in the basement.
“Finally, we can bathe,” say the happy girls. We turn the camera off when they begin to undress.
“Later we film one of the girls putting on make-up by the light of two candles. That’s the way the girls of Warsaw are.
“In a patisserie, “Paradis,” on Chmielna 23 street, we film the baking and distribution of bread. Later, as if in contrast, we film the charred remains of victims of an incendiary bomb on Jasna 10 street....
“In a shoe store once owned by Mr. Obr“bski on Chmielna 26 street, we meet three of the resistance fighters who miraculously escaped from Old Town with their lives. They laugh at us, “What, you’re afraid of cows?”
“And still another tragedy. One of the Old Town fighters came here with his seven year old son. Then the boy gets killed by an exploding bomb. The father is going insane from grief. He takes his son’s body and walks around singing... We film this, but it feels like blasphemy....
“The camera is now located at the entrance to the sewers at New World and Warecka streets. On Warecka and Gżrski streets there is a nasty smelling, brown trail behind the people who crawled out of the sewers.
“While we film the people coming out of the sewers, we catch a dying man; he and his wife both crawled through the sewers. He was shot by a stray bullet near the “Wedel” store on the corner of Gżrska and Szpitalna streets. His wife’s grief is horrible, moving....
“We film the group “S“p” while they are attacking the invincible German fortress, the Warsaw University. The attack is conducted from Zaj“cza and Topiel streets. Another group of resistance, “Harnasie,” is planning an attack on the police headquarters on Krakowskie PrzedmieÑcie (a section of Warsaw).
“On Buduena 2 street we film the funeral of the heroic sergeant, “As.” He died in a firefight after replacing the commander of the group, “Łukasz,” on Walicżw street. “Before this, we filmed “As” in action storming the Railroad Workers Hall on Widok 10 street. The Gestapo forces entrenched there were supplied with arms by three Polish prostitutes. Among the captured Gestapo prisoners of war were two Gypsies and a German from Silesia. The Gypsies tried to talk their way out, but the Silesian admitted he and the Gypsies were part of the Gestapo. After a short military field trial, “As” took them all to the cellars of the headquarters on Boduena 2, and executed them....
“We film the soldier in a dress, “Grażyna,” enlisting recruits who come from the German occupied side of the city.
“In the cellars on Sienkiewicz street we are filming the making of grenades and flame throwers....
“On Warecka and Szpitalna streets we film the printing of the resistance newspaper “Rzeczpospolita” (The Republic). We are able to catch the editor in chief, Mr. Henryk Hubert, and Maria Chmurkowska, the famous actress, who is delivering the newspaper all over the city....
“Speaking of actors, we filmed Maria Gorczyńska working as a nurse in the PKO hospital, Marian Wyrzykowski and Janusz Warnecki (Janusz was a sergeant and acting commander), in the group commanded by lieutenant “Robert” located on Krżlewska street and then Leon Schiller as he worked in the underground theater in the restaurant “U aktorek” on Mazowiecka street....
“We are able to catch one of the dark figures in our cultural circles, Adam Dołżycki, the famous Ukrainian conductor, who collaborated with the enemy.... I can’t condemn him, however, because he did not report me to the Germans when he saw me after the Uprising....”(29)
The surviving documents from August 26, 1944 show that the film crew headed by Jerzy Gabryelski and Seweryn Kruszyński submitted for censorship 2136 meters of negatives. This crew continued to work for several more weeks, leading us to believe that this footage grew to probably around 4000 meters.
Gabryelski’s plan was to edit the footage after the negatives had been developed in the “Falanga” laboratories. He wanted a copy of the negative secreted in the laboratory ventilation ducts before the end of the Uprising. After the Uprising failed and the Germans took over Warsaw, the footage was discovered by one of the former employees of FIP. It was then transported to the central office in Cracow, where it survived.
Part of the material created by Gabryelski and Kruszyński was used in the resistance chronicles entitled “Warszawa walczy.” Other documentary material, and photographs taken by the war correspondents of the department of the Home Army survived and were edited, along with footage taken by other film makers, and presented on the anniversary of the Uprising in 1956 in a special session at the Documentary Film Works.
During the Warsaw Uprising, the film chronicles were shown three times in the liberated movie theater “Palladium.” Leszek Prorok reminisces: “The showings were not advertised with posters. I don’t remember seeing any posters, inside or out. As far as I know, these showings were primarily for the resistance fighters. Invitations were carried to command posts by official couriers, inviting from each one or two soldiers who were off duty at that time. I remember this so vividly because I had to get the password of the day, so I could come back to my command after dark. We were stationed right on the front, in the area of Pi“kna and Koszykowa streets.”(30)
The first showing of the chronicles was conducted for the press on August 13. The reporter from “Robotnik” (The Worker) in “Pierwszy film polski o Powstaniu” (The first polish film about the Uprising) wrote: “Yesterday there was a screening of the film about resistance fighting in the capital. This film shows parts of the battles by Narutowicz and Napoleon squares, Jasna and Marszałkowska streets and the burning buildings on Aleje Jerozolimskie, the young men proudly performing their tasks, the nurses working under fire. There are also scenes behind the front, like workers getting the machinery to function at all sorts of new tasks. All of this is shown with the horribly devastated city in the background. This film attests to the bravery of the film makers who worked constantly under fire to record the most dangerous situations. The efforts and the resulting work by the film makers and the crews are an important documentation of the resistance movement.”(31)
Two days later, on August 15, “Newsreel No. 1" of fighting Warsaw was shown. “The mood is solemn, sublime, all the seats are taken. Lots of people stand and crouch in the aisles. It is mostly young people, resistence uniforms, coveralls, civilian clothes. The theater holds almost two thousand people. On the walls are white eagles and emblems of Fighting Poland. Once the orchestra starts to play the “Warszawianka,” everyone stands up and sings along. The lights dim, the hall becomes silent, the titles appear on the screen....”(32)
The showing took place late in the evening, when the enemy eased off the bombing. This was done for the safety of the audience, which numbered well over 1000. The conditions were deplorable and primitive. Most of the projection equipment was ancient. It was necessary to perform special tricks to assure that the film’s message was sufficiently powerful.
Antoni Bohdziewicz reminisces: “We wanted to make sure the audience was getting a story with sound. To this end, with help from professional friends we installed a record player in the balcony. Records were played as background music. I had a written commentary which I read while hiding in the balcony, so people would not see this “advanced technology.” The microphone was real, and the speakers were placed behind the movie screen to convey the sound and music....”(33)
The presentation of “Chronicles No. 2" took place on August 21. This was right after the “Pasta” building was conquered, which was a great success for the resistance. This chronicle was much more concise than the previous one. This time, the fragments portraying the fighting were much more dramatic. The reviews in newspapers were just as enthusiastic as before and this time there were more of them.
The representative of “Rzeczpospolita Polska” (Polish Republic, a newspaper), wrote: “ An unforgettable experience. We see the everyday Warsaw as it participates in the action. Only after seeing this film do we realize the enormity of what we are experiencing. The streets close to the front, ruins and death lurking everywhere. Houses are full of holes, fire is eating everything that has not yet been leveled. Yet everywhere, there is that intrepid soldier of the Uprising. With the camera’s eye we see the bloodiest parts of the fighting on PowiÑle. We respond to images of the capture of the “Dworzec Pocztowy” (Postal Train Station), the stronghold of Warsaw, with a hurricane of applause. We look with satisfaction at the supply wagons carrying the parachute drops being unloaded, the captured tanks and the test of a flame thrower manufactured by the resistance forces.”
The second showing received more attention from “Robotnik’s” reporter than the first. He wrote: “In this film we have images of fighting Warsaw. We can see Karowa street -- the enemy’s nest. The enemy envelops the surrounding streets in flames, including the “Ateneum” theater. In the Jordanowski Gardens the Germans are transporting gunnysacks of supplies on their backs. One Polish soldier is hiding next to a coal pile, waiting for the right moment to shoot. An unexploded bomb falls into one of the film maker’s rooms, scattering all of the materials stored there. This is not so bad. Worse are the “ryczące krowy” (screaming cow) bombs.
There is a shortage of water. People are digging wells, and carrying the water in pails. The worst scenes are of the victims of fires. These people walk with small bundles in their hands, trying to get to the parts of the city not occupied by the enemy.”
The reporter from the “Democrat” accentuated the happy victories: “Within 24 hours after recapture of the “Pasta” building, one of the capital’s theaters showed images depicting that event. The greatest enthusiasm was aroused by the part showing the SS bandits being escorted out of the recaptured building.”
All of these press columns are important, if for no other reason, then because they describe scenes captured by the cameras, and the input of individual crews. It’s easy to compare Gabryelski’s report and the articles in “Robotnik,” “Rzeczpospolita Polska,” or “Demokrata” describing the scenes in the “Walcząca Warszawa.” It is clear that majority of these images were the fruits of his labor. This also reestablishes his presence among the people fighting for their capital.
There are also the anecdotes relating specifically to the director himself. Michał Wojewżdzki remembers Gabryelski in his print shop: “The film crew making a documentary about the Warsaw Uprising visited the print shop. I had to pose for the cameraman with the linotype operators, tour the print shop with them, and assist in the filming of the rotary machine, etc. The film was shown in the “Palladium” theater on Złota 7-9 street. Only my printers went to the showing, because I wasn’t able to find the time.”(34)
Particularly valuable are the recollections of a field nurse “WiÑnia” (Cherry) whose destiny took her over the ocean. These memoirs were published in a Polish-American daily “Gwiazda Polarna” (Polar Star), on November 4, 1972. This is what we can read:
“I remember, in the first days of the Uprising mass was conducted in the high school assembly hall on Gżrski street, attended by the fighting boys and girls and the civilians. The boys found a portable organ and played church music. Film director Jerzy Gabryelski, who risked his life prowling every corner of the city with the camera, filming the bloodiest scenes to memorialize the tragic days of the Uprising, also attended this field mass....
