This film made by Piotr Szkopiak was due to be released five years ago both in Poland and in the English speaking world, but somehow was never properly distributed, although it is available on streaming services and very occasionally in independent cinemas.
As I knew it dealt with the Crime of Katyń, or the Katyń Massacres, I must admit I did not really want to see it, as I felt it would be too horrific, and too close to home. My husband’s grandfather was murdered in Katyń itself, and my paternal grandfather was killed in one of the other camps. My maternal grandfather was designated for the same fate, but somehow managed to escape, walk for six weeks across the steppe and find my grandmother and their two daughters only to die from typhus a day later. But that’s another story.
But Katyń was well documented as history by Andrzej Wajda in a film, and so I was afraid of more of the same, even though I have not actually seen the Wajda film.
Thanks to facebook however I noticed that there was going to be a showing of this film at a new local cinema, and that the director was going to be there for a q and a session. So – an opportunity not to be missed, especially as I knew that his mother and my mother had been at school together in England after the war.
I braced myself for the horrors, and found out pretty soon that this was in no way a documentary, and all the better for it. Billed partly as a thriller, a mystery, it even had some love interest. The journalist who was trying to uncover the story of the Last Witness, played by Alex Pettyfer, follows his leads quite blindly, endangering himself and others in the process. We realise early on that his search for the truth about the Katyn Massacres is going to be suppressed, but we follow the story with curiosity. We know it is based on facts yet it is hard to discern the fiction.
Szkopiak doesn’t shy away from horror or violence. We “see” what happened at Katyń. It is horrific. We need to see it. It is not dwelt upon. What is important is the truth about who did it. There probably isn’t a Pole in England at least who doesn’t know that it was the Soviets who perpetrated the murders and then tried to cover them up and say it was the Nazis. (The deportations from Eastern Poland of the intelligentsia, landowners and their families is the reason most of us are here, after ll.) Unfortunately the British Government for a long time could not bring itself to antagonise the Soviets and let them know they knew the truth. Which they did.
This is a quotation from the end of the film:
After credits: “In 1990, Soviet President Gorbachev admitted that the Soviet Union was responsible for the murders of Polish prisoners of war at Katyn in 1940. No one was ever prosecuted. In 2012, declassified documents proved that the U.S. government suppressed information that attested to Soviet guilt. No British government has ever publicly charged the Soviet Union with responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. This film is dedicated to the 22,000 Polish prisoners of war murdered in the Katyn Massacre and to those murdered in the years that followed so that the truth would remain buried forever.”
This is not really a film review, more of an encouragement to find it and watch it and learn about this event in a more thoughtful way. It is told from the British point of view, without any excuses being made for it.
The film itself (made over 18 days) has won many prizes, which are well deserved – I just wish the distribution had been greater.
Please let me know if you have seen it and what you think. Also please ask any questions you may have.
One comment on “The Last Witness”
My mother’s brother studied maths in Lwov, and after graduation got married, but then he and other academics were taken to Katyn. He never was seen again.
Thank you, Basia, for reminding about this crime, not many young people know about.