‘Róża’ and the tragedy of Masuria

It makes me sad to realize how many amazing European movies we never hear about just because they have no budget to advertise abroad. How many Scandinavian, French, Italian movies… Or Polish, too.  Recently I wrote here about the Polish movie ‘In darkness’ nominated for Oscar. The saddest part is that it wouldn’t have been ever noticed abroad if it wasn’t about Holocaust. That’s been ‘hot’ topic in Hollywood for decades. But what about all the other movies about forgotten pages of our history ? Such as, for instance, ‘Liberté’ or ‘Aidesta parhain’ ? Not a lot of people has the chance to ever hear about them. There’s a new Polish movie that belongs to this group, too. It’s called ‘Róża’ (Rose) and it tells a story about a Masurian woman and generally about the Masurians right after the Second World War in Poland. I bet you have no idea who Masurians are (or rather : were).

It was an ethnic group that inhabited the north-east part of contemporary Poland until 1945 (more or less). They had own culture, traditions, and dialect that came from Polish. For centuries they’d put an emphasis on their autonomy, but in the 19th century German Empire restricted the usage of languages other than German and began Germanization of the Masurians, trying to separate them culturally from Poles. Many Germans would come to Mazury land to live, changing this region into East Prussian, very German. This is why in 1920 during  the East Prussian plebiscite which was held to determine the new border between reborn Poland and Germany, the huge majority of Masurians opted to stay in the Prussian part of Germany. No one believed that Poland would stay independent for long. After 1933 many of them supported Hitler but there was also many of those who tried to keep their ethnic autonomy, who spoke Masurian dialect and felt closer to Poles. When war came to an end, the area of Mazury (Masuria) was attached to Poland and Polish communists with the help of Soviets started to populate this region with Poles and Ukrainians from the pre-war Eastern Poland (then USSR). No one cared about history at that time and to them all the Masurians were simply Germans, enemies, even if they spoke Polish or had Polish last names and wanted to stay in Poland. Masurians loved their land, they cared less about which country it was at the moment. Unfortunately, It was decided that all of them would be deported to Germany. It all sounds okay when I describe it but in reality it was a time of cruelty, rape and murder.

‘Róża’ tells a story of a Masurian woman whose husband died as Wehrmacht soldier. The war is over. Left alone in a house in the countryside with a daughter, she’s being constantly raped by the Russian troops that are passing by all the time. She can be murdered any minute as for them she is German. The fact that she was pro-Polish before the war doesn’t count. As many Poles come to find a place to live in Mazury, she meets a young Pole Tadeusz who fought in Warsaw uprising and who saw his own wife being raped and shot by German soldiers. Neverteless, he is not full of hatred towards all Germans. He understands that you cannot blame the whole nation for what had happened. After having witnessed an attack on Róża’s house, he offers to stay with her in the house to protect her. And they fall in love with each other, of course. But don’t get the impression that it’s another silly movie about love. Their love is not shown that much, the plot focuses much more on their fight to survive.

To protect his new family, Tadeusz is forced to mine the backyard and to kill many people. Their life looks more like the one in a jungle, between animals, able to do everything to survive not matter what it takes.  In the meantime Tadeusz finds out that he’s being checked by the new communist regime too. During the war he was in the Home Army loyal to the Polish government in exile which was opposite to the communist movement. After 1945 many members of Home Army were arrested, tortured or even murdered. So Tadeusz finds himself in a situation without an exit: not only his past is hostile for the new state but also he is married to a ‘German’. This cannot have a happy ending.

‘Róża’ was the most expected movie of the year, it had its premiere on Feb 3rd. It’s a commercial success, much more people than usually went to see it, everyone agrees that ‘Róża’ cannot leave you indifferent. It’s an exceptionally brutal movie with horryfying rape scenes or axe murders, but thanks to that our current generation can get any idea of how terrible the post-war period was. It leaves you in a deep shock because you used to believe that on May 8th 1945 the nightmare was over and everyone was safe. It’s not easy to accept that your own people could be as cruel and inhuman as Germans a while before. It only proves one thing: there’s no bad nations, there’s only bad people. And you can find them everywhere. You can’t trust anyone, too.

Now Mazury is one of the most popular summer destinations in Poland – after all it’s a beautiful region full of lakes, fields and forests. And no one knows, no one cares that there was an extremely interesting ethnic group which we destroyed with our own hands. Now Mazury offers you nothing but landscapes: no extraordinary culture, no funny dialect to listen to, no local beliefs. People who live there now couldn’t create any local identity within 65 years. That’s simply not possible.

The only trailer I could find in English: