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Exhumations: The return of the dead in Tadeusz Kantor's Let the Artists Die and in Andrzej Wajda's Katyń


Tadeusz Kantor Cricot 2 Andrzej Wajda Let the Artists Die! Theatre of Death film Katyn memory memory studies collective remembering history trauma mourning psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud photography autobiography Wielopole, Wielopole Polish theatre Polish identity Second World War Germany Russia Soviet Union NKVD Polish Jewish culture Józef Piłsudski Anna M. Cienciala Ewa Plonowska Ziarek Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz Michal Kobialka Ross Chambers Andrzej Mularczyk Nicolas Abraham Maria Torok

Milija Gluhovic is Associate Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Warwick. His major research interests include contemporary European theatre and performance; memory studies and psychoanalysis; discourses of European identity, migrations, and human rights; religion, secularity, and politics; cosmopolitanism and globalisation; contemporary North American and North African theatre and performance. He is author of Performing European Memories: Trauma, Ethics, Politics (2013) and co-editor of Performing a ‘New’ Europe: Identities, Feelings, and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest (2013).

W. B. Yeats, ‘Under Ben Bulben’ (1939)

Tadeusz Kantor, ‘The Theatre of Death and Love’ (1990)

In this essay I focus on Tadeusz Kantor’s performance Niech sczezną artyści (Let the Artists Die, 1985) and Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyń (2007), two works that evoke the Second World War massacre of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn Forest.[1]

Although the manner in which these productions reference this historic event is very different, both Kantor’s theatrical ghosts and Wajda’s cinematic images carry the traces of the absent, the disappeared, the dead, revealing a history that hurts. As I will argue, both Kantor’s performance and Wajda’s film perform the redressive work actualised by remembrance. For Kantor, a need to mourn the Katyn massacre was augmented by the disallowance of an official space of mourning within Poland during the post-war decades. Kantor’s seizing hold of the past enabled the aggrieved to recount the history that was ‘forgotten’, excluded, rendered unthinkable or made marginal. Let the Artists Die, as well as the other performances from his ‘Theatre of Death’ cycle (1975-1990),[2] aim to rescue the unnamed and the still unaccounted-for from obscurity and oblivion, and thus to counter the disavowals constitutive of public discourse of national remembrance in Poland until the late 1980s. Wajda’s Katyń can also be seen as part of a pattern, since it marks a return to issues of the Second World War, various aspects of which Wajda already explored in films such as Pokolenie (A Generation, 1955), Kanał (Kanal, 1957), Popioł i diament (Ashes and Diamonds, 1958), Krajobraz po bitwie (Landscape after Battle, 1970), Korczak (Korczak, 1990), and Wielki Tydzień (Holy Week, 1995). Like Kantor’s performance, Wajda’s film can also be seen as an instance of counter-memory, although it was created at a significantly different historical juncture, and responds to different needs now that the previously inadmissible experience has entered a fractured ecology of truth. The film transmits the national trauma of Katyn much more explicitly than Kantor’s work, while making an attempt at integrating this event into collective consciousness by remembering and repeating it symbolically. Finally, while both works constitute a return to a traumatic past, they are also infused, respectively, with different kinds of melancholia. While Let the Artists Die acts as a site of resistance in an instance of officially instituted melancholia – a socially instituted foreclosure of mourning – the melancholia that manifests on Wajda’s screen is of a regressive, narcissistic kind, which could be understood as a symptom of an ‘exclusive preoccupation with one’s own wounds’, a kind of disavowal that does not enable witnessing of the other’s trauma.[3]

The name Katyn now stands not only for the best-known execution site, but for other execution sites where agents of the Soviet NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) murdered some 14,522 Polish citizens in spring 1940, including the prisoners of war from three special camps in the Soviet Union – Kozelsk (southeast of Smolensk), Ostashkov (west of Kalinin/Tver), and Starobelsk (southeast of Kharkov). The majority were shot and buried at Katyn, Kalinin/Tver, and Kharkov. This number of casualties also includes 7,305 prisoners of war executed in NKVD prisons in western Belorussia and in Ukraine at the time.[4] These prisoners had been taken captive by the Red Army after 17 September 1939, following the Soviet invasion and occupation of eastern Poland, which was then annexed under the terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939.[5]

On 13 April 1943, the German army announced their discovery of the mass graves in Katyn. German forces in the area had interrogated local inhabitants, who told them that the NKVD had carried out the killings in the spring of 1940. Three on-site investigations of the Katyn graves were conducted: by a German Inquiry Commission, an International Medical Commission, and a Polish Red Cross Technical Commission from German-occupied Poland. All three concluded that the crime must have been committed in 1940; that is, when the territory was under Soviet control.[6] The Soviet side responded with a counter-attack, blaming the Germans and breaking off diplomatic relations with Poland. In January 1944, an official Soviet investigative commission headed by Nikolai N. Burdenko concluded that Germans committed the murders in autumn 1941. When the subject of Katyn came up in June 1946 during the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, it was dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence. In 1952, a U.S. congressional committee of investigation announced its findings in regard to Katyn, which proved that the Soviet NKVD had committed the massacre.[7] Soviet authorities continued to insist on German responsibility for the crime until 1990.[8] Although the overwhelming majority of the Polish population had never accepted the Soviet explanations for the massacre, the subordinate regime in Poland had nevertheless kept the issue of Katyn suppressed for half a century.