“The most popular source of news was the “Palladium” theater, beside the newspapers and field mail. At this beautiful spot, where only the Germans had previously been allowed, for the first time there was an event to show the resistance fighters the film exposed by director Gabryelski and his crew. In a theater with a 2000 person capacity there was standing room only. The guards at the door could barely prevent people from rushing into the theater. Everyone wanted to either see themselves or recognize close and familiar faces. For many of the people, this was the last event they would attend in their lives. Among the crowd of freedom fighters I saw director Gabryelski, watching along with everyone else all the fighting and killing of our young people. He watched with intense concentration and a pained expression on his face.”(35)
The primary part of the third and last section of the “Warszawa Walczy”chronicle, was the battle to retake the General Command building and the Church of the Holy Cross. “There are about two thousand people in the theater. There are no free seats. The guards at the door are barely able to keep people out. Most of the spectators are young, smiling faces... The hall is lit up, familiar melodies flow from the speakers to ease the wait... This is the third in a series of reports -- the boys with cameras have performed admirably.”(36)
The fall of PowiÑle where “Falanga” had its film lab and the bombing of the “Palladium” theater prevented further showings of the “Warszawa walczy” chronicles. Drastic measures were taken to preserve all of the footage and prevent it from falling into the enemy hands. Nonetheless, only some of it survived. However, even what has remained was enough to shake up the audience when it was shown at a special viewing session in 1956.
Aleksander Jackiewicz wrote: “Lacking the skilled and organizing hand of a director the cameras registered facts with mechanical laconism... We are tracking the cameraman as his camera pans over all the burning buildings, his hands are trembling from emotion and the nearby explosions. The picture becomes shaky and stops short. There are sudden breaks like this in many parts of this great film... People are dying in this film with clear inevitibility; carried by their friends they move their hands, and then turn to stone, as if not to cause any problems for the porters... I see this film as an exemplary portrayal of the Warsaw Uprising, and more. In this documentary the most moving element is the authenticity. But it’s not only a matter of authenticity, beyond that, it’s the inner truth of the ‘dramaturgy.’“(37)
The roll call of film people who perished in the Uprising is a long and tragic one. Mieczysław Krwawicz, production manager Stanisław Szebego, both missing in action. Mariusz Maszyński, savagely murdered by Ukrainians fighting for the Germans. Franciszek Brodniewicz, Stanisław Daniłowicz and Zbigniew Rakowiecki, also missing in action. Popular actor, Jżzef Norwid, was killed as a simple soldier. Gustaw Kryński died a horrible death in the sewers under Czerniakowa street. His daughter was killed and he went berserk, running and screaming, fell and finally drowned in the putrid liquid.
Not too many survived. Among the few that did were Antoni Bohdziewicz, Jerzy Zarzycki, Roman Banach, Wacław Kazimierczak. Jerzy Gabryelski, along with other inhabitants of Warsaw was taken to an internment camp in Pruszkżw. From there he made his way to Cracow, where he spent the remaining days of the occupation.
When Cracow and Warsaw were liberated Jerzy Gabryelski made an effort to participate in the rebuilding of Polish cinematography. He was one of the only film directors in Poland who had formal training, experience and credentials to prove it. But, above all, Gabryelski wanted to recover his Warsaw Uprising footage. He found out that the film had survived, but the new owner wanted money. Tremendous effort was expended to borrow the necessary sum of money. This was simply to regain what was rightfully his in the first place.
Gabryelski left for Warsaw to meet with the new rulers of the film industry. The city was in ruin. The house where he once lived and the site where his restaurant once stood were burned. He had no place to live. At the same time he found out that a new studio was organized in Łżdï. He went there to look for a position.
In an article in the “Tygodnik Kulturalny” (Cultural Weekly) Stanisław Mazur remembered meeting with Jerzy Gabryelski in Otwock a few days after the liberation of Warsaw. The director was excited about getting his Uprising footage back. “He was looking forward to making a great cinematographic artwork. He was seeking support and financial backing.”(38)
The negotiations between Gabryelski and the authorities took a long time. They were moved from Lublin to Łżdï, still with no results. Aleksander Ford had become a very influential figure in Polish cinematography. Ford came back to Poland with the KoÑciuszko Division as a colonel and was immediately appointed head of “Czołżwka” (Forefront), the communist government owned film production company. His hatred for Gabryelski was aroused along with his maniacal fear of competition.
Ford was particularly afraid that a director with training and experience such as Gabryelski’s could become a serious competitor. He always dreamed of becoming a “dictator,” the way Lejtes was before the war. To this end he directed all of his energy.
Gabryelski submitted plans for several projects to the newly formed documentary studio in Łżdï. One of the ideas was his particular favorite. He planned to adapt Bolesław Prus’s “Placżwka” (Outpost), showing the attachment of the simple folks to their land, for the screen. Gabryelski received approval from Ryszard Matuszewski, in the Ministry of Culture and Art. Jżzef Wassowski wrote a favorable opinion about the script. Despite these endorsements, Ford made sure the film did not go to production. Gabryelski was not even paid for the script, despite its having been accepted for production. A similar fate awaited many of Gabryelski’s later projects.
A despondent Gabryelski attempted to find employment in the theater. He hoped to participate in the rebirth of the Polish stage. Jerzy Pański was the head of the Polish theater, the way Ford was in film. When Gabryelski approached Pański, he said, “You are a film, not a stage director. Why don’t you go and see Ford. He’ll give you a job.”(39)
Gabryelski’s efforts to make a film using his footage of the Warsaw Uprising were most poignant. This was going to be an epic film about the tragic destruction of Warsaw. Jerzy Zarzycki made a less ambitious movie about a similar subject, entitled “Robinson Warszawski” (Robinson of Warsaw). This time Ford’s reaction was even more extreme. Not only did he reject Gabryelski’s project, but he also informed on Gabryelski to the secret police, claiming that he had a checkered political past. As the result of this foil Gabryelski was arrested by the NKWD. After three months of torture he was released due to lack of evidence. However, his teeth had been knocked out and both kidneys were damaged. This was equivalent to the professional kiss of death. After that no production company would hire him. “Gabryelski lost faith in fulfilling his ideas. Moreover, he realized in that hostile atmosphere anything connected to AK was in strong disfavor and further, his Warsaw Uprising footage was in grave danger of being destroyed. Whoever knew about the new leaders of Polish film knew that they had left Poland with a bag full of tricks. Gabryelski could not be blamed for his fears. The idea of transporting the film out of Poland, so it could be held for safekeeping in England or the United States, until Gabryelski could make the epic of his dreams, was born in these conditions.”(40)
Seeing he would not be able to do anything with his Warsaw Uprising film, in 1946 Gabryelski gave the film to Col. Frank Jessic, who was the military attache in the American Embassy in Warsaw, to deposit for safekeeping at the KoÑciuszko Foundation in the United States. Also, Col. Jessic promised Gabryelski that he would personally make sure Gabryelski was smuggled out of Poland to follow his film. Unfortunately, Col. Jessic did not keep his word. This is how the tragedy of Gabryelski’s separation from the Warsaw Uprising film began.
After relinquishing possession of his Warsaw Uprising film, Gabryelski found himself without means of support. He then decided to retrace his footsteps from before the war, to Silesia. He quickly found Wilhelm Szewczyk, his friend and coworker from “Czarne diamenty.” Szewczyk headed an art and cultural organization called “Odra.” Gabryelski asked for his help to bring “Czarne diamenty” to the screen. A copy of the film had survived the war in Łżdï. This particularly encouraged the director since he thought the film was lost forever after it was sent to Cannes.
Szewczyk agreed to help Gabryelski and both of them energetically began to make arrangements. It was decided that the film should first be shown in Silesia. Despite the fact that local authorities approved the project, permission to show the film still had to be obtained from the Capital. This meant once more that the project was at the mercy of the “dictator,” Aleksander Ford. The idea never got off the ground.
“As a senator, already... in 1957, I intervened in this matter with people in positions of power in the film industry and heard in reply that it made no sense to be concerned with a film in which the leading role was played by the wife of pre-war minister of the military affairs (Zofia Kajzerowiczżwna).”(41)
Despite his inability to bring “Czarne diamenty” to the screen, Jerzy Gabryelski spent considerable time in Silesia. He was still interested in the mining themes. He visited many mines, met with Silesian historians and spent countless hours studying old tomes in the local libraries. Finally, Gabryelski came up with an idea, which was tremendous for those days. He took the majority of the workload upon himself and then tried to interest Wilhelm Szewczyk. As before, he wanted a collaborator to restrain his fertile imagination.
Szewczyk recalled: “I worked with Gabryelski writing the screenplay for a film called “Synowie płonącej ziemi” (Sons of the Burning Earth). This was to be a feature film about the history of mining. It would begin with the first primitive smelting furnaces. Gabryelski had been studying the earliest history of the working classes, which prepared him well for this task. Though there was no television in those days, if there had been, this film would have been well suited to be a serial. We had support from the local authorities, particularly Jerzy Zi“tek, the head of the provincial administration, but for reasons unknown to me, the film was never produced. One of the best examples of Gabryelski’s fascination with Silesia was the part of the screenplay which I published in the weekly “Odra.”(42)
In contrast to “Czarne diamenty” “Synowie płonącej ziemi” was going to be a film of epic proportions. Gabryelski’s ideas transcended all of the classical formulas for feature film making. As the film traveled through time, the storyline changed. New protagonists appeared, but everything was still connected by a central theme. This vision showed the history of mining and other coal dependant industries from the perspective of time. The film would begin in the early times, move through the Piast Dynasty and finally arrive at the foreign occupations of Poland. It employed both elements of fables like “Balladyna” and “Lilia Weneda,” and contained detailed historical storytelling from the nascence of mining onwards .
