Film Review: Friends. Portraits from Memory

Friends. Portraits from Memory is a film that is a testament of Poles rescued from the Holocaust, inmates of the first transport to Auschwitz. About three hundred of them survived the camp, and a few are alive today. Throughout their lives they have given their testimony of the cruelty of the concentration camps, appealing for peace between the world’s nations. They preserve the memory of the victims – those friends who lost their lives because they were Poles, Jews, Russians or representatives of other nations that were slated for annihilation.
“This film came about through a passion for history. It is the result of many years of interest in the subject of the camps,” says Gabriela Mruszczak, the film’s director and director of photography. “It tells a story from the past using the words of the prisoners, while showing the realities of the present. It confronts historical relations with contemporary imagery.”
It does not contain any archival footage. It is made up of a record of a journey along the route that the “first transporters” travelled: from the prison in Tarnów, the site of a former Jewish bathhouse, through the railway stations in Tarnów and Kraków and finally to the building of the former State Tobacco Monopoly in Oświęcim (now the State School of Higher Education) to the final stage – the memorial site, the former Auschwitz death camp.
Animated segments are also used in the film, made by Kraków Academy of Fine Arts graduate Paulina Sobczak. “The use of black and white seemed to me the most appropriate choice considering the topic,” she emphasized. All of the drawings were made in charcoal.
The need to commemorate the former prisoners of the German concentration camps should, on one hand, be commensurate to their many years of efforts to prevent the memory of Auschwitz from vanishing, and on the other hand, it should be a testimony to their heroism and patriotism, while providing a lesson for young people,” notes Bogusław Sobczak, the film’s producer.
In 1940 the film’s main characters were young people – Poles who, for their exceptional courage, heroism and patriotic acts, were sent to prison in Tarnów, and from there by a special train through Kraków to the newly built Auschwitz concentration camp.
– “None of us knew what Auschwitz was…We thought we were going to do forced labor in Germany,” recalls Stanisław Szpunar (prisoner number 131). He was greeted at the camp by a group of the German tormentors with beatings and verbal abuse. His struggle for survival began on 14 June.
Those present, the 728 Polish political prisoners, were not only the first victims of the German concentration camp, but also the organizers of an active participants in the resistance movement at Auschwitz. They were to inform the free world of the crimes of the Nazis. The importance of this is still great today, as even now there are incidents of speeches by politicians and articles in foreign publications that imply Polish responsibility for the crimes of German Nazis.
The day of 14 June – the anniversary of first transport of Polish political prisoners to Auschwitz – has been declared by the Sejm of the Republic of Poland as National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Nazi Concentration Camps.
This half-hour documentary will be seen on the television channels TVP Kraków and TVP Historia. Special screenings will also take place in schools and cultural institutions.
This film represents a new installment in the Gabriela Mruszczak’s work creating documentaries on the subject of the camps. Two years ago, her films The Postman and Little Sister premiered, which tell the story of the residents of Oświęcim and its surroundings, who offered aid to the victims of Auschwitz during the German occupation.
This film was made in the framework of the Filmoteka Małopolska program, organized by the Małopolskie Voivodeship.
Title: Friends. Portraits from Memory
Screenplay and direction: Gabriela Mruszczak
Photography and editing: Gabriela Mruszczak
Animation: Paulina Sobczak
Directorial supervision: Cezary Nowicki
Historical consultation: Dr Franciszek Piper
Producer: Bogusław Sobczak
Running time: 26 minutes
Production: OFF-LIMITS Agencja Filmowa
Translation: ExLibro – Translation and Publishing Services
Cast:
ERZY BOGUSZ – born in 1921 in Nowy Sącz. During the war, he joined the resistance and participated in redeployment of volunteers to the newly-formed Polish Armed Forces in France. His prisoner number at Auschwitz was 61. After his liberation from the camp he joined the partisan unit of Home Army. After the war he studied at the Kraków University of Technology, where he spent the remainder of his career as an academic.
JÓZEF PACZYŃSKI – born in 1920 in Łękawica near Wadowice. He took part in the September campaign. He was prisoner number 121 at Auschwitz. He was the barber for Commandant Höss. In 1945 he was transferred to KL Mauthausen. After the war he studied at the Kraków University of Technology, and worked at the Kraków Tobacco Plant. He was the head of the Electrical and Mechanical School in Brzesko for many years.
JÓZEF STÓS – born in 1921 in Okocim near Brzesko. In 1939 he signed up as a volunteer for the Military Auxiliary Service. He was arrested as a hostage. He was prisoner number 752 at Auschwitz. In 1944 was sent to the camp in Oranienburg, and from there to Buchenwald. After the war he studied architecture. He oversaw the construction of the churches in Złota and Kąty Iwkowskie He is an honorary citizen of the Town of Brzesko.
STANISŁAW SZPUNAR – born in 1923 in Rzeszów. He received prisoner number 133 at Auschwitz. He was a witness of the last days of Father Maximilian Kolbe. After the war he studied at the Economic Academy. He later became a computer programmer. He worked on the first Polish computers.
KAZIMIERZ ZAJĄC – born in 1923 in Jasień near Brzesko. He was prisoner number 261 at Auschwitz. After the war he studied at the Economic Academy in Kraków. After completing his studies he worked in a brewery in Okocim. He was a founder and long-time member of the Brzesko chapter of the Polish Angling Association. He is an honorary citizen of the Town of Brzesko.

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