Fascinating tale of Muslim princess who fought for Poland during WWII wins short film award
A short animated film about the fascinating little-known story of a Caucasian-Muslim princess who joined the Polish army and settled in Gdynia in the 1930s has won the ‘Museums in Short’ international film competition.
Directed by Tomasz Popakuł for the Gdynia Emigration Museum and entitled ‘Dzennet’, the six and a half minute film tells the story of refugee Dzennet Dżabagi-Skibniewska, whose mother was a Polish Tatar and father the son of the last ruler of Ingushetia, a republic of Russia located in the North Caucus.
Upon announcing the film as the winner, the jury wrote on social media: “Dzennet is an animated short able to express a powerful story in a delicate way… the video tells the biography of Dżennet Dżabagi-Skibniewska, a Caucasian princess who settled in Gdynia in the 1930s.
“From that moment on, personal story and global history run intertwined: Dzennet passes through Nazism, II World War, Communism, always bringing with her a piece of rock of the native land. The jury recognized in this video a paradigmatic story of twentieth-century Europe, but also a perfect example of the role played by museums as contemporary storytellers.”
Born in 1915, Dzennet’s father participated in the Paris Peace Conference as the parliamentary representative of the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus.
Unable to return to his homeland after the Russian occupation, Dzennet’s father had his wife and three daughters brought over by diplomatic means to stay with him in Paris, giving each daughter a rock from the Caucasus mountains and telling them that the one who would take care of it and not lose it, would one day return to her homeland.
Homesick for her homeland, Dzennet’s mother soon persuaded her father to return to Poland and the whole family moved to Warsaw, where her father worked as a journalist for the ‘Kurier Warszawski’ newspaper and where, in 1925, Dzennet started attending a Polish school.
As a 15 year old, wanting to prove herself, Dzennet decided to join an army unit for women, where she quickly achieved great successes, becoming an officer and then commander of a platoon.
She also gave lectures on shooting and field studies, with her students including the daughters of Marshal Piłsudzki, Wanda and Jadwiga.
When in the second half of the 1930s Dzennet’s father received a job offer in Istanbul, Dzennet decided to stay in Poland, got married and moved to Gdynia to a villa in the city’s affluent Działki Leśne district.
With the outbreak of the Second World War on the 1st of September 1939, Dzennet was tasked with helping to organise a team of messengers and nurses and helped collect arms and munition. At one point, she was also tasked with burning documents from her unit so they didn’t get into the hands of the Germans.
When Oksywie, a district of Gdynia fell to the Germans on the 19th of September, Dzennet worked with other young women to tend to the wounded and give the fallen a dignified funeral.
When the Nazis found out, Dzennet was beaten unconscious.
Forced to flee, she reached Kraków with her young son and joined the underground Union of Armed Struggle resistance movement.
However, she was soon forced to flee again after being discovered by the Gestapo and made her way through Hungary to Syria where she left her son with a group of Polish nuns and joined the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division.
Reaching Italy, she worked on the frontline as a nurse and war reporter before being wounded at the Battle of Monte Cassino. Dispatched to the Italian town of Bari, she began editing the magazine ‘Dziatwa’, for Polish children and young people displaced around the world.
After the war and reunited with her son, Dzennet returned to Poland where she was falsely accused of being a foreign spy by the communist regime. Unable to continue her work in journalism, she was forced to sew gloves at a factory.
Remarkably, throughout all of her journeys across Europe, Dzennet kept hold of the mountain rock from the Caucus given to her by her father as a young girl, the only one of her sisters to not lose it.
Her father’s prophecy was later fulfilled, after Dzennet became the only one of his daughters to return to the Caucus.
Her first visit was in 1989, when she was invited by a few of her surviving relatives from Ingushetia, and then in 1992 when she was invited to the opening of a cultural institution named after her father Wassan Girej Dżabaga.
During her trip she went dressed as a Polish officer in uniform, wearing a beret with the three stars of a lieutenant and the order with a Polish eagle for her service, but died whilst there.
She was buried in Grozny, today the capital city of Chechnya, but her grave was destroyed during Russia’s military intervention between 1994-1996.
A symbolic grave to Dzennet is today erected in Warsaw’s historic Tatar Muslim cemetery on Tatarska street.