The treatment for “Synowie płonącej ziemi”(43) reads: “It is a full feature film, depicting the evolution of mining. This film will develop important periods in the evolution of mining, and how the miner and smelter had to adapt to survive the cruelties of nature and capitalism. The conflict between these forces is the crux of the screenplay.
The screenplay spans more than a millennium of our mining. The story begins in ancient times and continues to the present. It covers the appeal of Wincent Pstrowski, the political struggle, the mines and prisons in the pre-September Poland, though the time of occupations when it was declared that the mines are our national property.”
The opening scenes are beautifully visualized. “The Slavic wilderness is shot from several angles, full and luscious. Rays of morning sunlight break through the creeping fog. Slowly life awakens.”
Here Gabryelski employs the voice of the narrator, which will merge different parts of the story, as the film jumps through time. His first words were going to be: “In the beginning there was a plow. The earth was peaceful, it praised its gods. Then the beautiful country scenery was trampled by the invader’s foot.”
One after another, scenes are shown from the lives of primitive Slavs. They plow their land with a wooden plow, in the shadow of one of their gods, Swantewit. The region is invaded by Roman legions, who pillage with their metal swords. “And so burns the temple and the settlement. The battle is fierce, the winners leave with slaves and booty. An old Slav priest, while looking through the ruined temple finds a wounded Roman legionnaire. And since he is a Slav, he will help.
“My brother, he says to the Roman, “On this earth we must help all who are poor, sick, alone or sad.” “Your land is rich and beautiful,” says the legionnaire, “the only reason we conquered you is because we have steel swords.”
“It’s only a rock,” says the priest, “there is plenty of it around the temple, the alter sits on top of one.”
The secret of making iron from its ore, conveyed to the priest by the legionnaire will become the strength of the community.
This is how Gabryelski saw the stone age naturally evolve, in a symbolic and quick-time way, into the iron age.
“A group of people appear at the bank of a river. The first smelter is in the development stages. It is a hole in the ground surrounded by a stone wall leather bellows and a wheel to make them work. The charcoal making piles are some distance away in the forest. People gather, children get under the feet of the crowd, and work begins. The mystery of furnace operation is still in the hands of a revered priest. The bellows are working and the fire is burning.
“With ingenuity and practice, the smelters become more advanced. We are in the king’s forge, where they are making the sword for King Bolesław Chrobry. The King soon realizes the power of this discovery. “Along with my troops I will defend our borders against the invaders,” he says. Now, the Slav fable turns into historical reality. But with respect to the evolution of mining we are still in mythical times.
“Small mine shafts litter the hills and forests. By now they are somewhat improved, with a simple bucket, pulley and a line going beneath the ground. The piles of tailings grow between the trees and cover the ferns and bushes. A primitive pumping machine is designed to avert the danger of a flood under the ground. Alas, water in the shaft! Some escape. Some perish. The miners stand around and discuss problems... Misfortune dictates the improvementd in primitive mining techniques through necessity.
“Let’s get away from here, yells one of the miners, there is too much water here, we will drown and lose everything.”
“We can do it. We must be together,” says another...
“We can’t make it. The water is too strong.”
“To hell with it, let’s go somewhere else,” says the first one...
“Suddenly a strong voice of protest speaks out of the crowd. A stranger named Szarlej steps forward.
“The mythical Szarlej teaches people how to conquer the elements. He knows the secret of gun powder. This is the way to conquer the earth. The earth gives up its treasures, ripped apart by explosives and human hands. Gun powder blows the rock apart to expose the ore.... Smoke envelopes everything including Szarlej.
“The smoke blows away. Szarlej disappears. The workers make the sign of the cross as if they had seen the devil.... Smoke and flame come out of the rock as shepherds throw it piece by piece into the fire. Behind the fire a hovering shadow of Szarlej appears....
“Then the shadow of Szarlej assumes human form. “I am he who discovered the secret of the burning rock. Give me money, and we’ll build better derricks, then we’ll blow up the rock, so that the cold and poor, can be warm and prosperous.
“The “charitable” Szarlej is chased out of the community by the priest carrying a crucifix. However, superstition creates problems of its own. Many miners die, tethered to the darkness of the underworld... Who knows, perhaps Szarlej would have turned out to be the more righteous and effective leader. But he left never to return. Still he gave the gifts of knowledge and hope.
“The illustrious spiritual and secular leaders continue Szarlej’s vision. They want gold. So they build new and bigger derricks, which force the miners to work harder. The miners and foundry workers are oppressed. They start to revolt. They leave the homes where they grew up and travel through forests and across valleys, as they seek better work and improved living conditions. They search in other countries among foreign people with different bosses. The forges, derricks, foundries and mines sit abandoned. Rain pounds on the derricks as tools rust on the ground.
“In due time the rule of law became a necessity to delineate the rights and obligations of the miners. Jan Opolczyk (member of the Piast dynasty), deeply concerned about the welfare of the kingdom, dictates Ordunek Gżrny (The High Ordinance) to his scribe. This is the first set of rules and regulations to protect the miners. The first article of Ordunek Gżrny is created in 1528.
“Here begins the first article,” says Jan Opolczyk to his scribe. “Since the old miners forgot about rules, a new ordinance has to be created, so that everyone knows how to behave.”
“As the scribe’s quill squeaks, Jan Opolczyk dictates the most important work of his life. It will be good to have a set of rules, even if they are on the strict side. Article 11 states that the miner is supposed to work 12 hour shifts, Article 12 states that within certain hours no one will sell, give on credit or otherwise provide any food or alcoholic beverages to the miners, once the work bell rings. But the ordinance also brought many good things. Article 49 states that because many languages are spoken in the Silesian mountains, including German, Czek, Polish and a tribe called Gwarkowie, both workers and the governor must speak a common language. Article 54 states that murderers shall be banished from the mountains forever. Article 61 regulates pay....”
After Jan Opolczyk’s death times got hard. His successor, Count George of Brandenburg arrived with the accompanying German migration. From that point on the Gwarkowie tribe had to fight not only the forces of nature but foreign domination as well. Capitalistic exploitation brought with it total germanization of the region. This caused resistance and rebellion. The axes and picks, which yesterday were used as tools have been turned into weapons. An insurrection broke out throughout the country. The Gwarkowie rebelled against the Germans who created the capitalist machine which was exploiting the miners.
Dirty and wretched prisons were filled with demonstrators. Dragoons trampled the demonstrators with their horses. Swinging swords gleamed scattering the crowds.
Miners in search of work were forced to drop their tools and leave their homeland once more because of the draconian laws and punishments.
While in the hands of a scribe the parchment turns into a map of Silesia and Poland. The workers migrate from Silesia to Poland. King Zygmunt August is developing the mining and foundry industry in Poland. The manufacturing plants and mines soon assimilate the migrant workers. The growing foundry in Olkusz is Poland’s primary supplier of steel. The map of Poland is falling into shreds, and the shreds turn into needles, knives, swords, plows, wire, and sheet metal. The foundries prosper and ships full of manufactured goods sail down the Vistula river to the sea.
Gabryelski leads his protagonists, with great skill, through the legends and recorded history, uniting old parchments and yellowing tomes with the modern times. To illustrate the twentieth century, he shows the Silesian Uprising, a return to the roots, and work for the good of Poland in the same spirit as the slogans first uttered during the uprising at the Zabrze mine.
Though it is a captivating story, the sad part is that from the beginning it was condemned to stay on paper, without the possibility of coming to life on the screen. The director intuitively realized that his script had no chance of being produced either for the movies or television. Today when we read “Synowie płonącej ziemi,” we can appreciate the originality of the concept and its potential as a television mini series.
This was an idea decades ahead of its time.
His lack of success in realizing production of “Synowie płonącej ziemi” did not break the director’s spirits. Fueled by Aleksander Ford’s skillful manipulations, Gabryelski was already considered by the film community to be an anti-Semite, nationalist and a waif of society.
After his release from NKWD, Gabryelski’s fortunes changed. He met Victoria, a young nurse from the Warsaw Uprising. They met in Łżdï when Gabryelski was still physically damaged because of his stay at NKWD. They were married in 1948. Only thanks to his wife was the director able to recover relatively good health.
In 1949 they had a daughter, Ewa. Unfortunately, seven months later, the infant died of pneumonia. Gabryelski was devastated by the death of his daughter. In these tragic circumstances Gabryelski’s wife intervened on her husband’s behalf to the Łżdï General Committee of the Worker’s Party.(44) Thanks to the intercession of party member Maria Szymańska, the author of “Czarne diamenty” was hired in 1956 as a film director in Wytwżrnia Filmżw OÑwiatowych (WFO)(Educational Film Production Company). He lost his job for a short time in 1958, but resumed work a few months later. Here too, help from friends at the Workers’ Party was indispensable, along with the intervention of many coworkers at WFO who were fully aware of his talent and professional skills and who knew that his employment problems were due to discrimination.