In 1985, when Kantor staged Let the Artists Die, the Katyn massacre was still an absolutely forbidden topic in Poland.[9] I will argue that by making use of a generic catachresis during the course of the performance, Kantor adapts autobiography into a form of what Ross Chambers, in his book Untimely Interventions (2004) terms ‘dual’ or ‘collective’ autobiography. Deprivileging his own voice and emphasizing the experience of the Katyn dead – through appropriation of the aesthetics of autobiography – Kantor continues his project of cultural witnessing that he initiated with The Dead Class (1975) and Wielopole, Wielopole (1980). Once again, references to ghosts and other apparitions of the dead return with Let the Artists Die. Kantor attends to their command to remember, showing that we cannot fully avoid and repress the past, for the spirits that plague us have their own mnemic authority and will not rest until mourning is complete, until the guilt and fear clustered around the memories of their deaths have been dissipated or dispelled. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that images of burial and exhumation abound in Let the Artists Die, serving as metaphors for both the repression of disturbing memories, and the inevitable way in which such memories perpetually return to consciousness.

Let the Artists Die opens in the cemetery storeroom of Kantor’s memory. The childhood room of memory – previously the operative metaphor for the process of recollection in Wielopole, Wielopole – is transformed here into a mortuary space. As will soon become clear, this change is more strategic than substantial, a matter of emphasis in the service of certain dramaturgical goals – especially if we recall both the crypt-like and cryptic quality of the room of memory from Wielopole, Wielopole. In Let the Artists Die, Kantor also makes strategic use of photography because, as he explains, ‘PHOTO-NEGATIVES OF MEMORY are near the regions of / DEATH / They can be easily found / in a CEMETERY STOREROOM’.[10] The visual mode of memory that dominates Kantor’s performances is so closely related to an experience of disintegration and rupture – which enacts what one might term an aesthetics of shock, often associated with the photographic medium – that it is no surprise that in his writings Kantor also continually reflects on photography. It is easy to see how photography can serve as a metaphor for memory: the process of remembering and the subsequent inscription of the memory, both essential to the autobiographical act, find a perfect image in the photograph. It is therefore also not surprising that, following the discovery of photography, its metaphorical potential has often been utilised by authors in their autobiographies.[11] In Kantor’s largely autobiographical cycle ‘The Theatre of Death’, photography plays an important role as well. Not only does the author animate certain photographs on stage, as in Wielopole, Wielopole, Let the Artists Die, and Today Is My Birthday (1990), he also conceives visual experience in reference to this medium: memories can at any moment take on the quality of the photographic image.[12]

Just like Walter Benjamin, who in an early version of his autobiography The Berlin Chronicle (1932) describes human memory as a photographic plate, in a piece of poetic prose entitled ‘Klisze’ (Memory Plates) Kantor writes:

In our ‘warehouse’ of the memory there exist ‘catalogues’
of photographic plates, registered by our senses.
These are for the most part seamlessly meaningless details,
pitiful ones, scrapes, clippings of a kind...
and they are IMMOBILE!
And, what is more important: TRANSPARENT, like
photographic negatives.
They can be placed on top of each other.
And that’s why one should not be surprised if, for instance,
distant events link up with those of today,
personages get mixed up, and we have serious problems
with history, morality, and all sorts of
The waves of memory, now bright and peaceful, are suddenly
stirred up,
the elements are unleashed,

Once memory (both individual and historical) is equated with photographic flashes, an altered form of narration suggests itself, one consonant with the photographic experience of the past. In Kantor’s Let the Artists Die, the operative metaphor of photography as memory plays a role in determining the fragmentary form of the performance. In a fragment entitled ‘MIEJSCE AKCJI’ (THE PLACE OF ACTION), Kantor explains:

You won’t find it on this stage.
Nor is there any action.
There is, rather, a  j o u r n e y
into the past, into the abyss of  m e m o r y,
into the  p a s t  t e n s e, which has flowed on,
yet which continually attracts us;
the time which c o m e s  i n t o  c o n t a c t  somewhere
with the regions of  D R E A M,  I N F E R N U M,
T H E  WO R L D  O F  T H E  D E A D
A N D  E T E R N I T Y
and becomes one with them!
This is why the present day is found there too,
despite the fact that we don’t intend to describe it whatsoever....
This is a world and a time where everything happens A T  O N C E,
where to our pragmatic QUOTIDIANITY
everything appears to be  s e n s e l e s s
a i m l e s s,
somehow  f a c e t i o u s,
lost in contradictions,
balanced between dignity and the ridiculous,
between heaven and hell,
prayer and blasphemy,
valour and cowardice....
A black hole – INFERNUM.
My  p o o r  l i t t l e  r o o m
o f  t h e  i m a g i n a t i o n
s a n s  w a l l s,  c e i l i n g,  a n d  f l o o r![14]

