Monika Rogozińska: A photo of a girl kneeling over her sister, killed by the Germans in a field in Warsaw, in your opinion changed the course of the Second World War. It was taken by an American, Julien Bryan, on September 14, 1939. The war had just begun...
Eugene Starky: With this single photograph - a symbol of the suffering of the Polish nation, Bryan won the war against Hitler's propaganda machine. Remember that 90% of Americans did not want to engage in a conflict in Europe. The Germans made films that glorified their chivalry. Hitler said:
- I will not attack women and children, only military targets.
People believed it. And here came a man who showed the truth. This photo appeared on the covers of newspapers and magazines, circling the world. In a certain African country where the newspaper did not print photographs, someone drew a picture of the scene. Bryan used the image in a film chronicle showing the defense of Warsaw in September 1939. About 300 million people saw it, the first film chronicle from the Second World War. Television sets were rare. News from around the world was watched before film screenings.
He had experienced war, he was an ambulance driver at Verdun. He was 17 when he volunteered for an ambulance corps in France. But in September 1939, he revealed a new type of war against the civilian population. Bryan filmed the Germans attacking hospitals, homes, women, children. He warned:
- What has happened to Warsaw could soon meet Paris, London, and even New York.
The United States was neutral, so in the White House Bryan’s movie was only watched by Eleanor Roosevelt. She was shocked.
The president did not watch the movie?
No, but his wife told him about it. I recently learned that the film materials from the siege of Warsaw were analyzed by the US State Department. President Roosevelt gave a speech at the time, which I put in my film Correspondent Bryan:
- I know war and I hate war. I respect the will of the American people to be neutral. But ...the same fate awaits us unless we act.
And he gave an order to produce weapons. If he had waited until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to make this decision it would have been too late.
I draw my knowledge from the American film chronicles of that time. I saw a certain chronology of events. In particular scenes of US soldiers' exercises from 1940: they were running around with sticks in form of rifles, they were throwing sacks of flour at trucks with inscriptions that said they were tanks. The American air force and marines were developed but not the army. Thanks to Bryan's reports from Warsaw, the Americans managed to arm themselves in time, and to enter an alliance with the British and the Russians. In this way they eventually managed to defeat Hitler.
After returning from Poland, the American government sent Bryan to South America. Why there? You can see why in his chronicles. He filmed Brazil, where a million Germans were living, Argentina filled with Nazis, Nicaragua with civilian airliners equipped with pylons for bombs flying near the Panama Canal. The Americans in 1940 estimated that their continent could become an island in a sea of Nazi and Communist totalitarianism with a ratio of 1:10. We came that close to the end of democracy in the world! The courage and dedication of one humble man influenced the fate of the world. I want to convey this message. The fight to defend Warsaw was not in vain. The defense of the city was the defense of the free world. Bryan emphasized this. He should receive gratitude and a monument for that.
Bryan had a seven-month-old son, Sam, in the USA. Nevertheless, he waited in Europe for the outbreak of the Second World War, and in the first days of September he was on a train to Poland, the last one to enter Warsaw...
Bryan's love for Poland was something astonishing. He visited our country repeatedly. Already in 1936 he could sense the war approaching. He filmed military parades, maneuvers, in Poland, Russia and Germany. He created a series of film chronicles "Steps of Time - Inside Nazi Germany" in which he warned Americans about Hitler.
When the war broke out, he went to Poland from Romania, and as he was crossing the border, the train was shot at by German planes. He filmed the preparation for the defense of Warsaw, the building of trenches, the erecting of barricades.
On September 8, German troops arrived near Warsaw. The first attack was beaten back. The Polish artillery was effective.
- During my stay in Warsaw, artillery shot down about 50 German aircraft - reported Bryan.
On the 10th of September, Warsaw was surrounded. Approximately 20,000 shells a day fell on the city. Incendiary and fragmentation bombs were used. On September 16, on the day of the Jewish New Year, German airmen razed the entire Jewish quarter.
After September 17, when the Russians entered Poland, Germany redoubled the bombings.
- Listen to my story - he told the world via radio. He talked about the heroism and sacrifice of civilians, about the barbarity of the Germans. He appealed for help.
He risked his life terribly. President Starzyński asked him to leave the city, to show the world the barbarity of the Germans. Bryan wrote a farewell letter to his family, which he deposited in the US embassy's safe. Germany allowed the evacuation of diplomatic missions and foreigners. Bryan's films were smuggled out by US Embassy employees hidden in gas masks. He carried the photo negatives out himself in a suitcase.