Between 1957 and 1963 Jerzy Gabryelski made several documentary and educational films. Among these are “Wesele kurpiowskie” (Kurpie wedding, Kurpie is an eastern region of Poland), “Wianki łowickie” (Łowicz wreaths, Łowicz is a capital of a central region of Poland) and “Harnasie Karola Szymanowskiego” (Harnasie are an ethnic group native to southern Poland, Karol Szymanowski was a famous Polish composer). His instructional films included “Siejemy nasiona kwalifikowane” (Sowing qualified seeds) and “Paliwa i smary” (Fuels and greases). All of these films were well received by the inspection commission and given high artistic marks. “Wesele kurpiowskie” won an award in Prague. Subsequently the film was purchased by UNESCO after it was slightly reedited and renamed, “Wesele na Kurpiach.”
The most interesting among these films is “Wesele kurpiowskie.” In this work Gabryelski was able to break the schematic patterns of educational film-making practiced at the WFO. He made this film with fluency. As usual, Gabryelski worked with great precision and care on the script. He researched the subject thoroughly and incorporated events from the time the bride and groom first came together till the last moments of the wedding. The film was made in the area of Narwia and Bug (rivers in east central Poland). The performers were amateurs from the region.
The course of the wedding was staged by the director based on his experience with full length feature films. He weaves various ideas into the fabric of the story, which until this time were not generally employed, and if so, then only in a limited and simplified way.
Basing the wedding on the intrigue of a full length feature allowed the performers a freedom which did not diminish the documentary value of the film. Wedding customs are ethnographically specific to each region of the country, including Kurpie. The customs are based on strict rules, which have been handed down from generation to generation. “Wesele kurpiowskie” provides an accurate and artistically satisfying record of the events which join two young people in holy matrimony.
Here two elements of Gabryelski’s production are worth noting. First is the gradual increase in the tempo, starting with the slower, festive match-makers during the wedding ceremonies. This leads to the ethnographically unique playful traditions and dances. The latter evoke applause thanks to the authenticity of the dances and the dynamic imagery. In “Czarne diamenty” Gabryelski has already demonstrated in many of the scenes his knowledge and love of folklore and customs. There, the dances were on the periphery of the action, but in “Wesele kurpiowskie” the dances are featured.
The second important element in “Wesele kurpiowskie” is the juxtaposition of the customs and folklore against the background of the local scenery and vistas. Thanks to this approach we learn about certain ancestral customs combined with a taste of geography of the native land, such as the forests, fields, meadows and rivers. This is how a large production approach was combined with the utility of documentary and educational films.
Gabryelski is not trying to break any conventions here. He is only trying to tell a story about a wedding. Primarily, he is celebrating that which is regional in the spectrum of the national diversity. The construction of the film involves the audience in the diverse customs, while simultaneously highlighting the beautiful Bug and Narwia scenery.
“Wianki łowickie” was created in a manner similar to “Wesele kurpiowskie.” Here Gabryelski is interested in the spirituality of the customs, which date back to the pagan times. He shows these customs in a ritualized way, perhaps even monotonously, as opposed to his approach to the wedding ceremony. Original folk songs are performed by beautiful girls dressed in native garments. This provides a wistful atmosphere, because the wreaths floating on the water signify yet to be fulfilled wishes and desires.
“Harnasie Karola Szymanowskiego” delivers an entirely different message. This film features the music of the great composer. The choreography of the ballet is coordinated with the music which also enhances the mood of the film.
Gabryelski decided to show the folk dances native to the Gżrski (mountain) region of Poland. The dances are not shown in their original version but are stylized for and adapted to the genius of the composer. Hence, the display of customs is not authentic, rather their use serves as a springboard for the creation of great art. The emphasis is placed on the choreography, the individual performers and different dance companies.
Through this film we can discern the sources for the artistic inspiration of Karol Szymanowski. One observes the choreographic tastes as well as the uniqueness of the event as it is performed. Here we have the maddening rhythm of a dance with no chance to catch a breath, or the respite of a slower pace.
Gabryelski was always devoted to painstaking detail. This resulted from a thorough study of the subject matter. Eventually his vision emerged, even if the subject matter was beyond his interests, as was true with films such as “Paliwa i smary” (Fuels and greases), or “Siejemy nasiona kwalifikowane” (Sowing qualified seeds). In the latter film, for example, before production began, Gabryelski visited many agricultural extension and seed qualification centers. He also interviewed many professionals and conducted research at experimental facilities and agricultural schools. Though this style of work may seem tedious and complex, it guarantees authenticity in the film, exhausts the subject and conscientiously arrives at the heart of the matter. These characteristics in Gabryelski’s work can be found in the educational films and the full length features as well. It is a shame that this director experienced such imposed limitations.
Gabryelski’s new plan was to follow the pattern and spirit of “Wesele kurpiowskie.” Except this time he decided to make a picture about Silesia and employ the local song and dance company, “Ðląsk.” He began conversations with Jan Pierzchała about a possible collaboration on the screenplay and interviewed soloists and dance companies. But he stopped work when news came from friends overseas that the footage from the Warsaw Uprising had been illegally used in the United States in the making of a film entitled “Last days of Warsaw.” It was a mystery to him, how the footage had been removed from the KoÑciuszko Foundation, where it was supposed to have been deposited for safekeeping. At that time he decided to leave the country and recover his property.
After 1962, the conflicts between Jerzy Gabryelski and Władysław Adler-Orłowski, the director of WFO, reached a critical mass. Gabryelski intended to make a series of films about Egypt, in which the famous Polish archeologist, Kazimierz Michałowski,(45) was going to act as a consultant. Orłowski was unmoved. He said to Gabryelski’s wife, “What is your husband trying to do, promote Nasser?” In 1962-63 Gabryelski paying his own expenses twice went to Egypt on unpaid vacations. He didn’t get to turn this idea into reality either.
It was 1963. The precise execution of complicated plans was paramount. While returning to Poland from Cairo, Gabryelski stopped in Vienna. After receiving news that his wife and son were safely in Paris, he asked for political asylum. In 1965 the whole family left for the United States. He was never again to see his homeland.
Original footage from the Warsaw Uprising was used in the productions of “Last days of Warsaw,” “The Great Betrayal” and also “Beyond Endurance.” These historical documents were produced in New York by Vincent Bejtman. Who was this Vincent Bejtman? We will find his name among the members of “Start” in 1931. Then, he still had the resonant Polish name Wincenty. Among others, he provided financial backing to Aleksander Ford’s endeavors. As soon as the war broke out, brave Wincenty deserted his country and appeared at the “Polish Information Centre” (PIC) in New York. PIC was under the control of the Ministry of Information and Documentation of the exiled Polish government located in London. He quickly found his way to the film production circles. In 1943, he finally made the rank of colonel and became the last director of PIC.
After the war ended, Wincenty changed his name to the more “American,” Vincent, and organized a film rental center called “PIC Films, Inc.” This was closely related, at least in name, to “PIC,” which had just been dissolved. As a result, Bejtman gained control of all the film materials from PIC. He edited and prepared films for distribution. His new business was taking off on a large scale.
In 1958, Vincent Bejtman gave a careless interview to Antoni Marczyński. It was published in the new film and theater weekly, “Ekran.” Here is an excerpt from this interview: “A.M. -- I heard a few years ago from Lechoń and Wittlin, that they wrote a commentary to your films. What are their titles? V.B. -- “Ponad siły” (Beyond endurance), was narrated by Wittlin in 1946, and in 1952 “Ostatnie dni Warszawy” (Last days of Warsaw) which had a commentary by Lechoń, who later helped me and Struliskowski in the production of “Naga Amazonka” (Naked Amazon), which was filmed in Brazil.”(46)
Many people who read this interview, among them Gabryelski’s friend, Stanisław Mazur, became interested in how Bejtman was able to get his hands on footage from the Warsaw Uprising, particularly since he was nowhere to be seen in Poland at that hazardous time. This is how suspicion was aroused that this film had found its way into the hands of this crafty producer, when it was supposed to be safe at the KoÑciuszko Foundation. Mazur became fascinated with the discovery of the “Warsaw Uprising’s” secret, which Bejtman intentionally did not divulge in his interview. He wrote about his discovery in the article “Skradziony film” (Stolen film).(47)
Sometime later he discovered a Polish community magazine from the United States. It had a note about “Last Days of Warsaw” that reads, “By a miracle, the only existing documentary film with sound which shows the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans in 1944 has survived. It is composed of unknown films from the Home Army Command and German documentaries....
“These are the disturbing images of Polish heroism and suffering. It is the single most powerful and irrefutable indictment of the Germans. The film’s content is dramatically explained by Leszek Pawłowicz with a commentary written by Jan Lechoń. The musical score is comprised of appropriate excerpts from Chopin played by the renown pianist J. Lamoch, as well as national hymns and authentic songs of the Warsaw Uprising resistance fighters....
“The “Last days of Warsaw,” aside from being a most valuable historical document, is also the most disturbing film from the last war. The history of the film’s discovery and its production must be a story of epic proportions in itself. This footage was taken by cameramen of the Home Army at the risk of their lives during the bloodiest battles .”
At that time it was still a mystery, in the United States, as to who the real author of the Warsaw Uprising footage was. Patiently following this trail, Mazur gathered information about the mystery of the lost Warsaw Uprising footage. His “investigation” revealed interesting and from the moral standpoint frightening results. This assumes we can even talk about morality in this instance. Few people knew that Gabryelski sent the film from the Warsaw Uprising to the United States. And fewer realized that this separation deprived the owner of control over his property. Stanisław Mazur wrote,“The hustlers in Poland were wracking their brains how to sell this film for a few dollars, and to whom. The film makers in the United States smelled business and also tried to figure out how to acquire this cinematographic ‘white crow.’”(48)
“The person who sold Gabryelski’s Warsaw Uprising footage was Zygmunt Nieborski. After the war he was in constant touch with Vincent Bejtman. One day, on one of his international trips, he decided to “choose freedom” and not return to Poland. To begin with, he needed money. He suggested to Bejtman that he could sell him some important film footage. He received a reply from Bejtman it was possible to conduct such a transaction, but it had to be done in accordance with the law, which meant only with the “producer and with a notarized agreement.”
