Stashka (Florian’s sister)
After stopping in Przemysl, we were supposed to drive all the way to Wroclaw (completely opposite direction on the map) and interview Florian’s sister before going back to Warsaw. The trip would require filming during the day and then driving twice overnight. Can I just say that it’s not exactly our favorite thing to do?
Since our stay in Przemysl took unexpected dimensions and we decided to stay longer, Olia had to call Florian’s sister Stashka and postpone her interview until Sunday. It was hard enough convincing her to give us an interview in the first place, and I am learning that dealing with 80-something year olds requires unlimited time and patience. So Olia called her and tried to explain that we will need to postpone her interview for a day if possible, but since her Polish is getting rusty, she managed to tell her that she is coming from the state (she meant States as in USA but apparently said state as in government) with her “Partnerka” (also meant to say co-director but apparently said sexual partner).
So… this old Polish lady, already very suspicious of Ukrainians who allegedly killed her family, understood that there is this woman coming from the Ukrainian government with her lesbian lover to interview her. Do I need to specify that we didn’t get the interview?
This actually wasn’t quite so bad since we had already settled for another Polish character in Przemysl named Suzanna.
Suzanna is a ninety something year old Polish woman with such a strong character and such great storytelling skills that I was mesmerized by listening to her even though I could not understand anything. (I really don’t know why they don’t teach Ukrainian and Polish in Lebanese schools, it would have made everybody’s life easier now!)
Honestly, Suzanna wasn’t easier to deal with than Stashka but at least she agreed to film with us for two days. She told us the story of how she was with the Polish resistance fighting against the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and was later on saved by a Ukrainian man. She clearly rememberd what horrible things UPA did to Poles but when the priest tried to remind her of what the Poles did to a UPA woman they had captured, she suddenly lost her memory. Suzanna was introduced to us by a Polish catholic priest Padre Bartminski now retired who works on the preservation of the Ukrainian and Jewish heritage in the part of Galicia that is now Poland. We met with him at his house and followed him as he showed us the various Ukrainian Greek Catholic churches and Jewish cemeteries that he helped restore. The interesting thing is that he would not take credit for his work. He told us that the initiative came entirely from the youth in his town, while the young people swore that he was the driving force behind everything.
To start Moshe’s story, I should first specify that our few days in Poland would not have been half as fruitful as they were without the incredible help of two men: Stanislaw Stepien in Przemyls and John Kubiniec in Warsaw. Stanislav, a historian and a good friend of our camera operator Petro, introduced us to a friend of his, Waclaw Wierzbieniec who is one of the most respected scholars on issues of Jewish history in Eastern Europe. Waclaw then took us with him to the Rzesow Airport to meet Mohse and his wife Imuna. Moshe is a Holocaust survivor who comes back to Poland every year and takes part in the “March of Life”. Every year, people come from all over the world to walked the inverse route which through which the Rzeszow Jews were led to the Nazi concentration camp in Belzec. The most interesting part of Moshe’s story is that he had brought a gravestone to put in the old Jewish cemetery where his grandfather was buried. After a very symbolic and animated lunch at a restaurant appropriately named “Galicia” between Moshe, his wife, the Ukrainian historian Stanislaw and the Polish professor Waclaw, they all went to the cemetery, to help Moshe fulfill his task. Imagine three men Jewish, Ukrainian and Polish, working together trying to use an old manual drill to make a whole in the wall and fix the gravestone. To make things even more dramatic, it started pouring rain on them. Good thing we had an umbrella for the camera.
Side note: we were very happy to have an example of “reconciliation” happening right there in front of our eyes when Stanislaw and Waclaw started mumbling to each other: this is taking forever! Why didn’t he bring a normal drill? Where did he find this manual piece of crap? And then Moshe gets tired as well and mumbles: I could have brought an electrical drill but I was afraid those Poles would steal it at the border! (no comment).