On September 25, 400 planes bombarded the city for 11 hours straight with support from the land artillery. After four weeks of lonely resistance, Warsaw had been defeated.
On the 2nd of October Bryan arrived in New York. He immediately made a film chronicle, it was the first war film chronicle, watched by over 300 million viewers. He also wrote the book Siege, and numerous articles. In the "Life" weekly, he published the first color photographs from the defense of Warsaw.
Bryan returned to Poland in 1946 and 1948. However, it was not until 1958 that he was able to advertise in the newspaper that he was looking for the people who he had filmed in besieged Warsaw. One by one they responded. Everyone had a terrible story. You have watched these recordings.
It is amazing how memorable the scenes and people who appeared for a few seconds on film in 1939 are. A boy chopping wood. In a concentration camp Germans later did medical experiments on him. After the war he became an actor. - A mother and daughter. During the Uprising they were in the Wola section of Warsaw. The father and son of the woman were shot dead. As she was running away with her daughter, a German shot the girl in the head. She end up in a camp with the injured child. She went up to the guard at the gate and said: shoot us. And he let them go.
Twin newborns in the basement of the bombed-out Church of the Holy Spirit. They celebrated their fifth birthday during the Warsaw Uprising. Their mother went out to look for food. Then a bomb hit the building. They perished.
A doctor from a children's hospital whose photo appeared in the American press was persecuted by the Germans and died soon afterwards.
A boy carrying a cage with a canary. Bryan filmed him when he came to visit a friend, but found rubble in the place
where he lived. He found only a cage with the friend's live canary on the rubble. The father of the "boy with a canary" died on the barricades during the Warsaw Uprising, serving as a commander. His mother, he and his brother, both scouts, also fought in the Uprising. They escaped from the Old Town through sewer canals. Bryan found him later working in a mine in Zabrze, where he took refuge against the Communists harassment.
He found the priest he filmed wallowing in the ruins of his church, bombed during the morning mass on Sunday. He met the girl kneeling over her dead sister and repeating plaintively:
- You were so beautiful ...
Kazimiera Kostewicz still lives in Warsaw today...
Where is Bryan's archive?
Mostly in a warehouse in New Jersey rented by Julien's son - Sam Bryan. He has the rights to his father's photos and films. When I read in the “New York Times “ that Spielberg's Foundation had restored Bryan's films, I reported it to him. He was surprised. For many years, he had tried unsuccessfully to interest various countries in his father’s archives, who had made reports from all over the world. He filmed our country for the first time in 1932, then again in 1936. He made the film "Poland and its People ", in which he showed the 1000 year history of our country. Also "Mary visits Poland". They were shown in cinemas, schools, theaters, and three thousand people came to watch. He presented Poland very beautifully. He greatly promoted our country.
In the end, the film rolls about Poland were taken by the Holocaust Museum in Washington. There are 30 hours of films there, of which only a few are known.
Are archival materials in the US easily accessible ?
This is a scandalous affair. In Poland, Germany archival materials are used to make profits! The prices are prohibitive. Germany wants 36 euros per second of film. They are still making money off their crimes!
In the US, materials ordered by the government are in the public domain, a great national treasure. That is why Americans can make entire series of documentary films about World War II.
Years later, you can see the innovation of Bryan's reportage. He filmed seemingly trivial topics: scenes of everyday life, people’s homes. He made films about pre-war Warsaw, Gdansk, Łowicz, Zakopane, Katowice, Krakow. And there are color films from the reconstruction of Warsaw in 1948 - these are unique materials, hitherto unknown. He would annotate his photographs. For example, on the back of photos of the Market Square in Krakow 1936. He noted that people there were dressed better than in New York.
You compare the influence on world opinion of the photo with Kazimiera Kostewicz to the photo of a nude girl in Vietnam escaping from a village set on fire with napalm. The latter became a symbol of the Vietnam War. It won at World Press Photo, and the naked girl from the photo now lives in Canada and is a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
I met a Japanese woman who survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima in a bunker. Today she is a celebrity, shown on television. Elegantly dressed, she serves as a guide on exclusive trips. And our Kazimiera is forgotten...
I am looking for funds to produce the French, German and English versions of Correspondent Bryan. I would like to show it in the European Parliament. It would make a bigger impression there than thousands of protest letters, but no one seems to comprehend this. Bryan, filming the rebirth of Warsaw after the war, said with conviction:
- Such a nation can not be defeated!
And yet we do not value our history. Poles are losing their historical memory. Without it they will lose their identity.