Nieborski was disconcerted with Bejtman’s answer, which feigned concern about his reputation as an American businessman. Clearly Nieborski could not expect Gabryelski to give him any kind of authorization. After all, Gabryelski sent the footage he shot during the Warsaw Uprising to the United States for safekeeping, so that he could use it at a later date. Seweryn Kruszyński, the cameraman was also beyond the sphere of negotiations. Nieborski discovered Kazimierz Pyszkowski, who had been a grip carrying boxes of film for Gabryelski’s Warsaw Uprising film crew. Nieborski had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams after he contacted Pyszkowski. Somehow Pyszkowski still had a receipt from the General Command of the Home Army from when the footage was submitted for censorship. The receipt had to be reworked to comply with the requirements of the forthcoming transaction. This is how in 1949 a predated document was created to read as follows:
“The Command of Defense in the Country,
Staff Headquarters VI, Department of Propaganda
Warsaw, 26 August, 1944.
This confirms receipt from Kazimierz Pyszkowski, as the producer, Jerzy Gabryelski as the director and Seweryn Kruszyński as the cameraman of the film chronicle from the Warsaw Uprising to be censored, from August 3 to 25, 1994, and returned.
The frame codes are attached. Length of footage: 2136 (Two thousand one hundred thirty six meters.).
1 enclosure Commander of Department III -- Kania, Lt.”
In this certificate Pyszkowski was elevated to the position of “producer,” if only to satisfy Vincent Bejtman’s requirements and the appearance of propriety. Kania’s signature was, of course, illegible. In the left upper corner there was a stamp of the anchor which represented “Polska Walczy” (Poland is fighting), but this would not be very hard to duplicate in any of the shops on Praga. It is well known how simple and makeshift the stamps used by the resistance forces were. During the war/uprising there were more important things to worry about than the complexity of stamp design.
On June 5, 1949, elevated to the position of “producer,” Kazimierz Pyszkowski, appeared in the office of the Notary Public and declared as follows:
“I authorize Mr. Zygmunt Nieborski, who resides in London, to perform in my name, as the producer of the film chronicles of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, all functions involving the sale of these materials, and particularly in obtaining a commitment from foreign purchasers, and within the bounds of the agreement represent me in any negotiations, or before any official entity, in other words, everywhere he may need to act as a substitute for me.”
Armed with such “documents” Zygmunt Nieborski quickly came to terms with Vincent Bejtman. This is how the film which was supposed to be deposited in the KoÑciuszko Foundation wound up in the wrong hands. Bejtman paid Nieborski $800 for the footage. Nieborski cut Pyszkowski in for $100. There is something so loathsome here that it can be likened to Judas’ 30 pieces of silver.
Details of this scam reached Gabryelski several years after the “Last Days of Warsaw” had been shown in American movie theaters and on television. After this news finally arrived in Poland, Gabryelski secured the address of Bejtman’s film rental company and began a correspondence with Bejtman that lasted for years, asking the return of his film.
Here is what Bejtman wrote in response:
“In accordance with your request, I am giving you details of my acquisition of the film materials from the Warsaw Uprising from Mr. Zygmunt Nieborski, who was authorized to represent Mr. Kazimierz Pyszkowski.
I received these materials from Mr. Nieborski based on the following documents:
a. Certificate by the Staff Headquarters VI, Dept. of Propaganda. Warsaw, 26 August, 1944, which confirms Kazimierz Pyszkowski, as producer, Jerzy Gabryelski as director and Seweryn Kruszyński as cameraman. The document is notarized by Mr. P. Edziantowicz of Warsaw.
b. A document signed by Mr. Kazimierz Pyszkowski as producer, dated June 5, 1949, in Warsaw, which authorizes Mr. Zygmunt Nieborski to sell the film materials from the Warsaw Uprising to foreign buyers.
On the basis of a formal contract with Mr. Zygmunt Nieborski I received the right to distribute this film throughout the world, except Poland....”
Polish affairs were so deeply ingrained in Bejtman’s heart that he added in his letter to Gabryelski:
“Last days of Warsaw”... should be shown in Poland. Because I do not have the rights to show this film in the territory of Poland, I am also writing today to Mr. Kazimierz Pyszkowski with the following proposal. I will send a copy of the “Last days of Warsaw” and we can show this film in Poland with help from Film Polski (Polish Film) on the following terms; 40 percent of the income to Mr. Pyszkowski, or whoever is connected with this production, and 60 percent to me.”
Now, that’s the spirit of a former member of “Start,” who made his home in America. Business comes first. It’s really disgusting to think that someone would have the gall to make such a proposition to the person from whom, after all, the film was stolen. Apparently it’s easy to forget scruples when money, lots of money, enters the picture. One thing the shrewd Bejtman apparently did not foresee was the continued existence of his letter confirming and providing information about the machinations involved in this outright swindle. The resulting theft of the footage filmed during the Warsaw Uprising caused a great loss for Polish history and culture, as well as its rightful owner.
Jerzy Gabryelski’s life in New York was uneventful and relatively idle. He scraped by working part time in small independent editing studios. Mainly he supported his family working as a janitor on world renowned Wall Street. All inquiries seeking employment at the major studios were politely declined. However, this man, still standing after all the low blows thrown at him, was still strong enough to dream about and strive toward making movies. It was under these circumstances, in the 1960s, that the screenplay of “Rycerze krżlowej Jadwigi” (The Knights of Queen Jadwiga) was written.
The figure of Jadwiga, the wife of king Władysław Jagiełło, interested Gabryelski even before the war. After reviewing the treatment for the screenplay, Cardinal Adam Sapiecha, urged the director to produce this film. In order to write about this historical and holy figure, Gabryelski studied the ancient historical texts in the Bibloteka Jagiellońska (Jagiełło library, the royal library in Cracow) for several years. The first draft of the screenplay was lost during the war. But still fascinated, Gabryelski returned to his unrealized idea. On the 600th anniversary of Queen Jadwiga’s birth, his efforts to persuade the Polish community in the United States to finance the project began. Unfortunately, full financial backing never materialized and the film was not produced. It remained shelved among other unfulfilled plans. It’s worth examining this screenplay closely. It demonstrates an original vision of the epoch connecting the parting Piast Dynasty and the succeeding Jagiełło Dynasty. This turbulent time period had also been written about by Jżzef Ignacy Kraszewski and Henryk Sienkiewicz and painted by Jan Matejko.
To Gabryelski, Queen Jadwiga was a woman of great beauty, who walked with the aura of sainthood about her, and possessed sophisticated political abilities. Thanks to her mother, Elizabeth of Bosnia, the wife of Ludwig of Hungry, she ascended to the Polish throne. She substituted for her sister Maria, who married Zygmunt of Luxemburg -- hated by the Polish gentry. Despite her tender age, the young queen was able to thrive by capitalizing on all of her given abilities.
Prince Władysław Opolczyk was Jadwiga’s suitor and the successor to Rusia Halicka’s throne. He was a man of formidable ambition, a German sympathizer, who did not mind seeing Wilhelm of Habsburg as Jadwiga’s rival to the Polish throne. Jadwiga was not only promised to Opolczyk in marriage when they were children, but she also loved him. Realizing that Poland was under constant attack by the Teutonic Knights, the Polish gentry suggested a marriage of convenience for the young queen to Władysław Jagiełło, the king of Lithuania. This type of bond could unify and strengthen the two counties. Thus, Jadwiga sacrificed her romance and married Jagiełło for the good of the state.
Disgruntled Władysław Opolczyk began his intrigues. But Jadwiga was already married to Jagiełło. The circumstances forced Opolczyk to give up his claim to Rusia Halicka and remain satisfied with the Opolskie territory, which as a result was retained by the Polish Crown. The monastery of the Pauline monks still stands in Cz“stochowa as a monument to his charity. He also gave the Pauline monks a painting of the Holy Mother, which he acquired during his reign of Rusia Halicka.
The war of 1387 demonstrated that Jadwiga’s knights were formidable. But soon thereafter her legions became an army of monks, who fought with weapons other than swords. Simultaneously with the christening of Jagiełło, an army of monks, dressed in habits, left Poland for Lithuania to convert the pagans. This strategy preempted the argument Teutonic Knights used when they ventured east of Prussia. They asserted that it was their mission to convert the infidels. Jadwiga was inclined to resolve conflicts with the Teutonic Knights by peaceful means. Unfortunately, she did not comprehend the true designs of the “Holy Order” of a military conquest.
In those days, the order of the Teutonic Knights was both the strongest and best armed country in Europe. The Order opened seaports and the commerce enriched it beyond measure. The Knights recognized the dangers of the Polish-Lithuanian union and anticipated a decisive battle, to determine their dominance over central and eastern Europe. This battle finally took place at Grunwald. Jadwiga never saw this battle. It undoubtedly would have shown her that peaceful coexistence with the Teutonic Knights was impossible. Sensing another calling, she withdrew from politics and handed over the affairs of the state to her husband, Władysław Jagiełło. She devoted herself to loftier activities, which subsequently brought her renown and glory.
The University of Cracow was created by Kazimierz Wielki (Kasimir the Great) in 1364. Funding was limited after the university opened its doors. The University was founded two centuries following the other three institutions of higher learning in Europe. Jadwiga’s goal was not only to keep the University alive but to bring it to the highest levels. Gabryelski wanted to show in his future film that the weapon used by the knights of Queen Jadwiga was the dissemination of knowledge.