Kantor images the setting for the performance as an ever-shifting chronotope, with memory photo-negatives overlaying one another. While the stage action starts in a cemetery storeroom – a memory photo-negative of a poor room overlaid with that of a cemetery – subsequent places evoked on stage are the result of further overlays of memory photo-negatives that are read through one another. Furthermore, while the stage action begins at a specific moment in time – midnight, the time when the dead ‘rise up’ to commingle with the living – the subsequent moments of the performance stretch both backward to embrace a specific moment of Kantor’s childhood, and forward to the imagined moment of his death. To this end, Kantor employs several characters: Kantor remembered at the age of six (I-when I was Six); Kantor-himself, in the present time of the performance, who sits at the side of the room (I-the Real Me); Kantor-imagined, just before his moment of death (I-Dying); and I-Dying’s Author (who shows up as the Doppelganger of I-Dying), who describes, through him, his own death.


Let the Artists Die. From left to right: Tadeusz Kantor (himself), Kantor’s Mother (Maria Krasicka), and the Owner of the Cemetery Storeroom of Kantor’s memory (Zbigniew Bednarczyk). Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

The performance begins with the entrance, the dressing for burial, and the departure of an unnamed dead man. When the owner of the cemetery storeroom of Kantor’s memory enters, the room becomes his cemetery storeroom haunted by the spectre of Kantor’s mother; it then becomes a sickroom when both I-Dying and his Author enter, get into bed, and cough themselves to death; when mother’s little boy enters on his tricycle, the sickroom becomes a playroom; soon after it becomes killing fields, or perhaps an execution site of You-Know-Who’s[15] soldiers and, at the end of Act I, a parade route for the travelling actors who come to town. At the beginning of Act II, the room becomes a hangout in which the travelling actors run their handful of lines over and over again. As Let the Artists Die continues, this hangout becomes the base from which other scenes and characters will journey and return. First it turns into a roadside camp where travelling actors meet up with another traveller: You-Know-Who on his skeleton horse, who sings a mournful song; then a hangout; then the Actors are again at the roadside camp for another lullaby by You-Know-Who, and then on to I-Dying’s sickroom; then the hangout again; pillories are subsequently brought in and the room becomes a prison cell for a secret agent (who is supposed to be the medieval artist Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss), incarnated as a fin de siècle Decadent) to torture the actors to death; then back to the hangout; then the secret agent has a barricade built out of everything that happened in the performance; and the finale sees everyone circle the barricade for a curtain call and parade out of town.

As in Wielopole, Wielopole, only vestiges of recollections are present in this crypt of Kantor’s memory: a few chairs, a door hung in its frame, several wooden grave-crosses, and a hospital sickbed. The owner of the cemetery storeroom of memory enters this room announcing that it is after midnight. Soon the dead will arrive, but before the spectres can be summoned the room has to be ‘tidied’, just as happened in Wielopole, Wielopole. Crosses and chairs scattered around the room have to be set right, and a dishevelled bed has to be made up. The owner quickly moves around putting everything in order. Like the Twins in Wielopole, Wielopole, in cleaning up the room its owner acts on Kantor’s behalf; he knows the contents of the author’s memory, as well as where and how to place them in order to effect memories. When the last piece is in place, the owner sits on his chair to rest. Soon steps – the first of many imaginings and memories to come – sound over the loudspeakers.

After the entrance of a group of travelling actors (‘Those leading someone to his eternal rest’), ‘He, to whom they bid farewell’ enters slowly, dressed in a black overcoat and hat. The rest of the actors (the ‘Inhabitants of the Cemetery Shed’) enter, and ‘he’ (the dead man) suddenly stiffens. The inhabitants pick him up, undress him, wash him ceremoniously, and then dress him up again ceremoniously, as if in preparation for a burial. Downstage right, the owner stands to attention ceremoniously. The dead man leaves the stage slowly, mechanically, to the accompaniment of the old march My, Pierwsza Brygada (We of the First Brigade), played at such a slow tempo that it loses all of its military pomp and instead becomes a mournful funerary march. As we shall see, this scene – as its title ‘overture’ suggests – stands as a mise-en-abyme for the rest of the performance, which proceeds by raising and appeasing the (war) dead.

In the next segment of the performance, there follows a presentation of Kantor’s memory of his mother overlaid with memories of her death, which in turn prompts Kantor’s imaginings of his own death. The cemetery storeroom opens on its own, and in comes the figure of an I-Dying. Kantor’s imaginings of himself dying (I-Dying) are accompanied by remembrances of the slow, inexorable death about which the Polish author Zbigniew Uniłowski wrote in his novel Wspólny pokój (A Shared Room, 1932). These remembrances take the form of an Author who enters right on I-Dying’s heels. Imaginings of death and remembrances of Uniłowski’s novel so overlay one another that they become one and the same; comically played by the Janicki twins, I-Dying and his Author are identical and interchangeable.

