“Upper Silesia – Here Is Where We Meet” Documentary Film, (70 Min.)
Conversation with Michael Majerski, Silesian director and documentary film-maker („Nowiny Rybnik“ from 16th October, 2013)
Why is it that the war in Silesia hasn’t stopped yet, and why do people look at each other with hostility? Is that the question which people ask you when they see your new film “Upper-Silesia: Here Is Where We Meet”?
After the screening in Chorzow, no one was in the position to comment on this film – no one asked a single question. People returned to their houses in silence. I think that the film was a shock for many people. They saw that Silesia is a diseased place – a place in which it will be difficult to live as long as no one heals the climate here. The Pandora’s box, the box containing memories of the painful past, was buried for a long time – now it’s been opened. We are being confronted with a painful reality. I had to make this film because I wanted to start a discussion about the dramas which happened here. And it’s not just about the Silesians who have been living here the whole time. This is also about those who were expelled from former Polish areas and came here, and about those who came here for work. We are all sitting in the same train. Everyone who lives here belongs here, belongs to Silesia, no matter where they came from. If we don’t all learn to speak the same language and to label ourselves as Silesians, then we’re not going to go very far.
The people who are affected by your films are giving you a lot of recognition. One can see that you are touching a wound which has been open for years.
People are deeply touched – they are sending me thank-you notes… but that’s not what it’s about. Silesia is a diseased region in which there aren’t any cultural connections; no connections with the past. If that doesn’t get healed, then this cultural region has only to expect an even greater catastrophe.
What caused you to initially become interested in the topic of Silesia?
I’m an Upper-Silesian myself, but that didn’t mean anything to me until recently. It was quite a while ago that I left Silesia for Lodz to study, and then I moved elsewhere in the world. I lived abroad and I didn’t think at all about my own roots. But the door to the past was open the whole time. Upper-Silesia was waiting for me for a relatively long time – until I asked myself the question: Why am I not doing anything for myself and my family ?
Who were your parents?
My mother and her family spoke both German and Silesian. My father never understood either of these languages – he only spoke Polish. I grew up in a situation in which you just didn’t ask questions about your roots and ancestry. No one asked: What is Silesia? But then in school I saw the differences – one kid came from here, another from there. Four years ago, I traveled back to Silesia for the first time in many years and I made a documentary film called “Upper Silesia – Streuselkuchen from Home” about people who live between Poland and Germany. When I spoke to the people, I learned things that I had no idea about. In school, I learned history from the communists. Unfortunately, I see that to this day nothing is being taught about the history of the country. Still today, the Polish are strongly prejudiced against the Germans.
How can your two last films be differentiated from each other?
In the first film, I found people who told stories and I listened to them. In the new film, I used a different tactic – I began to ask provocative questions in order to shake the people awake. I think that the time has come to not just concentrate on what was in the past, but rather to open our eyes to what is happening now. Already in the first film I saw that there are people living in Silesia who have very different and broken histories. All these people who are carrying around an inherited hatred from the war are
confronting each other here, and they’re also trying to live next to each other as neighbors.
I started to ask why such a huge drama is governing life here in such a way that people don’t even talk to each other. Why is this place so diseased? Why is Silesia in such ruin? Why is there such poverty here?
Is it really that bad?
It’s really bad because people are still carrying a feeling of injustice that they have yet to process. Silesia is like a hole in the earth through which a cloud of smoke is escaping. This used to be a multilingual region in which many complementary cultures lived.
Polish men from central Poland who didn’t know or understand this land came in place of the men who hadn’t returned after the war or who were chased away. They created their own little home which was limited to the small space between their apartment buildings and the coal mines. From whom was I supposed to learn where I was living when I was a child? My father had no idea and the school that was under the watchful eye of the communist party did not teach me that. Under such living conditions it was not possible for families to function or for people to develop any kind of feeling of community – that’s why we have so many pathologies in Silesia nowadays. This dysfunctional situation is going to last until everyone who lives here says: “I am also a Silesian”
Do you think that Silesia has a chance to survive and finally develop in a harmonious way?
I think that it’s not too late for Silesia because there are still people living here who remember a lot about the past and can talk about it. Silesia is not the only region in Europe which was dominated by a foreign culture, but the difference from other regions is that people have stayed here – autochthons – “the last Indians” as I call them, who have managed to survive and not be slaughtered or chased away.
For modern politicians, these people function like a bad conscience; their existence continually reminds politicians that it’s really about understanding one another so that another war doesn’t happen.
What’s the most important thing? The most pressing issue?
More than anything, people in Silesia need to radically change the school system and be finished with the post-communist school program. To this day there are no school books about Silesian history. It has to be clear: This is the history, period. People have also got to stop the meaningless practice of blaming each other for what their grandparents did – that one person’s grandfather was in the armed forces and another person’s grandfather was part of the Polish Security Police. That doesn’t mean anything anymore. I always ask the question why diversity is being destroyed in Silesia. Such pogroms have a long tradition – for example, as the Nazis came into power in Germany. We all know which consequences that had. If the diversity is continually destroyed in Silesia under the name of political correctness, it can only end tragically.
(The conversation was led by Isa Salomon)