A box full of photos from the Second World War serves as the starting point for a historical thriller. It was found by a Polish filmmaker whose grandfather had served in the German army. But what does it mean for Michal Wnuk’s family history?
The photos show prisoners of war in France and Russia – and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 from a German perspective: Snapshots of the war in black and white. On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that Michal Wnuk’s grandfather could not have taken the photos himself, because he never served in those theatres, so Michal sets off to find out where they came from. He discovers that the box belonged to his great uncle, who was in the Polish Home Army. How did he get them? Booty? Evidence? And the films are also puzzling, showing an excursion in the summer of 1939. But who are the people in the pictures? Michal’s search finally takes him to Germany. This German-Polish co-production is a historical thriller, full of riddles and surprising twists, as a hoard of private material turns into a sounding board for great historical events.
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let me introduce myself I'm McAuliffe nuke a polish filmmaker my grandfather was an ethnic German from Silesia I recently found a small treasure trove in our house in Katowice and it changed my life that's my grandfather alloys couldn't store we had a special relationship he was an obstetrician in fact he brought me into the world there was one thing about his past that really fascinated me he served four years in the vert mock during World War two in school we heard about the atrocities committed by German soldiers and every Sunday I ate potato soup was one of them it all started when I found this orange box 120 old aqua photos and two rolls of film I thought these must belong to Grandpa and I wondered what secrets they might hold I decided to talk to my mother Anna she is a Louise's daughter she's a doctor like everyone in our family did you see all his photos from the war or just the ones with him yeah not just the ones with him group photos with other soldiers standing next to cars and maybe a tank and there was a photo of a field hospital I want to find out what grandpa did during the war what do you think about that you know I don't know maybe some people need to do something like that but I certainly don't I didn't pester my parents with questions about the past well my mother maybe but not my father he hated that that's not unusual my mother belongs to the generation that was raised to not ask questions about the war he didn't talk about it much and when he did it was usually after a few strong drinks traumatic experience and it really affected his character I think that if you start digging up the past it could be a sobering experience maybe it's just better to forget it but if you really are that curious and then you'll just have to go ahead doc Tula jabo systems at Oh peach well then I'll have to do it on my own my grandfather pasted most of his photos neatly into an album but not these why what's the story behind these pictures here's a list of the places where he served during the war and a 1939 map of Europe French helmets a field hospital it says here surgical training in France why did he photograph this Russian girl did he like her or was she the first prisoner of war he saw a rabbi being taken away Jewish gravestones as tank traps a burning synagogue images of war and war crimes I can see why he didn't put these into the family album there are nearly 60 pictures of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 but Alois could not possibly have been in warsaw at that time he was in a military hospital 600 kilometers away recovering from shrapnel wounds that's confirmed in a letter that his mother sent him My dear son I have sent you a rosary because you have lots of time to pray now may the mother of God heal your wounds and give you comfort because your own mother cannot be there with you my father's family is polish some of them refused to come to his wedding they'd fought against the Germans and now my father was marrying one he's kept track of the family history on both sides when Grandpa signed up for his military disability pension my father helped him with the paperwork did you and Grandpa talk about the war sure I think I was the only one you talked to about it have some photos from Poland in France which photos nothing it's the ones in the orange chocolate box what are you talking about octa box there's nothing to do with your grandpa on toys belongs to my family for life Otsuka Wow I got it completely wrong this is my great-uncle at leadership on ski Alec for short he's my father's uncle he fought on the Polish underground the kind of hero that we read about in school the uncle who fought the enemy who sent secret messages and bravely led his troops his codename was care or heart like in a game of cards snapshots from the war from the German point of view but what do these photos have to do with Alec did he steal them did he take those photos from a German didn't steal them I don't know how he got them just about to find out fortunately Alec sister Christina is still alive my father calls her and tells her I want to meet her at all maybe she knows something about the photos and can tell me more about Ellen she lives in Czestochowa the city was occupied by the Germans just two days after they invaded Poland Alex resistance group was based here I think I'm on the right track now some of the photos were taken here I only see great-aunt Christina had family weddings and funerals this is the first time I have been to her house my hips hurt I've got sciatica and my back is killing me just get harder bones and I go Shay Richard and Christina my father said I should come talk to you the chiyan know movie photos my sister Kristen oh yeah yes I'd like to talk to you about Alec what he did during the war his main task was to keep track of the parachute drops that were organized by the Polish government in exile in London he'd get the time and place usually a forest and then organise the pickup look here's a piece of one of the parachutes the materials had great colors we used to make clothes