From left to right: Kantor’s Mother, and I-Dying and I-Dying’s Author (Lesław and Wacław Janicki). Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

From left to right: Kantor’s Mother, and I-Dying and I-Dying’s Author (Lesław and Wacław Janicki). Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

In a lecture on memory and imagining the past, Benjamin speaks of the proto-photographic strip of images from life that is said to go through the heads of the dying. The intimation is that something closely resembling a celluloid self lies buried in our unconscious. Memories are imagined as ‘involuntarily summoned strips of montaged images, flashing past in rapid succession’ at the moment of death.[16] In his partytura (score) for Let the Artists Die, Kantor evokes this memory topos when he writes: ‘The hour of one’s death always evokes an image of one’s childhood’.[17] This statement introduces the following scene in which his dying self suddenly calls for his wózeczek (tricycle) from the time when he was six years old.[18]


From left to right: I-Dying and I-Dying’s Author, and I-When I Was Six (Michał Gorczyca). Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

The owner opens the door, a funeral dirge plays over the loudspeakers, and in comes Kantor as a boy (I-When I was Six). Dressed in a uniform worn by the soldiers of Poland’s First Brigade, he slowly rolls forward on a tricycle, but remains only for a moment, soon slipping backward through the door and into the dim, dark reaches that lie far beyond Kantor’s memory storeroom. The owner slowly closes the door. Everything is still and silent. Struggling to remember, I-Dying plaintively calls out, ‘Wózeczek!’ again and again. This redoubled effort to remember brings a rush of memories. The little boy on a tricycle comes in again, followed by a general dressed in the same uniform as the little boy, who is listed in the program as You-Know-Who, and The Man Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned. It is presumably Marshal Piłsudski, a boyhood model of manly glory and liberating power. But the boy’s dream-double is riding on the skeleton of a horse. The general, played by Maria Kantor, begins to sing a haunting melancholy song, which gradually transforms into a powerful lament.[19]


You-Know-Who (Maria Kantor) and the procession of soldiers marching to ‘We of the First Brigade’. Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

The general is followed by soldiers, You-Know-Who’s Generals, who look as if risen from the grave. Once they have found their way into a line stretching across the stage, they keep marching mechanically to the droning, dirge version of ‘We of the First Brigade’. As Gitta Honegger has put it, in this scene, ‘The vision of death becomes a child’s play; but the boy tries in vain to push the soldiers to the ground – he can’t manipulate them, control them as only the “real” artist, Kantor, the unrelenting director, can do, just as the dying man can’t put them out of his memory’.[20] It all gets too much for Kantor, who rises from his chair and steps into the room to banish all of the invaders with a swiping wave of his hand. Kantor clears everything out of his memory storeroom as if trying once again to establish a clear remembrance of his mother and lost childhood. However, the effort is a futile one. Memory entails invasions. We watch Kantor head back to his chair as the owner closes the door after the last soldier leaves the room. Kantor comments on this scene as follows:

But one cannot evoke the TIME
of one’s childhood, THE PAST, with  i m p u n i t y.
For suddenly, the figures of the DEAD
appear, spectral, demanding, contorted in pain,
with wax faces and empty eye sockets.
The happy little SOLDIER is followed by
his retinue and his dreams,
THE  T H E A T R E  O F  D E A T H,
Nothing but uniforms. SILVER.
And thus, for the first time, my little room of memory
becomes painfully wounded![21]

The issue here is explicitly the tension between the personal and the social. We have seen that in the earlier sections of the performance, personal subjectivity, the individual perspective controlling depiction, obviously dominates the representation of the past by the present. This mode expresses itself in the familiar (and familial) strains of remembrance (Kantor’s memories of his mother, his childhood and so on). But in the scene with the soldiers, history menacingly usurps contemporaneity. Under such conditions, individual subjectivity is overwhelmed by the persistence of the past, and comes to seem dominated, indeed possessed by it. The past appears as an ineradicable inscription that, when read in the present, displaces the immediacy of experience and co-opts contemporaneity. Kantor’s representation of memory therefore seems to turn on locating the power of our history to dominate and even to shatter our present. As in Wielopole, Wielopole, the past in Let the Artists Die is thus conceived in the image of a trauma.


Let the Artists Die: The Parade. Photograph: Leszek Dziedzic, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

