The Polish Embassy was everything I’d hoped for from an Embassy – tall 18th century ceilings, chandeliers, velvet curtains and attentive elegant hosts. I was there to see Kazik Piechowski, 91 years old, Polish patriot, scout, political prisoner and Auschwitz escapee.
The evening had been organised by Katy Carr, a British singer-songwriter who had heard Kazik’s amazing story and written a song about it. She went to Poland to play it to him – a journey that is documented in Hannah Lovell’s spine-tingling film Kazik and the Kommander’s Car.
When she met Kazik, Katy discovered a very strong and unusual personality, an authentic hero who has spent most of his life in appalling prisons or under surveillance, but has not let his abundant strength, courage and stamina overwhelm his humour or love of humanity.
When I watched the film I was struck by Kazik’s charisma and the effect that he had on people around him. In person he was the same, even though the translation process slowed him up considerably as he answered questions from the floor.
He holds no bitterness towards either the Germans or the Soviets, despite the way they treated him. Yet he also said that he sometimes felt there could be no hope for the future. In the last few months I have been researching Auschwitz and I have to say that reading about some of the things that happened has made me feel angry and hopeless too.
However, one questioner asked what the reaction was in the camp after they had gone. Kazik’s reply was interesting. He talked about when people first arrived at the camp. They were told that they would work until they dropped and then die. They were told that there was no way of escaping and that if they tried, 10 prisoners from their group would be executed.
In fact, 10 prisoners did not die as a result of Kazik and his friend’s escape and the news of their coup bought strength and hope to the others remaining.
Another questioner quoted Theodor Adorno, “there is no poetry after Auschwitz”. And although we were there because of an artist, although I had come to this story because of film and music, I can really see the truth in this. How can art do anything but belittle the unspeakable, unthinkable reality? Surely, in making it small enough for us to consume, we have lost something vital and essential?
Yes, and also how can we, an innocent audience who have not suffered through that hell, understand something so vast without art?
I don’t know which one it is. I am daunted by the thought of re-telling this story in my own words, I want to do it justice and bring it to life for modern teenagers in a way that is not dependent on Kazik’s actual presence. Whether I can do that remains to be seen!
The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in
– Harold Goddard