1st Armoured Division in documentary and animated films: Polish History Museum premieres its very own

Exactly 75 years after the 1st Polish Armour Division took control of the Dutch city of Breda driving the Germans out, the Polish History Museum has made films about its commander General Stanisław Maczek (known as a ‘hero of five nations’) and Marian Walentynowicz, one of the soldiers fighting under his command.

The event titled The 1st Armoured Division in documentary and animated films held at the Warsaw Rising Museum featured the official premiere of two most recent films produced by the Polish History Museum. The documentary An Invincible One: The Story of General Stanisław Maczek marks an attempt at systematising the key events in the life of the 1st Division’s commander. Directed by Rafał Geremek, the picture tells a story of not just Maczek’s battles in 1939–1945 but also his career as an officer during the First World War, the Polish-Ukrainian War as well as the one with the Bolsheviks. As Rafał Geremek emphasised, his film’s protagonist had been a great independent thinker throughout his life. ‘Maczek was an eminent strategist. One of the local Dutch historians has stressed his modern outlook on commandership. He modified orders issued by his Allied commanders on a number of occasions, finding that he was able to carry them out better in his own way,’ said the director of documentaries.

While working on the film, Rafał Geremek followed in Maczek’s footsteps in places like today’s Ukraine, France, Scotland and the Netherlands. His narrative is supplemented by memories of the general’s family and surviving soldiers who used to fight under his command. Additionally, the picture features many photographs and documentary films, now virtually unknown, showing the 1st Armoured Division’s marching from Falaise to Wilhelmshaven. The director added that his film could not have been made without cooperation with Dutch historians cultivating the memory of the 1st Division and each year supporting the observance of their country’s liberation by soldiers under General Maczek’s command.

The documentary footage is interspersed with feature scenes in which Maczek is played by Redbad Klynstra-Komarnicki. They show the post-war life of the general who lived in Edinburgh and worked as a bartender. It was there that he would meet his former soldiers but also communist intelligence agents who tried – in vain – to talk him into returning to Poland. The difficult post-war life of the 1st Division’s commander illustrates the fate of many soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces in the West unable to return to their home country after the war. Gen. Stanisław Maczek outlived the end of the Polish People’s Republic yet because of his poor health was unable to come back to Poland. He died in Edinburgh in 1994 at the age of 102.

Director of the Polish History Museum Robert Kostro underlined the importance of the films for the promotion of Polish history. ‘Thus far, Gen. Maczek has been underappreciated although he was an extraordinary person, a commander who has not lost a single battle. His life can serve as an explanation of Polish history. We respond to recurring questions about the presence of Polish soldiers in the West,’ Mr Kostro elucidated. In that context, he recalled the PHM’s engagement in the works on the construction of the General Maczek Museum-Memorial, scheduled to open in 2020.

The screening was attended by Captain Edmund Semrau who had fought in the 1st Armoured Division. ‘I wish to thank you very much for the film. I believe that after seeing it each and every viewer is going to bring home a wealth of positive emotions,’ the veteran concluded. He also recalled his accidental meeting with Gen. Maczek who while visiting a combat post he held with his colleagues asked him for a cigarette, which Capt. Semrau did not have at the moment. He also stressed that his commander cared about the future fate of his soldiers. Just like many other youngest soldiers of the 1st Armoured Division, Capt. Semrau, aged 19 in 1945, was ordered, once the fights were over, to improve his education at a Polish middle school in the so-called Polish occupational zone.

During the meeting at the Warsaw Rising Museum an animated film was also shown, titled Marian at War. The Case of Marian Walentynowicz, directed by Agata Mianowska and produced by the Polish History Museum and Yellow Tapir Films. It focuses on the creator of the characters Matołek the Billy-Goat and a monkey named Fiki-Miki brought to life by the writer Kornel Makuszyński. The illustrator of the famous series used to be a wartime correspondent of the 1st Armoured Division. He supplemented his journalistic work with drawings documenting the battlefield trail. The twelve-minute-long animation sticks to the traditional style that refers to Walentynowicz’s drawings. The film is narrated by the actor Zbigniew Zamachowski.

‘In the 1st Armoured Division, we were looking for story-rich heroes. They included a number of those active in the field of culture like Walentynowicz. We got in touch with his family and created a story based on his memoirs titled About the War without Bombast as well as his photos and drawings,’ Wojciech Kalwat of the PHM, the film’s co-author, has said. Possibly in December, the Polish History Museum is going to make the film available online.

Michał Szukała after PAP/dzieje.pl

Photography by the PHM/Mariusz Bodnar