out of what was it like back then yeah he doesn't once I was on the way to school it was a secret school set up by the underground Polish Home Army I was crossing the square and suddenly the Germans showed up it was a raid they shoved me into a truck and took us to the old school Anya's in the Gorka street they were going to deport us to Germany as forced laborers I cried my eyes out I was 14 years old and I was being sent to Germany I cried like a baby one of the Germans took pity on me he brought me to another room and told me to stop crying he said they wouldn't take me away they'd make me a waitress at the Gestapo canteen yeah coke America door dog s dog estoppel and are you and then naive dot then my brother gets me for the home army I kept the aprons as a souvenir they're all faded a tailor made them for me because you couldn't buy things like that anymore dummy I've still got a few days when you worked at the Gestapo canteen and you kept track of the prisoners after the Germans arrested someone I tried to find out as much as I could incredible my great-aunt was forced to work for the Gestapo at the same time she was working for the Home Army and she was just 14 Cristina told her like what she could about the prisoners he passed along the information encoded messages less yaks denis suave Morosky Ches wofe news in ski Henrick Alec also sent his sister on missions through the city carrying messages or weapons if she been caught she could have been executed which it is I came here to talk to you about this box of photos so when you need to give the inch a Samba I know when Alec was in the resistance he lived with a married couple who'd agreed to hide him the man called Stefan offski worked in a fotomat he took the photos and develop them so Stefan Oskie worked with ellic in the resistance 75 years ago this was the largest photo store in Czestochowa everyone had their photos developed here including the Germans Stefan offski and a man named Feder ski made unauthorized copies of their photos and passed them along to LA now I'm going to meet shredder skis grandson pavel statelessness this photo which the rabbi is from the Chester Homer ghetto this is the school on your snag Orchestra Brian it's taken in the same place that you have this photo to write yours and this one's mine look there's an X marked on the back of both printed on the same paper they're both a bit overexposed this one's over developed see my grandfather used to make two sometimes three copies for the German customer for himself and for the resistance what is this Russian girl thinking and did this woman realize what was going on around her the rabbi looks afraid probably for good reason this classroom was converted to a jail cell on the wall there's a quote from Hitler's Mein Kampf in an age of racial poisoning a state that preserves its best racial elements will one day become master of the world the box has pictures from all over year I figured out that this is the school in yashna corsica Street police battalion number 310 from Iranian Bork was stationed there but they were not traffic cops they were there to impose German law and order with deadly results I did some research on the web and then decided to visit the police college at Oranienburg just north of Berlin Berlin makes– is an expert on battalion 310 that looks like Russia maybe he can tell me more about the photos yeah that's an input that's definitely a police officer you can see that German eagle insignia rings by oak leaves that's just a big question I'm trying to find out how this box and up my family and how it survived the war and why as they think of me up fine there are lots of photos of prisoners and detainees and scenes of deportations that's one scene that's why I think the photographer was recording events for posterity that would give information to the relatives about the person's fate document en void and then these photos document war crimes and the unbelievable destruction that took place perhaps they were intended to be used later as evidence and to help bring the perpetrators to justice Batali's bond should have foreign to him why did he take these photos why he collected them knows we're using I have no idea the ones that show the Germans deporting people from Warsaw are valuable as evidence but 7 if they shipped people off to the camps boozing and a lot of them never came back after some new Japan Jena novice MK IV genius was never cheated on you german troops both SS and ver mark put down the Warsaw Uprising in just 63 days more than 200,000 people were killed 100,000 were deported for forced labor and 60,000 were sent to concentration camps somewhere in this crowd is my grandmother Hanyu my mother's mother her brother was killed in August 1944 just after the uprising started in an air raid in September her husband was shot and killed in October she was deported after the war she married Heloise my grandfather Elek was just 30 years old when the war ended younger than I am now there was something else in that box besides the photos I still haven't been able to watch the two rules of 16-millimeter hog for film I've taken it to a photo lab to see if they can help me I wonder what the film will show amateur pictures of German soldiers scenes from the war its marked agfa 1939 which means it was probably developed in that year but it doesn't show wartime scenes these pictures may have been taken in the summer of 39 shortly before the war started four minutes one second snapshots in time who are these people why are they smiling and what are these pictures doing in Alex collection I'll show them to aunt Kristina and see whether she knows this is from Alex two rolls of film I don't recognize any of these people I don't know who shot this film the film end up in the box maybe he took them from a German possibly my aunt has lost none of her secret agent skills let's see if we can make out the license plate number that could tell us who owns the car my license plate starts with SK s for Silesia and K for Katowice 75 years ago in Germany it would have been I K the original vehicle registration lists no longer exist but there are copies at the National Library in Leipzig there are probably thousands of registrations with the