Documentary Memory Is Our Homeland: Polish refugees in East Africa, at Cinéma du Musée Sept. 17

On the 80th Anniversary of the Soviet Invasion into Poland, MIOH presents a World War II event largely erased from the history books. One million Poles — Christians and Jews — were deported from eastern Poland (modern day Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine) to Siberia and the Soviet Gulags.

  • Documentary film screens Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019
  • Cinéma du Musée at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – 7 pm
  • Presented in collaboration with the Consulate General of Poland in Montreal
  • With director Jonathan Durand in attendance

You think you’ve heard every story about World War II? You haven’t heard this one! Beginning in 2008, director Jonathan Durand began interviewing his grandmother about her childhood stories of growing up as a Polish refugee in East Africa. Say it again, “Polish refugees in East Africa”. It’s true, women and children spent most of 1942-1952 living in mud huts, riding rhinos and dancing with African tribes-people before spreading across the western world because they couldn’t go back to Poland.

But there’s more: delving into her story, Jonathan uncovered that she was among 1 million Polish Catholics and Jews deported from Soviet-occupied Poland to Siberia in 1940, a small fraction of whom escaped the USSR to refugee camps in Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Tanzania. Throughout the film, a group of elderly female survivors recount how they ended up, as young girls, travelling through Siberia, Kazakhstan, Iran, and India, to spend nearly a decade living in huts made of mud and straw across East Africa.

Mixing interviews, footage shot on location, lost WW2 newsreels, and the personal photos and home movies of the former refugees, we learn how these women continue trying to make sense of a childhood not only beyond imagination, but also mysteriously left out of the history books. "Memory Is Our Homeland" is a 90-minute documentary about this forgotten odyssey, and the struggle to remember it.

History: In 1939 Stalin approved the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with Hitler allowing him, among other things, the ability to reclaim eastern Poland, in what today is known as Belarus and Ukraine. In doing so he sent many of the Polish citizens – some report that there were one million people – to work in Siberian work camps. Men, women and children spent up to two years working in the Gulags. Upon switching to the allied side, Stalin was forced to liberate what remained of these Polish citizens. They couldn’t go back to Nazi occupied Poland. They couldn’t go home to Soviet claimed Eastern Poland. Where could they go? The men joined the Polish Army in Kazakhstan and the women, children and elderly journeyed toward British colonies in Eastern Africa.

  • Presented at the Cinéma du Musée, 1380 Rue Sherbrooke O.
  • Tuesday September 17th at 7pm
  • Tickets $12

Director Jonathan Durand will present the film with members of the Polish diaspora and representatives of the Polish Consulate General in Montreal.

Additional Screenings at Cinéma Moderne (5150 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal)

  • Thursday September 18th - 6:30pm (with director Jonathan Durand in attendance)
  • Sunday September 22nd - 5pm

— AB

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.