We learn from the screenplay that Jadwiga attracted the best scholars from the University of Prague. This was relatively easy, since a number of them were native Poles. These scholars were pampered and found a receptive audience for their teachings and ideas in their homeland. The foundation for a distinctly Polish school of philosophical thought was established by the revered Matthew of Cracow. He envisioned the future of philosophy as it relates to the development of mankind. This was a revolutionary thought in those days. Matthew was drawn to the study of ethics, the history of thought and human endeavor. The Bible was the basis for his theological findings and thoughts on the relationship between man and God. Many contemporary scholars followed Matthew’s footsteps to Cracow.
In 1440, the Chancellor of the University, Stanisław of Skalmierz, delivered a prophetic oration concerning the relationship of law and ethics to the actions of man. Unfortunately, young Queen Jadwiga could not attend this lecture. She passed away one year before this auspicious occasion. She was only 25 years old. Despite her untimely death, she bequeathed a great legacy for the future propagation of knowledge and higher education in Poland.
Paweł Włodkowic was known as one of the greatest minds at Uniwersytet Jagielloński (King Jagiełło University). He confirmed the virtues of Queen Jadwiga through his philosophical studies, by proclaiming tolerance of other peoples as a basic precept of being a Christian. His primary field of interest was international law. This field was particularly critical at the time when bloody and horrible wars raged between Poland and the Teutonic Knights. Włodkowicz’s thesis was that politics and law are diametrically opposed to the unchanging laws of nature, and are dependant entirely on the free will of men. The idea of a country ruled by an emperor, who would also control foreign countries, was not a phenomenon encountered in nature. Expanded to include the absolute power of the Pope, this school of thought leads the path to reformation, as it was first advanced in “De Republica Emendanda” by Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski.
As a result of the terms of a treaty constructed and negotiated by Paweł Włodowiec, entitled “Tractatus de protestate papae et imperatoris respectu infidelium” (The treaty on powers of the Pope and the Emperor over the infidels), which was ratified at the Council of Constantinople (1414-1418), the Teutonic Knights suffered a decisive blow. The treaty addressed the issues of conversion of pagans by the sword, and the capture and occupation of their lands. It also questioned the presence of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia. In reply, Jan Falkenberg, “Satyr,” the spokesman for the Order at the Council of Constantinople, with parting words could only manage to say, “The king of Poland is a pagan idol and the Poles are idolaters serving Jagiełło.” This intellectual duel was an unequivocal victory for Włodkowic.
“Rycerze krżlowej Jadwigi” reach back to the times when the enlightenment and scientific thought emerged in Poland. Through his diligent study of the period Gabryelski was able to capture the spirit of that age. This is not only a historical film, but an homage to the enlightned and sagacious queen who created the foundation for the Polish school of philosophy and humanism. This school of thought has been praised through the ages for its sense of tolerance and moral responsibility to all peoples of the world.
Another one of Gabryelski’s projects came to life in the 1950s. It was a film dedicated to the life and martyr’s death of Father Maksimilian Kolbe in Auschwitz. Gabryelski studied the figure of Father Kolbe intensively. It was only after he left Poland that was he able to finish this screenplay. The screenplay was co-written with his wife. The film was designed to utilize all of the new film making techniques. The title is “Life for a life.”
With this screenplay it seems as if Gabryelski was following the pattern of “Citizen Cane” by Orson Wells. This story explores the childhood of the protagonist, his first years in the monastery, and finally the concentration camp. By use of retrospective reasoning Gabryelski attempts to determine the motive for Father Kolbe’s heroic act in the concentration camp. The script is so detailed that it is apparent what the director’s idea for the finished film was.
The film begins with headlines from various international newspapers trumpeting the upcoming beatification of the Polish friar priest at the Vatican. Featured is the headline from the New York Times: “Friar Who Gave Life At Auschwitz.” Another is “Dziennik Polski” (Polish Daily) which reads “Beatification of Father Kolbe on October 17.” Newspaper reporters pose various questions; Who was this Father Kolbe? How was he brought up? What motivated his actions? One reporter, who is also the director of a proposed movie about Father Kolbe, delves into the past to dramatize the events and answer the pressing questions.
The film is divided into three segments. The first is the director’s visit to Niepokalanżw (the monastery founded by Father Kolbe). It opens with a close shot of the beautiful face of the Holy Mother of Niepokalanżw in the local church. Next is the panorama of the town. The director walks through the gate of the monastery, as the fire siren wails in the background. A fire wagon with friars hanging on races past the surprised director, to a fire in the nearby town.
The next scene is of Brother Arnold W“drowski appearing before the director saying that he was sent by the Father Superior to help him gather materials for the forthcoming film.
The director and Brother Arnold slowly walk down narrow streets of the Niepokalanżw monastery. Brother Arnold was Father Kolbe’s personal assistant.
Director: “Brother Lucjen from Canada, who admires you, told me a great deal about your work with Father Kolbe, as his personal assistant, up to the moment he was arrested by the Gestapo.”
Brother (friar) Arnold with teary eyes says: “It’s true... I was with Father Kolbe to the last moment. He dictated, and I typed, all kinds of letters, articles, directives and the treatises about the Holy Mother of Niepokalanżw....”
The two walk into Father Kolbe’s cell. The director sees a typewriter sitting on the table and asks, “Is this the typewriter that you used to write on?”
Brother Arnold, instead of answering, sits at the table, places his hands on the typewriter and has a vision of Father Kolbe, as he was being arrested by the Germans.(49)
This begins the second segment of the movie. The director shows the dramatic events when Father Kolbe was arrested and held by the Gestapo for interrogation in the jail on Szucha street. Later, we enter the Pawiak (a notorious Gestapo jail) and the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
The film shows the hardships, often beyond human strength, which Father Kolbe endured while performing the arduous tasks at the camp. He was very ill throughout his internment. Lung disease caused him to lose strength and to suffer. Fully aware of his weakness, the Germans used it to degrade him, both as a man and as a Pole.
When tortured and questioned by Konrad Heinlein, Fr. Kolbe says that he is Polish, even though his name sounds German, and that he would never denounce his nationality. The angry German says: “Niepokalanżw is the center of propaganda, and its publishing house has great influence on the population. Its publications not only defend the church, but all of the Polish people. We intend to break this union between the church and the people. We will attack the church now and deal with the people later.”
Mortal combat, on the psychological level, is taking place between Father Kolbe and the Germans, to destroy his spirit and inner peace. They try to force him to betray his country. But Father Kolbe looks for strength, solace and divine inspiration in the patron of his monastery: “What will we not do for the Holy Mother of Niepokalnżw? We must be grateful, bless our executioners and ask for their salvation. We are unconquerable!”
Father Kolbe remained unbroken until the last moments of his life. While watching him being starved to death, Father Tadeusz Czapiewski says to the other prisoners: “With his word he gave hope to those who had none. He strengthened our faith in survival, and here he gives his own life for another.”
Even physically he was unvanquished. After fourteen days in the hunger chamber he was still alive. He was conscious, singing hymns in a weakened voice and praying. The frustrated Germans finally killed him with an injection of phenol.
The third segment of the movie follows the martyr of Auschwitz as he dies in pain. During the last moments of his agony, images are shown from his youth in Lvov, his studies in Cracow, then Rome, Zakopane, Grodno, Lourdes, Paris and Nagasaki. It all leads back to his service at the Niepokalanżw monastery.
The pale face of Father Kolbe appears once more as he lays in the hunger chamber. The Funeral March by Chopin is playing in the background. Bruno Borgowiec, wearing a striped concentration camp uniform wheels the body of the friar on a special cart and throws it into the oven, then makes the sign of a cross. Clouds of smoke bellow forth from the crematorium smokestack.
The flames and smoke of the crematorium are transformed into smoke from incense burners at the Basilica in the Vatican during the beatification of the blessed Father Maksymilian Kolbe. “The End” appears on the screen.
Both “Rycerze krżlowej Jadwigi” and “òycie za życie” have powerful religious accents. Through the elements of history, as it relates to the Church, the director tries to analyze an important social problem. This problem is patriotism.
The main character, Father Maksymilian Kolbe, is a man anchored simultaneously in the deepest form of Catholic faith and the secular realm. Father Machejek wrote: “He connects reality with happiness in our daily lives together with hope for the eternal life. He demonstrates deep concern for achievement of a higher level in spiritual life, without forgetting heritage.... He labors for the good of the people, who, he also wants to embrace the mystery of eternal life. He employs all of modern technology; the printing press, radio and airplanes to communicate his message. Because of his self sacrifice and the devotion of the monks of Niepokalanżw, the surrounding community benefitted from his ideas on the utilization of modern technology... i.e. the volunteer fire department and other services organized by Father Kolbe at Niepokalanżw. While utilizing these earthly devices, Father Kolbe’s ultimate purpose was to bring people closer to God. The love of his fellow man achieved the level of heroism at Auschwitz and was confirmed by the sacrifice of his life for another.(50)
When Gabryelski wrote his screenplays he developed his characters fully and evocatively. Father Kolbe, for example, is a person full of humanity and profound expression. His holiness manifests itself as a result of his faith being challenged, not as the overriding theme.
Of special interest is the way in which the elements of Father Kolbe’s life are evoked by the visions of the past, beginning in his childhood, all the way to his martyr death at Auschwitz. There are two of these visions. The first is the one of his secretary, Brother Arnold W“drowski. The second is that of the hero himself. The first is an objective look at the protagonist and the situations and people around him. The second is an internal commentary which reflects the larger picture of events as they are experienced by the hero.