Silesia prefix the number I'm looking for is I K 7 8 6 0 I found a copy of the list but everything is filed by the registration date finally I find it the car was owned by the Schroeder brothers they lived at brow plots one here sparing the car was an 8 cylinder horse a pretty cool car at the time today here sperg is called Yelena Agora I still can't confirm that the photos were actually shot there and I still don't know why elack had this roll of film I need to do some more research evil aberrated she is the director of the National Archive here that's the old posture tosser it's not far from here these days it's called Home Army Street obviously on a trip of some sort it's a Czechoslovak bunker in the mountains near torn off built to protect against the German attack the Germans annex the Sudetenland in 1938 later took over the rest of the country and the bunkers ended up his tourist attractions and he thought of the invincible-attack co-decision that's an unusual development but I still want to find out who those people were and what they were doing there is a Elizabeth II the Germans annex the Sudetenland and turned Western Czechoslovakia into a protectorate so those people are visiting the new German territory are these the Shorter's I want to find out what happened to them after the summer of 1939 evil helps me to track down the construction files for bra plots once we've got a blueprint and his sketch for building a toilet the so like it's a pub that adjoins the city brewery some of the shredders owned hershberger we can't find any more documents after the war a lot of East German territory went to Poland including hair sparrows now Eleni agora avoid if the shirt hers survived the war and wanted to hold on to their brewery they'd have had to become Polish citizens but I wonder whether either of the brothers applied for citizenship I didn't find an application for them so I looked at some documents filed by others we Fritz and Clara of barska Strasse hereby apply for polish citizenship as my last name indicates my ancestors were of Slavic origins and joined the Nazi Party in 1937 he says he signed up only because he had a government job and was never an active member he adds that he has no polish blood the authorities gathered information about the applicants by interviewing neighbors both German and Polish this application was rejected not as yet there are no files on the shorter brothers it seems that they had to leave their property behind probably in 1946 the poles had vivid memories of the atrocities carried out by the Germans and they were in no mood to forgive Yentl poo style German civilians leaving Poland let him back up their things and go back home get the key we put heaters in their trucks and gave them blankets and our food we were taught me to do it good rings second ominous upset what would have happened if my grandfather had not been granted citizenship in Poland he would have had to leave the country he'd never have met Hana the young woman from Warsaw and he never would have delivered me I wonder whether the shooters have ever come back to visit their brewery today bra Platz one is broach not one and today 10 families live here instead of just one took a coin I'm trying to find out what happened to the people who lived here in 1945 oh you know idea I've only lived here for 20 years one of the neighbors might know recognize anyone that one over there maybe I don't remember much from that time I would let the shredders in no because they spoke German what do you mean back then when people heard German they thought Hitler was just around the corner yeah the doorbell rang see an interpreter asked whether I'd mind talking to a couple of Germans who used to live here I said okay and invited them in so it was a man and his wife they brought me some trousers I still have them a pair of black trousers yes I'm Vanya but that isn't fucking each other the problem is that the shooters did not leave a forwarding address so how can I track them down I've decided to try the German federal archive and by roit Germans who were driven out of the eastern territories after the war could qualify for compensation if they renounced all future claims they had to fill out an application and provide an address Stephanie Yost works at the archive maybe she can help me as a mother mm-hmm I've seen him in Nagoya okay okay says he owned a car a horse it was a used car he bought it in 1937 for 3,000 high marks he says the veer mocked confiscated it five years later here's a list of everything he says he lost we've seen that car in the film so maybe we can find a record of the car here in the file does thisis Otto oh yeah and you know in the documents he describes the cars he owned it could be that the Shwetha bet family went with one of the family cars into a weekend trip even with friends or relatives or whatever but the other possibility is of course that there was it was not their own card so and and you know the car is quite prominent in this little film so maybe they made the film because they were so proud of the rented car damn a rental car so it may not be the Schroeder's in the pictures after all but Stephanie keeps looking there is no further biographical information I should say but there's a name up here this is deep man and this is really interesting the 18 year old son is named he's named with Itamar yeah it makes sense yeah Dima didn't appear in any other files and there is a kind of logic in it because because he would have been too young at the time in 1945 or 46 he would have been 10 years old he has no property so he didn't fill out an application so this might be your missing link to your person that's the one mm-hmm if deep Marsh order was 10 years old in 1946 he still could be alive maybe I'll be able to find him online I'll see if he has any other relatives the files show that deep Maher was born in bod farm brunt today it's called chip Lisa a district of yelling Agora I've managed to track him down the date and place of birth match perfectly that is definitely deep Marsh shirt he's an artist hello my name is Michal fluke your deep Marsh shirt I'm looking for the shorter family from here speck I have something that may belong to your relatives I'd like to