In 1985, the condensed image of the parading soldiers brought painful memories and associations. Referring to this scene, Kantor writes: ‘It is impossible to say whether this is a victory parade or a funeral procession of the nation’s glory’.[22] According to Krzysztof Miklaszewski, one of the Cricot 2 actors, ‘Although Kantor cleverly masked it, the inspiration for this piece is clearly Marshal Józef Piłsudski, the acclaimed leader who brought about the rebirth of Poland following the First World War and was officially branded an Enemy of Communism by the Government of People’s Poland, 1946-1989’.[23] Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz adds that for this scene Kantor ‘drew his inspiration from a pre-war photograph of Piłsudski’s funeral: Polish generals carrying the open coffin with the body of the dead Marshal’, but crucially, he also indicates that these revenants on Kantor’s stage suggest ‘both the leaden soldiers of childhood playtime, and the pictures of the exhumation of thousands of Polish officers murdered by the NKVD at Katyn in 1940’.[24] Michal Kobialka also references Katyn, acknowledging that this ‘episode’ in Polish history served as an impetus behind the creation of Let the Artists Die.[25] While both critics offer illuminating accounts of the performance (Pleśniarowicz by focusing on the avant-garde techniques employed by Kantor and advancing an existential reading of the piece, Kobialka by foregrounding the ‘nonrepresentational, nonillustrative’ aspects of the artist’s encounter with history, absence, and death),[26] neither engages at any length with a historiography of Katyn. It is my contention that we miss something important in our analysis of Kantor’s work if we do not keep a keen eye on the Polish context in which it evolved. While the innovative theatrical form, as well as the spirit of Kantor’s performances, has proven successful with international audiences, the particulars of their ostensibly Polish subject matter have often escaped them. But Kantor’s art is saturated in memory – historical, literary, ideological, as well as personal. For him, the stakes of memory are enormous. Let the Artists Die, like other performances from his ‘Theatre of Death’ cycle, carries the indelible traces of the past shaped as specifically historical and positioned within a concrete memory discourse. Their goal is ‘local’ and immediate, often aimed at filling the ‘blank spots’ of history and representing on stage what could not be openly said in other public forums, although their appeal has been much more far-reaching.


Let the Artists Die. Photograph: Witold Górka, courtesy of the Cricoteka Archives.

In his Untimely Interventions, Ross Chambers puts forward a hypothesis that ‘events and experiences that are traumatic, whether collectively or to individuals, and become the object of witnessing practices have the cultural status of the obscene’.[27] Chambers defines the obscene as ‘the “offstage” or “backstage” space that delimits, and is simultaneously inseparable from, a scene of activity on which attention is focused. The cultural obscene is “obscured” or “covered” with respect to a scene of culture, but without being discontinuous with it’.[28] Chambers relates this concept to the cultural practice of witnessing. He argues that witnessing has its place in culture as a genre, but that ‘it also disturbs social “rules” because it is “about” – more accurately, it signposts – the obscene’.[29] Thus, it is precisely as a generic anomaly that it functions within culture as an infringement of social expectations. In Chambers’ view, witnessing entails the appropriation of pre-existing genres, those that are by definition not dedicated to the kind of subject matter a given culture may classify as obscene, but which become appropriated for special purposes, such as that of witnessing. ‘Culturally speaking’, writes Chambers, ‘witnessing is thus a genre of writing that is constitutively parasitic on other genres’.[30] Chambers illustrates his point by using the following example:

Because living and dying, for example, are closely identified (they are proximate phenomena and they resemble each other), the genre of autobiography or life writing can readily be adapted catachrestically to become an account of one’s dying, an autothanatography. Because dying can scarcely be dissociated from different ways of dying, certain ways of dying regarded as obscene (dying in an extermination camp, dying of AIDS) can become smuggled into the form of autothanatography.[31]

In other words, a catachresis of genre disturbs some basic cultural assumptions, expectations, and indeed certainties. I contend that Let the Artists Die represents a tangible example of this practice. It appears to espouse a familiar genre – (Kantor’s) autobiography – but it feels like an error or an infraction. This error, however, is deliberate, designed to express the ethical concerns and issues that could not be invoked more directly in 1980s Poland. The performance’s task – its vocation – resides, therefore, in bringing the culturally obscene (the anxiogenic and haunting memories of the repressed past) into the Polish public sphere. Teresa Krzemień’s moving review of the performance, worth quoting at length, is telling of its effect on its Polish audiences:

Sequences of quotations, distinguishable pains – human and Polish – everything cut, torn, recalled senselessly, accidentally, in disorder. Suddenly, horribly logical, all this creates symbolical scenes with precise meanings, strung like beads onto a thread – one after the other, whole layers of meaning, an endless pit. And now we can name each single one; with every recognition it becomes more painful – even more horrible. The result, resumé? None! – a theatre of death is a theatre of death, only Kantor is alive, the rest is the action of opening the graves – but from the graves ghosts crawl out, their lives turn out to be eternal.[32]

As Krzemień’s reflections suggest, the cultural haunting at work in Let the Artists Die is neither metaphysical in nature, nor confined to the perception of individuals, but historical and collective. In his Ghostly Matters, the sociologist Avery Gordon writes compellingly about this phenomenon:

Haunting is a constituent element of social life. It is neither premodern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is generalisable social phenomenon of great import.... The ghost is not simply a dead or missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life.... Being haunted draws us affectively, sometimes against our will and always a bit magically, into the structure of feeling of a reality we come to experience, not as cold knowledge, but as transformative recognition.[33]

Through its indexical character, Let the Artists Die could be seen in this context as a vehicle of the return of what was occluded for so many years by the official culture in Poland. The performance demonstrates that the survival of memory – by which I mean the ability of the culture’s obscenities to return, and to return in a striking guise that haunts the mind (that is, our susceptibility to being reminded of what the official culture would prefer us to forget) – depends on an art of witnessing.