Brother Arnold W“drowski’s vision precedes that of Father Kolbe’s. This film employs the classic “general to specific” approach to plot construction. The film begins with the newspaper headlines, but as it progresses, it becomes more specific. The director guides the audience in a search for more detailed information. Brother Arnold is the vehicle for a wider spectrum of information concerning Father Kolbe’s corporeal existence. Ultimately, we become familiar with the feelings and experiences of the protagonist. His figure becomes full. It ripens. When we say good bye to the hero, we know all about his life, his ideals and martyrdom.
Of equal interest is the documentary aspect of this film, particularly with the action taking place in the authentic locations. Combining the subjective world with individual flashbacks would make this movie uniquely satisfying. Equally absorbing are the interval changes in the rhythm of the camera as it sensitively moves from the long shots to the revealing close-ups that signal the onset of visions.
What Gabryelski proposed to accomplish in “òycie za życie” was a formidable undertaking. He knew it was a challenging and complicated subject which required great artistic discipline. As the notes on the margins of the screenplay reveal, Gabryelski was able to resolve the difficult passages with grace and skill. Though it may be difficult to imagine what this film would look like in its final form, all indications are that this would be a moving memorial to the martyrdom of Father Kolbe.
Despite his long stay in the United States, Gabryelski never lost contact with the motherland. He had a circle of friends in the U.S. Polish community, and he corresponded with old friends in Poland, who were sympathetic to in his plight. The years did not lessen the intensity of these friendships. On the contrary, these connections became stronger, as if to underscore that he left Poland in search of the Warsaw Uprising film, stolen by small time hustlers.
During his exile little was written about Gabryelski’s creative endeavors or his past accomplishments. What remains are the few write-ups, written in the fifties and sixties by Jerzy Toeplitz in his “Historia Sztuki Filmowej.” It was the only opinion then allowed. According to Toeplitz, Gabryelski was a mediocre director making the anti-war, avant garde “Buty,” the feature film “Czarne diamenty” and the industrial and educational films, all expressing personal nationalistic views, fortified with the overtones of solidarity.
No one has yet tried to place Gabryelski’s work in the proper context of the pre-war film. It could be readily done if one would take an objective approach and consider the range of Gabryelski’s accomplishments. To this date nothing substantial has been written about the history of Polish film. Attempts at any sort of legitimate documentation have been sporadic and highly skewed, calculated to give prominence to one event by negatively exploiting another.
One of the notable events of the 1960s was the plenary session hailing the artistic accomplishments in the 1930s of the old “Start.” It was praised for its transformation into the post-war Film Authors Association. These referendums celebrated Aleksander Ford and other lesser members of “Start” as the only representatives of pre-war film worthy of note. They emphasized the need to follow these examples in the Socialist Republic of Poland, even though most of the “Start” films were pretentious and mediocre at best. But soon, the promotion campaigns died down and silence surrounded the subject of pre-war film. The second volume of “Historia Filmu Polskiego” (History of Polish film), which was to cover the pre-war evolution of the film industry, has not yet been published.
More credible publication about the development of pre-war film are the two volumes by Władysław Jewsiewicki. The first volume covers silent film and the second deals with the sound period. Though this author repeats the misstatements about Jerzy Gabryelski, at least he gives credit where credit is due, by calling “Czarne diamenty” a film worthy of serious attention and viewing.
The two interviews by Włodzimierz Piotrowski with Jerzy Gabryelski about his work in “Starzyński crew” and the Warsaw Uprising went without comment despite the author’s invitations to speak out, to the historians and film makers who participated in the events. The two interviews turned out to be extremely helpful to both Władysław Jewsiewicki in his “Polscy filmowcy na froncie drugiej wojny Ñwiatowej” (Polish film makers in the front lines of World war II), and to Stanisław Ozimek writing “Film polski w wojennej potrzebie” (Demands of war on polish film), particularly in the sections about the creators of documentary films.
Jerzy Gabryelski’s name appears among other heroic film makers in both of these volumes. He is accorded the deserved honors. Since the focus of interest was on the war years, there was little information aside the cold and second hand reporting. Unlike his pre-war efforts, which are open to discussion, what Gabryelski did during the war years cannot be disputed. No one has dared to place all of Gabryelski’s legacy in the context of his earlier works. At the time, there was no possibility of challenging the prevailing judgments, or to expose the injustice done to the creator of “Czarne diamenty.” In the chaos of the conflicting journalistic interpretations an unusual polar duality is attributed to Gabryelski. One is Jerzy Toeplitz’s view of him as a failure. The other represents a fearless chronicler of the events of the 1939 and 1944 Warsaw.
Sadly, no one has reconciled the conflicting portrayals of the director, or reveal the dirty work of the shallow and capricious cliques.
Things livened up around Gabryelski, when Stanisław Mazur published his article “Skradziony film” (Stolen film) in the “Tygodnik kulturalny” (Cultural weekly). This article described his trials and tribulations in connection with the Warsaw Uprising film and subsequent swindle by Mr. Zygmunt Nieborski, a hustler choosing “freedom,” and Vincent Bejtman, an active member of “Start.” The renewed interest caused past members of “Start” to panic, since they deplored any type of attention that could expose their pre-war machinations, not to mention Gabryelski’s thwarted efforts to return and take his rightful place among those of his profession after the war.
However, once the seed is sown, it will sprout. While writing my regular column for the monthly “Poezja” (Poetry), devoted in December 1973 to the two decades between wars, I wrote an article, “Lament celuloidowej taÑmy” (lamentations of the celluloid ribbon), about pre-war film. There, I included some favorable comments about Jerzy Gabryelski as the creator of “Czarne diamenty.”
Shortly after the article was published, a letter from Władysław Brzozko arrived at the offices of “Poezja.” Brzozko, an architect living post-war in the U.S.A., had once helped Gabryelski as a consultant on a screenplay and had known him since the days of the occupation. This letter lifted the curtain to show Jżzef Lejtes’s pre-war machinations against Gabryelski. He also shined a light on the post-war environment with Aleksander Ford at the helm of Polish film. In short, the letter connected pieces of the puzzle, to give a more complete picture.
Wilhelm Szewczyk also responded. In his article in the “Ekran” magazine, “W sprawie “Czarnych diamentżw” (In the matter of “Black diamonds”), he primarily dealt with the time Gustaw Morcinek declined to work on the screenplay, which explained the absence of his name in the titles. Drawing on this valuable information I wrote “Sprawy Gabryelskiego” (Gabryelski’s affairs), which was also published in “Poezja.” This was the beginning of my battle to restore Gabryelski’s reputation for the history of Polish film.”(51)
It was the last act of this drama.
Today there is no doubt about the part Jerzy Gabryelski played in the pre-war film, or his innovative creativity. “Czarne diamenty” is proof. On the 60th anniversary of Independence, the weekly magazine “Film,” secured a place for “Czarne diamenty” on the list of the most valuable films made in the two decades between the wars. More importantly, Aleksander Ford’s tyrannical manipulations, his campaign to destroy any ideological opponent or creative rival, particularly those interested in working for the country and polish cinema, to prevent them from contributing creatively to the legacy of film during Socialist Poland regime, were finally exposed. It should be added that Jerzy Gabryelski never became a member of the communist party.
In the 1970s, Jerzy Gabryelski began to hear the reverberations of a renewed interest in his work. The director contemplated returning to the motherland to begin talks about production of his film, “òycie za życie.” He had already arranged partial funding in the United States, approximately $300,000. Gabryelski also contacted the “Silesia” song and dance company, where his old pal, Wilhelm Szewczyk was the literary director.
After Szewczyk resigned from his position at “Silesia,” Gabryelski sought cooperation from the Łżdï based film company “Profil,” which was headed by Bohdan Por“ba. After all, the director of “Czarne diamenty” had long standing relations with the film industry in Łżdï. He was hopeful that things were headed toward the fulfillment of his dream to work once again behind a film camera. Por“ba’s company also had possibilities for Gabryelski.
Gabryelski’s arrival in Poland was delayed because of visa formalities. Mrs. Gabryelski, who was the co-author of “òycie za życie,” was planning to travel to Poland first. Gabryelski anticipated following after preliminary preparations had been completed.
Instead, the painful announcement of Gabryelski’s death arrived on the third of February 1978. His ashes were brought to Poland by actress Barbara Murawianka. He rests in the catacombs at the Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw.
Jerzy Gabryelski’s artistic biography has become a closed issue. His legacy contains more dreams and unfulfilled projects than actual footage. This is an incomplete story, with bits and pieces, like a shattered mosaic. It is still a puzzle, but now fewer pieces are missing. Despite this, when we explore what remains, we can see the fundamental traits of this director, his approach toward the world, people and Poland.
The leitmotif in Gabryelski’s life is patriotism. When we look at Gabryelski’s films, beginning with his “Buty,” we will readily see the director’s interests. His ideals were grounded in the tradition of Polish art, love of freedom, independence, resentment of colonialism and the enrichment of the artistic treasure of the country where one belongs. Gabryelski’s artistic creativity is the result of his deep faith and patriotism.
Despite its complexity, the eccentric and avant garde “Buty,” is fundamentally an anti war film. The same kind of ideology is present in “Synowie płonącej ziemi.” There, we see the images of primitive Slavs, who are forced into the iron age by the necessity of having to defend themselves against foreign invasion. The steel swords were used for self defense, not offense. The characters in “Rycerze krżlowej Jadwigi” are drawn with similar ideals in mind. Ultimately, the warriors on the battlefield are not the winners, but those who use their intelligence and wit. From that standpoint, Gabryelski echoed the sentiments of Cyprian K. Norwid who said, “It isn’t the sword, or the shield that defends language -- it is the masterpieces.” Gabryelski’s last word in this vein is the screenplay of “Życie za życie.” Through the person of Father Kolbe, Gabryelski was able to convey a powerful humanitarian protest against the atrocities of war and genocide. The obvious intent of this powerful pacifist theme is to promote world peace.
