Plot Synopsis

  • WARNING: Spoilers

    Katyn describes the tragedy of a generation. The film follows the story of four Polish families whose lives are torn apart when, at the outset of WWII, a great number of Polish soldiers (who are also fathers, husbands and brothers) fall into the hands of Soviet troops and later brutally become victims of Stalinism. The film also underlines the complicated circumstances of Poland's position both in the war and after. -tc-119

    "Katyn" tells the story through the eyes of the women; the mothers, wives and daughters of the victims executed on Stalin's orders by the NKVD in 1940.

    The main male character is Andrzej (played by Artur Zmijewski), a young Polish captain in an Uhlan (light cavalry) regiment who keeps a detailed diary. He is taken prisoner by the Soviet Army, which separates the officers from the enlisted men, who are allowed to return home, while the officers are held. His wife Anna (played by Maja Ostaszewska) and daughter Weronika ("Nika", played by Wiktoria Gsiewska) find him shortly before he is deported to the USSR. Presented with an opportunity to escape, he refuses on the basis of his oath of loyalty to the Polish military.

    Andrzej ends up in a prisoner of war camp, where he is kept for awhile and continues to keep his diary. He carefully records the names of all his fellow officers who are taken from the camp, as well as the dates they are taken. When winter comes, Andrzej is obviously suffering from the cold temperatures, and his colleague Jerzy (played by Andrzej Chyra) lends him an extra sweater. As it happens, the sweater has Jerzy's name written on it. Finally, it is Andrzej's turn to be taken from the camp, but Jerzy is left behind.

    At this point, the film fast-forwards to the post-WWII period back in Poland, when and where Andrzej's wife and daughter are still awaiting word about him. News of the Katyn massacre is reported, including the names of the victims, but Andrzej's name is not included in the list of victims, leading his wife and daughter hope that he was not among them. Jerzy, who has survived the war, has enlisted in the Peoples Army of Poland (LWP), which is now under control of the post-WWII communist government, but still feels personal loyalty to his friends, and like all Poles he loves his country and has sympathy for those who have suffered. He visits Anna and her daughter to tell them the news. Apparently, when the list of the names of the victims was compiled, Andrzej was misidentified as Jerzy on the basis of the name in the sweater that Jerzy had lent to Andrzej: it was Andrzej who was killed, not Jerzy.

    Evidence of Soviet responsibility for the Katyn massacre is carefully concealed by the authorities, but a few daring people working with the effects of the victims finally deliver Andrzej's diary to his widow Anna. The diary clearly shows the date in 1940 when he must have been killed from the absence of entries on subsequent days. The date when the massacre happened is crucial in assigning the responsibility for it: if it happened in 1940, the USSR had military control of the territory where it happened, while by 1941 the Germans had taken control of it.

    The film ends with a re-enactment of parts of the massacre. [D-Man2010]