Wajda’s film Katyń, which premiered in Warsaw on 17 September 2007, the sixty-eighth anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland, is based on Andrzej Mularczyk’s novel Post Mortem (2005) and the letters and diaries of many of the victims that were unearthed when the Nazis first came across the mass graves in 1943. The film opens with a scene showing two groups of Polish refugees crossing a bridge in opposite directions: it is 17 September 1939, and one group escaping German troops runs head-on into a second group fleeing the Red Army from the other side of the river. ‘People, where are you going? Turn back!’ the two groups shout to one another. Standing out among the stranded and bewildered crowd is a young Polish mother with her daughter. The film then switches to a Catholic priest giving the last rites to a number of Polish soldiers who fell fighting the Red Army earlier in the day, and then to a group of Polish officers who have been taken prisoner by Soviet troops and are awaiting transportation. Next we see the woman pleading with her husband to flee with her and their child before the train arrives to transport the officers to the Soviet Union. He responds by reminding her of the vow he took to Poland. Soon after, Wajda shows a group of Soviet soldiers tearing a Polish flag to transform it into a red Soviet banner, and German officers in a friendly conversation with the Soviets along the new German-Soviet border.

These initial scenes already contain some key tropes of Polish suffering during the war: the loss of sovereignty and domination by foreign powers, the killings, and the dramatic decimation of traditional values and binding communal norms. The film continues by alternating between scenes among the Polish prisoners of war (depicting their deportation, internment, and execution) and scenes among the families left behind and their struggles with the Germans, the Soviets, and especially the post-war Polish government that forbade any public reference to Katyn as a Soviet crime.

By weaving together the stories of several families of the Polish officers taken prisoner by the Soviets, and depicting the pain of their separation and bereavement, Wajda shows that the violence was not simply inflicted upon the bodies of the individuals who were taken away, but also on the body of the nation and the families and communities that were torn apart (as made dramatically visible by the opening scene at the bridge). Katyn was of course only one of many grave injuries inflicted on Poland during the Second World War with which the nation is still coming to terms, including the near-complete annihilation of the Polish Jewry, the uprisings of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, and of the city itself in 1944,[34] and the tragic fates of many Polish citizens arrested and deported to the far reaches of the Soviet Union, many of whom never returned. To these traumatic events we must add the daily traumas that characterised almost fifty years of political, social, and economic domination of Poland by the Soviet Union.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Freud defines trauma as a breach in the protective shield of consciousness, the mental projection of the body’s surface that normally filters out excessive stimuli. According to Freud, the shock of something unexpected that suddenly attacks the subject from outside tears this filter, the subject is unable to master the excess of affect produced by the impact, and flooding results.[35] But Freud’s figuration of psychic trauma as an internal foreign body and its associate imagery of a defensive position in war cannot be seen as merely metaphorical. As Peng Cheah has argued, ‘the security of an individual psyche’s interiority in its interaction with the external world and its management of external excitations is the template for historical forms of sociality and political community’.[36] In a similar vein, Kai Erikson has argued that the social tissue of a community can be damaged in ways similar to the tissues of mind and body. Collective trauma ruptures social bonds, undermines communality, and destroys previous sources of support.[37] As Freud and others have argued,[38] in cases of trauma the repressed memory of the affect becomes engraved within the psyche and continues to act long after the passing of the event that brought about traumatisation. Until this trace or mnemonic residue of the traumatic event has been recuperated and worked though, the trauma will continue to live in us as a past that refuses to go away.


Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń: Polish refugees flee from the German and Soviet armies, September 1939. Photograph: Piotr Bujnowicz /

In the process of translating and imaging the loss and the traumatic shock of Katyn in his film, Wajda relies crucially on the archival footage taken by Germans and Soviets at Katyn during the war, which represent the first cinematic witnessing of the atrocity, as well as the subsequent encounters with these images and his own graphic reconstruction of the massacre itself. In my analysis of these different figurations of trauma, I will propose that Wajda is primarily concerned with searching for a filmic language capable of efficiently communicating a set of historical facts to a mass audience so that the trauma of Katyn might be recognised, negotiated, and reconfigured.[39] The past is never wholly accessible, nor is it ever really past. But Wajda’s film suggests that in the process of coming to terms with what was, we may move from trauma to witnessing, to mourning, and perhaps even to reconciliation.