show it to you if I could is this finally the family I'm looking for nice to meet you say marry that's incredible amazing did you stop for a second so I can see the people yes right there those are the deepest ein relatives I can't really identify any of those people they're really much too small for me to recognize and besides he was pretty young at the time that the film was shot this could indeed be you – whoooaaa but I can't say for sure she gained more weight later on but it could be her she bought the brewery and his back was huge and old there were two vaulted cellars they bought the brewery and my grandmother and uncle and some other relatives lived there in front there was a park and the taxis and buses used to park there I made a lot of money didn't have enough my family but the hairs backside after the war all the shorter 's left Silesia you have a family photo album nobility here this here we are in the mountains that's me my dad my mom the war had ended by that yeah we spent a year under occupation unclick beef cheeks first the Russians then the poles that was our collective fate things were pretty bad I had no idea why this was happening to us I was just a kid so I didn't ask mine gate to Lois I just ordered us out of the house hands up and we had to find a new place to live with Danny Tanner a year later in 1946 they went through the district street-by-street and order all the Germans to come out and so they loaded us onto a train I thought it was a great adventure if I'd ever seen anything like it it was a freight train I said right up front Isis was hanging out over an iron bar the Train moved really slowly and I just watched the scenery I thought it was quite a pleasant trip bother me at all a lot of people are really sad some were crying there was just straw to sleep on the sanitary conditions were appalling then we cross the nicer river we were still wearing the armbands that the polls had ordered us to where we took them off and through the Moy we were going to the West Loida he bowline or the local farmers and residents didn't want us to stop there they told us to go back where we came from we slept outside for a while and then found a place to stay stall in the barn after that things got a little more normal deep Mars family had to leave my family wanted to like many with German roots in the 1980s it took a long time to do the immigration paperwork and then the iron curtain came down so we stayed where we weren't tomorrow I'm going to meet deetmore sister hon assured her Powell maybe she can identify the people in the film better late than never surely I'm late sorry I'm really sorry I'm late she was ready to leave but I trusted Iran okay okay so I'm gonna explain to you the story of why I'm here baby oh oh no Hitler no that's not Hitler it is not Hitler at a different nose just that's in mind you think so it's a dead ringer there's no doubt about it Miss Austen off Stan he was from from this we can see that he was in nsdap Nazi Party out the shorter is party members they weren't interested in politics my father joined the party because he had to he worked for the state he wasn't a true believer just a member but nice gamma-gamma and he kept asking my mother to join but she refused my dad's money motel in deep attacking she had more courage than my father did my no madman would command father what sort of car is that a horse oh right yeah yeah and an IKE a license plate for Silesia hmm yes those with the shorter brother's cars it was their company this film was shot while they were on a trip to the mountains in 1938 or 39 you know who owned the camera yeah they always had the latest high-tech gear absolutely they were obsessed with their toys demands of the profession do you recognize anyone yeah return please what's tinder look at that it seems Martha you can see it or more clearly here no doubt about it you host with that high forehead she was always having headaches so it's Aunt Martha who had a high forehead and suffered from migraines a real person not just an anonymous figure in a brief film clip Hana and deep Mars suggest that I visit their cousin dieter who lives in the Vassar uplands region he's the last surviving shorter from the brewery the horse car belonged to Deiters father I think I finally solved this case here is this there's this post office in the capital cinema was just a few steps away yeah right I still remember 70 years he certainly can remember the old part of Harrisburg his Aunt Martha even their phone number at the time have you ever been back there four times the last time was three years ago mine's on my side want her to see the place so off we went my wife comes from the so we visited by snow here sparingly and there we think about mountains this is beautiful it's my homeland I felt at home again right away so it's a lot of fun though it's time for me to head back home I've solved the aqua puzzle it started with a simple family story and turned into a German Polish polish German saga a complex history full of sorrow and personal loss the shorter brothers survived the war but they were forced to leave their homeland there were many victims in my family too after the war the Communists took over in Poland and started eliminating potential opponents keep going straight here's the house where he was killed there's the gate do the secret police had a jail here he was arrested for being an anti-communist he tried to escape to the courtyard and they shot him which cemetery is straight ahead that's meant that we'll be there in a minute Alexander le gosh lieutenant of the Home Army codename cure born in 1916 murdered August 2nd 1945 by the Polish State Security Bureau actually it was August 6th they got the date wrong I still can't believe the grave is empty they never told us where they buried him he just disappeared the file on him is closed so you can't search for him we spent long days and nights at the cemetery whenever they buried someone my mother would take a look to see if it was Alec doughnuts they never gave the body back to us we don't know where they buried him please it may be here maybe they're all we can do is guess favor the fact of the matter is but he's gone they mostly showing up Oh Shiva said you should you