The documentary, “COP-Stalowa Wola” captures one of the greatest industrial undertakings of pre-war Poland. Human endeavor is also the subject of “Czarne diamenty” and “Synowie płonącej ziemi.” The director does not limit himself to showing only physical effort, but anticipates the looming dangers and proposes ways of overcoming them. Because there was no interest in Polish pre-war film concerning the social strata of the working class, “Czarne diamenty” stands alone in the lexicon of Polish film.
“Czarne diamenty” exceeded in artistic value films such as “Gorąca linia” (Hot line) by Wanda Jakubowska, “Dezerter” (Deserter) by Witold Jasiewicz and “Pi“ƒ” (Five) by Paweł Komorowski. With its dramatic composition and authenticity of action, the interiors of the mine, behavior of the protagonists and the inherent social and idealistic truths, “Czarne diamenty” is accurate and unforgettable.
Jerzy Gabryelski’s attitude toward Poland was far different from what had been attributed to him. It is futile to talk about his alleged nationalism and solidarism without considering the historical and moral context. The worker solidarity in the “Czarne diamenty” is clearly a means of defense against foreign capital. It is worth noting that all this took place while the black clouds of war were gathering over Poland. The film was a generalization of the prevailing situation. Its purpose was to show the public reality of the times. This is undeniable. This is noteworthy because some film makers continued to make the farcical comedies like “Zapomniana melodia” (Forgotten melody), or melodramas like “Strachy’ (Ghosts), until the last days before the war.
“Synowie płonącej ziemi” had a clear historical vision. While reading this screenplay one cannot help but give credit to Gabryelski’s instinctive knowledge of the mythical times, of which there is little documentation. We can only respect his rendition of the development of the mining and smelting industry in Poland. Also, Gabryelski was able to weave into the fabric of these events the colors of primitive life of our Slav ancestors, from the areas of Odra and Warta (rivers in Poland), simultaneously incorporating historical information. Under these circumstances it is of little consequence whether the scene with Szarlej is authentic, or imagined. What is important is the spirit of the times, which Gabryelski evokes so well.
The confirming historical documentation dictates the facts in the story about the knights of Queen Jadwiga, and metaphorically its deeper meaning. Here, we find ourselves in the time of war between Poland and the Teutonic knights. Nothing can stop the hurricane of violence. Everyone in Poland realizes the impending dangers. Queen Jadwiga is fully aware that her desire for peace is unrealistic. All of her proposals for peace are rejected. But with uncanny foresight she understands the need for the propagation of education, scientific knowledge and the study of thought. Her philosophy can be appreciated in light of the forthcoming occupations, where the sword was of much lesser use than sharp intellect to counter the enemy’s aggression. An enlightened moral code ultimately prevails over the enemy. This motif reappears once more in “życie za życie.”
The martyrdom of Father Kolbe is an opportunity for the director to draw the image of a battle between opposing ideologies and individuals. The adversaries in this film are the violence and barbarism of Hitler’s troops versus the respect for humanity and the grace of the monk. His torture and starvation are useless. There is more to a human being than corporeal reality, which can be so easily destroyed. However, it is impossible to annihilate ideals and the inner splendor.
People and events are pictured by Gabryelski through key determinants. First is the historical truth, second is the feeling of national belonging, and third is religious faith as it is conceived in the wider context of spiritual growth. Moved by this calling, the director reached out for biographies of Queen Jadwiga and Father Kolbe and to follow in a similar vein, in “Synowie płonącej ziemi,” where the priests strengthened the faith and values of the faithful with knowledge.
Gabryelski’ s interests in matters of faith do not detract from his sharp eye which focuses on social undertakings. In “òycie za życie,” there is strong reference to the social work of the friars of Niepokalanżw in the surrounding communities. Therefore, Father Kolbe’s creation of the fire department provides the beginning and closure to this focus.
Considerably more social commentary, if not plain radicalism, is present in “Czarne diamenty,” where the grip of the ruling classes is juxtaposed with worker protest and reaction to injustice. In “Synowie płonącej ziemi,” Gabryelski gives us the episode involving the revered and far-sighted Jan Opolczyk, who tries to resolve class problems by creating a code which creates and regulates labor laws.
These concerns motivated Gabryelski through his reporting work in the “Starzyński crew” and during the Warsaw Uprising. In his film materials from the Warsaw Uprising, he clearly wanted to show the heroism and suffering of the inhabitants of Warsaw. This is why he included the tragedy of the father who lost his son to flying shrapnel, or the crying horse going to the slaughterhouse, with such compassion and empathy. It was not sensationalism or pathos. In his own words, which are confirmed by coworkers and historians writing about wartime film, he was interested in the “second front” action, not directly on the barricades, but in the yard of a building, an apartment, where simple people were fighting for their lives and for their families.
Gabryelski brought to his craft knowledge and understanding of history and people. This is a quality rarely seen in film, where accurate historical and philosophical themes are avoided. From the pieces of his work, and notes and commentary on the margins of his screenplays, we can read not only about the deeds of fictional protagonists, but their thoughts about genuine national events, their place in the world and the nature of fleeting time. These are the elements that identify this director’s style, moral character and philosophy, and emanate from his birthplace.
Gabryelski’s value as one of the most interesting artists in the history of our cinema is now clearly established, but not yet widely recognized. This is only attainable with the passing years. As Norwid so succinctly put it: “history is the eternal corrector.”
(1) “Express Poranny” (Morning express), No. 142 (1932).
(2) Jerzy Teoplitz, “Walka of Film Użyteczny,” Kurier Polski, No. 242 (1932).
(3) Stefania Heymanowa, “Boots,” Kino, No. 41 (1934).
(4) From a letter to the author, from Władysław
(5) Jerzy Toeplitz, “Historia Sztuki Filmowej,” vol. IV,
(6) Wilhelm Szewczyk, “W Sprawie Czarnych Diamentów” (In the matter of Black Diamonds), Ekran, No. 2 (1975).
(7) Głos Polski, No. 1 (1976)
(8) Kurier Polsko-Kanadyjski, No. 25 (1975)
(9) Władysław Jewsiewicki, “Polska kinematografia w okresie filmu dïwi“kowego,” Łżdï (1968) p. 114.
(10) Jerzy Toeplitz, “Historia Sztuki Filmowej,” vol. III,
(11) Jerzy Toeplitz, “Historia Sztuki Filmowej,” vol. III,
(12) "Film," No. 18 (1939).
(13) Centralne Archiwum Wojskowe, Akta "Armi Warszawa," vol. 39/3898.
(14) Stanisław Ozimek, "Film Polski w Wojennej Potrzebie," p. 38, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy,
(15) Jan Skarbek-Malczewski, "Byłem tam z kamerą," p. 158-59, Warszawa (1962).
(16) Eugeniusz Cękalski, "Ostatnia jesień," Nowa Polska,
(17) Eugeniusz Cękalski, id.
(18) WTK, No. 49 (1958).
(19) WTK, No. 49 (1958).
(20) Stanisław Ozimek, “Film Polski w wojennej potrzebie,” p. 44, Warszawa (1974) (Polish film during the war)
(21) Stanisław Ozimek, id. at p. 146.
(22) WTK, No. 49 (1958).
(23) Tomasz Szarota, “Okupowanej Warszawy dzień powszedni,” p. 107-108, Warszawa (1978).
(24) From a letter by Władysław Brozko to the author.
(25) Stanisław Tomaszewski, “Benefis konspiratora”
(26) Stanisław Ozimek, id., at p. 164.
(27) WTK, No. 2 (1959).
(28) Przegląd Kulturalny, No. 33 (1958).
(29) WTK, No. 2 (1959).
(30) Władysław Jewsiewicki, "Polscy Filmowcy na frontach drugiej wojny Ñwiatowej," p. 133, Warszawa (1972).
(31) “Robotnik,” No 21 (1944).
(33) Zdzisław Masłowski, “Film historycznie bezcenny: Rozmowa z Antonim Bohdziewiczem,” Kierunki, No. 31 (1969).
(34) Michał Wojewżdzki, “Mała stabilizacja powstańczego życia,” Stolica, No. 21 (1969).
(35) Gwiazda Polarna, November 4, 1972.
(36) Leszek Prorok, “Powstanie na TaÑmie filmowej,” Tygodnik Powszechny, No. 124 (1947).
(37) Aleksander Jackiewicz, “Film z Powstania,” Nowa Kultura, No. 40 (1956).
(38) Stanisław Mazur, "Skradziony film" (Stolen film), Tygodnik Kulturalny, No. 11 (1973).
(39) Based on an interview with Victoria Gabryelski.
(40) Stanisław Mazur, “Skradziony film,” id.
(41) Wilhelm Szewczyk, “W sprawie Czarnych diamentżw.”
(42) Wilhelm Szewczyk, id.
(43) Seweryn Błochowicz, Jerzy Gabryelski, Wilhelm Szewczyk, “Synowie płonącej ziemi,” Odra, No. 20 (1949).
(44) From Victoria Gabryelski’s letter to the author.
(45) Prof. Michałowski confirmed this information just before his death.
(46) “Ekran” No. 44 (1958).
(47) “Tygodnik kulturalny”(Cultural weekly), No. 11 (1973)
(48) The quotes in this chapter are from the article “Skradziony film” (Stolen film), by Stanisław Mazur.
(49) The screenplay was provided to the author by Victoria Gabryelski.
(50) “Biuletyn Informacyjny,” POS, Id., (Information Bulletin).
(51) “Poezja,” No. 9 (1974).