No-budget amateur film detailing the fate of Silesians at the hands of the Red Army in 1945 becomes overnight hit
An amateur film about the fate of Silesians following the Red Army’s occupation in 1945 has become a sleeper hit with crowds flocking to cinemas across the region, despite the production having a zero budget.
With no professional distribution, the film’s premiere in the town of Zdzieszowice was attended by a staggering 2,000 people in a venue with a seating capacity of only 350.
Entitled ‘Liberated’, the film has since been shown in numerous other towns in the region, including Gogolin, Zdzieszowice, Walce, Leśnica and Głogówek.
“This film tells true stories, most of which I heard from relatives," says Jan Płonka, the writer, director, producer, editor, make-up artist as well as costume and prop designer of the film.
The feature-length film runs for 100 minutes and features 95 non-professional actors and extras who volunteered their time and talents for free.
Płonka, a local businessman and amateur filmmaker, didn’t receive any grant or funding to make the film and covered all the film’s expenses out of his own pocket.
The film is set against the backdrop of the Upper Silesian Tragedy, a collective trauma that was suppressed throughout the communist period.
The tragedy began when the Red Army entered the region in late 1944.
The Soviet commanders considered the region to be conquered Third Reich territory and as such the entire population were treated as Germans.
This meant vicious victimisation by the Red Army and NKVD personnel for many months and led to the killing of thousands of people, mostly elderly people and children.
The tragedy included the detention of an estimated 46,000 civilians, who were sent to forced labour in the USSR in 1945. Men between 17 and 55 were sent to the Donetsk Basin in Ukraine and the Komi Republic.
As many as a third died in the camps due to poor living and working conditions.
“Men of all ages were potential enemies for the Russians," says Płonka. “In Zdzieszowice, a man in a wheelchair was shot dead because they thought that since he was an invalid he must have fought against them on the Eastern Front. Others were killed having a swastika on a stamp in their documents.”
The events of the film occur in the area Zdzieszowice in 1944 and 1945. The story follows the lives of regular people in the region as they deal with the consequences of Germany's defeat in war, the Red Army's occupation of Silesia, and life under Soviet rule.
As well as the brutal Soviet occupation, the film shows the effects of the US air raids when bombers destroyed German synthetic fuel factories in Kędzierzyn-Koźle, Blachownia and Zdzieszowice.
Płonka said: “There were 16 air raids, about a thousand people were killed, factory workers and civilians. About 40,000 bombs were dropped. Two months after the last bombing, the Red Army entered Silesia.”
To shoot scenes in the cockpit and fuselage of an American Liberator bomber, which took part in the raids, Płonka flew to the US to use a Liberator that has been preserved in Florida.
Together with a friend, he brought vintage US pilots’ uniforms from local stores and spent two days shooting in the plane.
The film's popularity is due in large part to its powerful depiction of true stories that were largely absent from school curriculums and only passed down through the oral tradition of Silesian families.
In a region still grappling with the trauma of its past, Wyzwalani offers a poignant and compelling account of a tragic chapter in its history.