Wajda uses the archival footage of German and then Soviet exhumations at Katyn to show the role of these films in making the atrocities public during the war years, and how they shaped the history – as well as Polish memories – of the massacre. In Katyń, both documentaries are mediated through the eyes of Róża, the wife of a Polish general who perished at Katyn. In Wajda’s view, this dramaturgical device was meant to aid his audiences ‘to see the Katyn lie as plain as daylight’.[40] In April 1943, Róża is summoned into the offices of the German propaganda department in Kraków, where she learns about the fate of her husband and other officers. The Germans express their condolences, and then ask her to read a denunciation of the USSR for their radio broadcast. After she refuses, she is forced to watch a German film with the images of the open mass graves in Katyn.[41] From the first week of May 1943, this German newsreel (Auslandstonwoche issue 609), featuring the discovery, exhumation, forensic investigation, and identification of the corpses of the Polish prisoners was distributed throughout the occupied territories and countries allied with Germany.[42] In December 1943, the documentary short Im Wald von Katyn (In Katyn Forest), was also released for foreign use.[43] We know less about the Soviet propaganda film Tragediia v katynskom lesu (Tragedy in Katyn Forest), watched by Róża and others in Kraków’s main square in winter 1945. As I mentioned earlier, in 1944 the Burdenko Commission blamed the massacre on the Germans, distorting and burying uncomfortable facts and ordering falsified autopsy reports. After the war, a commission was established in Moscow that was responsible for the preparation of the evidentiary materials on Katyn to be used at Nuremberg in 1946, where the Soviet delegation hoped to settle definitively the question of responsibility for the Katyn massacre. The Chair of the commission, the notorious former prosecutor General Andrey Vyshinsky, personally oversaw the preparation of a documentary film on Katyn.[44] In all likelihood, both films (that intended for Nuremberg and that screened for the Polish public in Kraków in 1945) were based on the film footage taken by the Soviets in 1944.


Róża (Danuta Stenka) watches German film footage of the Katyn exhumations in Wajda’s Katyń. Photograph: Piotr Bujnowicz /

Both the German and Soviet propaganda documentaries cited in Wajda’s film feature the excavations of the victims and evoke the connections between bodies of evidence and the uses to which they are put. Both present evidence – beginning with the most irrefutable ‘fact’ of all (the body) – while offering differing explanations of what happened. The narration they employ does not simply strengthen the verisimilitude of the images or authenticate what is being seen, but also produces an interpretative matrix for what is seen. The German narrator explains that the footage was taken in Katyn forest near Smolensk and that the exhumed bodies belong to Polish prisoners of war. With a rhetorical flourish common to wartime documentaries, he reveals that the German and Polish forensic teams ‘ascertained the typically Bolshevik way of murdering by a shot in the back of the head’ and ‘proved evidently that all those Polish officers were murdered in the spring of 1940’.[45] In the Soviet version of the narrative, the narrator concurs that the Poles were killed by a shot to the back of the head, but only to instruct his audience that this was ‘the favourite way of killing of Gestapo murderers’, and, crucially, that the Soviet forensic team determined that the victims ‘were murdered not earlier than in the fall of 1941’.[46]

Perhaps in order to pre-empt possible doubts about the veracity of their images, both documentaries supply witnesses to corroborate the truth of their representations. The German film shows the exhumation of uniformed corpses, as well as footage of the Polish Red Cross and the international press examining the mass grave at Katyn, and scenes from Vinnytsia that portray local civilians attempting to identify decomposed corpses. At both sites the bodies were then reburied with religious pomp. The Soviet film also features a priest, a delegation of the First Polish Corps in the Soviet Union that came to the site under Soviet orders to pay honour to their compatriots, as well as a group of Western reporters for whose benefit the show was staged.[47] Both films feature the reburial of the excavated bodies. They also both hail the viewer, thanks to their power of interpellation (in the Althusserian sense), to witness these deaths as evidence of atrocity, with the assumption that this will discredit the enemy in the eyes of the local population and elicit concern, outrage, and perhaps action by the international community. They were also meant to serve, perhaps at some point in the future, as exhibits to be admitted in the historical trial. As in newsreel-type documentaries made by several Allied nations at the end of the war, the gaze of the spectator in these films is ‘positioned as forensic: objective, knowledgeable, authoritative’.[48] Both films present the masses of the dead bodies at Katyn ‘as a historical spectacle that poses little difficulty for the conventional cinematic, historical, and forensic discourses’ by which their respective audiences could attempt to comprehend this atrocity, while glossing over the epistemological, moral, or psychological problems of the act of bearing witness.[49] Thus, in these first cinematic representations of Katyn the trauma was effectively contained and assimilated into the respective German and Soviet master-narratives of the Second World War.


Katyn, opening of the mass graves, April 1943. Photograph courtesy of the German Federal Archives.

On another level, the ‘forensic gaze’ that these cinematic images instate is also meant to prevent us from going beneath the surface, from seeing what these images both expose and foreclose. The filmic evidence of atrocities from Katyn and Vinnytsia (because and in spite of the referentiality inherent in every photographic medium) cannot fully account for what is shown in the images. When we look at this footage, we are dealing with the pictures that assert the evidence of what they show but do not allow us to gain any further insights. In spite of its apparentness, its evidence, what is depicted can be made to speak only by the addition of the discursive anchoring, such as witnesses’ accounts, historical sources, juridical and medical discourses, etc. Only these allow us to place them in a wider interpretative context and narrow the decisive rift between the substratum of compiled visual facts and the gaze that rests on them.