Eugene Starky - graduate of Alliance Française in Paris and film studies, Cum Laude, at the City University of New York. He devoted his first film "Emigrant’s Suitcase" to the Solidarity period emigration to the USA. He has produced over thirty films, among others the trilogy: "From Archipelago Gulag to America" , "Rodeo Town" , " Honor of the City " about the Warsaw Uprising, "Correspondent Bryan" from the found movie chronicles of Julian Bryan, "Polonians - Heroes of Jamestown", "Giotto, the Story of Salvation" , "Siege of Warsaw".
Credit:. Monika Rogozińska
- The photo shows me kneeling next to Annie, my sister, the date is 14 September 1939. She died the day before - says Kazimiera Kostewicz-Mika. - There were seven of us. My brother was the youngest, he was three months at that time. My father was unemployed. When my mother helped out as a caretaker, we at last did not go hungry, because every day she brought us soup, bread. Andzia was a diligent student. She finished seven grade and wanted to continue to study, but she hasd no money for textbooks or clothing. In secred she wrote a letter to the editor of "Kurier" daily newspaper. Later she would ask our mother for five cents every day. She did not say what it was for. She would just cry when my mother could not give it to her. She would buy the newspaper.
One day she clasped her hands:
- Here it is!
The editor replied:
"Do not worry, Annie. You will get clothes, you will get books. Your daddy will get a job."
But then the war started.
I was twelve at the time. We rented a 35 square meter room with windowless kitchen near Powazki cemetery in Warsaw. We lived there a total 13 people with another family to share the fees. When the bombings began, Andzia said she was afraid and went to father's aunt in Wola district. Our house burned down. We escaped to a friend’s home.
There was hunger. My mother knew that at the end of Tatarska Street, Lejman had a cottage and a plot of land with potatoes, cabbage, onions ...
On the morning of September 13, my mother and father went to Lejman's. You paid him and you could gig up potatoes from his field. My aunt with Annie also went. Unfortunately, the weather was clear. The Germans began bombing. Andzia and the aunt dashes into the building but it collapsed and buried the aunt. Later it turned out that she was not even scratched. Annie jumped out and lay down in the field. The planes were flying very low. The Germans dropped fragmentation bombs and fired from machine guns. Annie was hit with a bullet, here, in the neck, and one in the spine. And shrapnel buried into her shoulder blade. Mummy then completely forgot about Annie. Everyone scattered. Father too.
In the wall of the Evangelical cemetery at the corner of Mlynarska and Obozowa people smashed a hole through the wall to take refuge. My mother saw father there. He was sitting with a bloody hand. Mom asked him:
- Stach, are you wounded?
- No - he said.
Mom raised his hand. It was pierced pierced throuh by shrapnel. And he fainted.
They forced a carriage driver to take father to hospital. At that moment a projectile exploded. The carriage driver an horse were killed, mother was ejected. She lost her mind. She run off.
We waited in the basement. On the radio they announced that Annie Kostewicz, age 14, had died. Each child had on their chest a piece of cloth inscribed with the first and last name, age and address.
Mom came in the morning. She wanted to go back. We started to cry for her to stay, for if they kill her, what are we going to do? I went.
I did not find anyone near Andzia. Then Bryan appeared. I cried terribly. And he hugged me and was saying something. It was only in the film that I saw two men leading me, that there were women standing there. I did not see that and did not remember it. I then ran home in fear, because everything was on fire.
Mom said she did not know what happened to father, so with my sister Halinka, we ran to the hospital. Shells were fired all around. Dead bodies. God Lord! We finally found father. He had had three more infections and underwent three more operations, but he survived the war, like the rest of us apart from Annie and the youngest brother - Tadzio. Tadzio was so hungry that he sucked blood from his mother's breast. He died in 1940. He was one-and-a-half-year-old. He got such stains from coffee and wholemeal bread... It was terrible. Cold. Hunger. People endured so much. So many people suffered. Thouse people were tougher than steel. Nowadays, this generation would not endure it.
And poor Annie tried to run away from death. If she had stayed with us she would have lived. She was so smart. Sometimes she sat up at night by the lamp and studied. They called her "prep schoolgirl" because she was intelligent, had poise and was articulate. I was a dull ignoramus, and God gave me the longest life out of all siblings. I am 86 years old, have four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. And this field where Annie was killed, still exists.
Kazimiera's momories were recorded by Monika Rogozińska
Credit:. Monika Rogozińska
Kazimiera with Julien Bryan... and with Eugene Starky
All photographs from 1939 were made by Julien Bryan
This text entitled as "The man who won the war against Hitler" was published in the Polish weekly
DO RZECZY, February 25 - March 3, 2013