“A Trip to Nowhere” – Untold Story of Soviet Deportations during WWII

Autor: Eva Orlowska

A powerful lecture, an animated documentary and survivors personal accounts brought the Seattle community to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Stalin’s purges of innocent Polish citizens into Siberia and Kazakhstan.

“A Trip to Nowhere” by Aparat Films

Over 200 people gathered in Kane Hall at the University of Washington on Thursday, April 29, 2010 to hear the tragic stories of Polish men, women and children who survived the inhumane journey through the Soviet Union, forced labor in prison camps and the desperate exodus to freedom across the Caspian Sea during WWII. The highlight of the event, hosted by the UW Polish Studies Endowment Committee, was a creative documentary, “A Trip to Nowhere”, a two-year collaboration of Aparat Films with the deportations survivors, their families and the Polish Ladies Auxiliary of Seattle.

A tense atmosphere, a commonplace before a war crimes discussion, was eased by recognition of the survivors with single red roses.  Of twelve exiles who settled in Seattle, featured on siberianexiles.org and radiowisla.com portals, six were able to attend: Krystyna Balut, Joanna Brodniewicz, Bozena Chodakowski, Anna Kochel, Barbara Strutynski i Romana Wal.

Martha Golubiec, a long-time Seattle Polish community leader, opened with a passionate historical background. She reminded the audience that the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Hitler and Stalin on August 23, 1939 followed swiftly by a coordinated invasion of Poland by Germany on September 1 and by Russia on September 17. The plan of the aggressors to defeat, partition and dismember Poland from both directions succeeded within weeks. While much has been said about the Nazi occupiers’ methods of destruction and ethnic cleansing, the world just now is starting to discuss the Soviet purges and atrocities. This is in part because the United States and Great Britain wanted to appease Stalin during WWII and the Cold War and in part because the topic was prohibited in the Soviet-occupied Poland until the Solidarity victory in 1989.

Photo: Piotr Horoszowski
Map of Soviet deportations and Polish survivors’ voyage to freedom during WWII

Holding high Jozef Chapski’s “The Inhuman Land”, Ms. Golubiec explained that the mass arrests and murders of Polish officers, civil servants, politicians, scientists, teachers and intelligentsia, as in Katyn in spring of 1940, were reinforced by four waves of expulsions of innocent men, women and children from Eastern Poland. It is estimated that the Soviets resettled 1,800,000 Polish citizens into 2800 labor camps spanning 11 times zones deep into the Russian frontier where half died due to starvation, harsh climate, disease and hard physical labor. When Stalin switched sides after Hitler’s surprise attack on Russia in June 1941 and granted the Polish exiles a short window of so-called “amnesty”, only a small number, about 115,000, led by General Anders, managed to escape to freedom through Persia (Iran) in 1942.  This is the untold story, Ms. Golubiec believes, that the film “A Trip to Nowhere” captures so eloquently in an animated collage of images, songs, sounds and voices of the survivors.

“A Trip to Nowhere” fulfills a years long promise of the Seattle Polish community to share the stories, outrage and heatbreak of those who survived Stalin’s master plan, the Gulag.  The 30-minute film, written, directed and illustrated by an Emmy-nominated Hollywood veteran of art feature film, Shannon Hart-Reed, and co-produced by Grazyna Balut Ostrom and Martha Golubiec, accomplished this through vivid and animated recreations. It sheds light on the tragic history in a novel cinematography that will most certainly appeal to young media-savvy generations.

Photo: Piotr Horoszowski
Exile survivors: Mrs. Joanna Brodniewicz (left) and Mrs. Krystyna Balut (right)
[divider_padding]  While many WWII documentaries present candid interviews, Ms. Hart-Reed’s film engages our senses in the experiences of the never-ending train rides, imprisoning landscapes of Siberia, chaotic turns of events and the astonishing human spirit. The falling snowflakes seem to calm the viewer who learns of the monstrous events for the fist time. The reappearing images of Stalin, hammer and sickle reveal the culprits behind the madness. Covered lips and blinded eyes remind of the powerlessness of the victims and the secrecy that was forced upon them. The shadows, the mass graves, the shots to the heads are no more disturbing than the babushka doll shedding its Polish head for a communist clone or the Polish girl being dismembered into vanishing body parts.

The humor in Jerzy Friedrich’s account of the exodus from Hell to Heaven softens the horror of the inhumane voyage across the Caspian Sea. A viewer longs to find out more about the return to normalcy in Iran where refugees found hospitality for the next three years but a 30-minute documentary imposes limits on such an extensive topic.

Ms. Hart-Reed infuses the film with Polish culture: Chopin music, Christian symbolism, patriotic hymn “God, Save Poland” and old Polish tango “Never Again” by Slawa Przybylska. The director created a document that can engage in serious discussions about war, betrayal, propaganda, balance of powers and most certainly about the strength of culture. The Polish Army Veterans Association of America plans to make “A Trip to Nowhere” available to Polish-American students.  Antoni Chroscielewski, a PAVA commander and a decorated World War II veteran who served in General Anders Army and fought at Monte Cassino, has said, “It is important for Polish-American students to study the history of their homeland. Poland is now free, but it took decades of struggle against the Nazis, and then the Communists to get to where we are today.

The Seattle Polish community should be commended for educating the new generations. Following the screening, two witnesses to history, Mrs. Balut and Mrs. Brodniewicz, with determination and gratitude, answered a fire of questions mostly coming from younger audiences. The ladies were thanked for their courage and dignity by a granddaughter of an Auschwitz survivor. Victorious embraces and an engaging reception concluded the event.

The film “A Trip to Nowhere” and a companion album, made possible by generous grants from the Polish Home Foundation, Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association and many private donors, are available for purchase on www.aparatfilms.com.

3 thoughts on ““A Trip to Nowhere” – Untold Story of Soviet Deportations during WWII

  • I am so pleased to discover these resources. My mother, now passed, was one of the deportees in February 1940 and she told me snippets of her journey through Siberia, and later through Kazakhstan, Iran and then Kenya/Uganda. Finally sent to England in 1948. I would have liked to know more but did not want to disturb her memories. Now I am grateful to have my understanding of these experiences improved through the testimony of others.
    I have also joined the Wojtek site. My mother told me a little about him when I was a child. My father, who died when I was very young, had fought at Monte Cassino a spart of 2nd Polish Corps, I think, so would have known of him?
    Thanks to everyone's efforts. My generation, and my children's also, deserve to know and appreciate the whole story of this part of Polish war history.

  • My mother and uncle , still with us ,were February 1940 deportees , their journey to Siberia ,Persia, Uganda and onto England in December 1940 is now being spoken of and publicised, at long long last !.They settled in England as exiles ( not immigrants or refugees) and had to wait until 1989 for a free Poland .
    Everyone needs to know that not only Germans invaded Poland with a view to destroy all Poles but the Russians were no different in their aims .
    Thanks to all who remember and record the plight of the Polish citizens during these times.

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