Some recent research suggests that in their Criminal Investigation Report on the Vinnytsia massacre, as well as their film footage from Vinnytsia, the Germans conducted what Irina Paperno calls ‘ethnic cleansing of evidence’.[50] While the German investigation into the ethnicity of the victims established that ‘of the 679 identified bodies, 490 were Ukrainians, 28 Poles, and 161 of “unknown nationality”’, later testimonies revealed that Germans deliberately obfuscated the evidence by failing to acknowledge that Jews and Russians (including NKVD officers) were among those identified.[51] On the other hand, once evidence of the participation of certain Jewish NKVD personnel and Jewish informants had been established, the investigation significantly emphasised Jewish involvement in the crime. The images of the disfigured and decomposing corpses from Katyn and Vinnytsia were meant to serve ‘as proof of the “Judeo-Bolshevik” (and Judeo-Russian) terror aimed against the Ukrainian population’,[52] as well as to intimidate the entire continent by showing its people ‘what fate awaited all European nations from the Bolshevik murderous plague’, as the voiceover accompanying the documentary footage tells us.[53] They were also meant to justify the extermination of the Jews in the occupied territories. By the time Germans were busy recording the extent and the brutality of the Soviet crimes, they had largely completed the extermination of the Jews from Vinnytsia.[54] Thus, in the German documentary, these deaths – those killed by the NKVD and by the Nazis – function in different registers of materiality and recognition, where the materiality of one is the absence of the other, where the recognition of one requires the negation of the other. We can see the cinematic frame within which these representations appear, then, ‘as active, as jettisoning and presenting, and as doing both at once, in silence, without a visible sign of its operation and yet effectively’.[55]

We know very little about the potential traumatic impact these films may have had on their respective audiences across Europe when they first encountered their images. Crucial to their traumatic potential is the prior absence of such images: although the destructiveness of the First World War was unprecedented and modern memory has since been haunted by its experience, ‘the images associated with it remained predominantly archaic images of individual suffering and heroism’ that negated the modernity of the war.[56] On the other hand, many critics have claimed that the moment the West first encountered the photographs and newsreel films taken by the British and American armies during the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps in 1945 – the images of the bulldozer moving corpses into enormous mass graves at Bergen-Belsen, wagons full of corpses at Dachau, half-dead and sick survivors in the camp at Buchenwald – constituted ‘a major epistemological shift in modern Western history’.[57] In Deborah Staines’ words, the corpses that appeared here ‘in a new formation – “the masses”’, ‘re-articulated the way modern bodies could be made visible’.[58] Reproduced over and over again, these images of the liberation have long become part of the West’s collective visual memory. As Marianne Hirsch, along with many others, has argued, these ‘tropes of Holocaust memory’ have also become ‘tropes for photography’;[59] latently present in our cultural imaginary, they structure our view of contemporary atrocities. However, even though the Nazi and Soviet Katyn films were widely disseminated during the war, from 1943 onwards (and even though they predated the photographic documentation of the liberation of the camps), this did not ensure their visibility after the war; today, the images of the pits at Katyn and Vinnytsia are not immediately recognisable. Furthermore, while the documentary film Nazi Concentration Camps by George Stevens, based on the documentary footage taken by the Allies during the liberation of the camps, was used as trial evidence at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg in 1945, as well as at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961,[60] the documentary footage of the Katyn atrocities ultimately was not employed in the Nuremberg proceedings. In his memoirs, Churchill wrote that: ‘It was decided by the victorious Governments concerned that the issue should be avoided, and the crime of Katyn was never probed in detail’.[61] Following Nuremberg, the West maintained an agonizing silence in the face of the Soviet Union’s falsehoods surrounding the Katyn case for half a century. These inclusions and exclusions constitute an essential part of the European ‘regimes of memory’ in the second half of the twentieth century, a point to which I will return shortly.[62]

At the end of Wajda’s film we see the Polish officers at the camp at Kozelsk in 1940 being led in groups outside the camp’s gate, as if to freedom. The sequence is accompanied by the mournful return of memory and history through a voiceover commentary based on an authentic testimony found in the diary of Major Solski, unearthed by the Polish Red Cross at Katyn in 1943. Facing imminent death, Solski wrote:

Five in the morning. The day started peculiarly. The prison vans departed. We were taken to the forest, something like a summer camp. We were searched carefully. They asked about my wedding ring, which they didn’t find. They confiscated my belt, army knife. They also took my watch; it is 8:30, 6:30 Polish time. What will happen to us?[63]

These were his last words. The film ends with a brutal, almost unwatchable, depiction of systematic murder. Echoing written descriptions of eyewitnesses from the Polish Red Cross commission, it shows how some of the prisoners were shot indoors individually, by surprise, and their bodies subsequently transported. Such was the fate of the prisoners at the Ostashkov and Starobelsk camps. Others were shot in Katyn forest, fully aware of their fate, at the edge of enormous burial ditches. Those who struggled were hooded before being shot in the back of the head; others went to their deaths quietly. The bulldozers then pushed dirt onto the mass graves. The final words of the film come from Krzysztof Penderecki’s oratorio ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis’ – ‘Eternal rest grant unto them!’

Wajda’s depiction raises numerous questions. In the end, given the irreparable nature of this event, of what use is this itinerary of terror? Does it do more than provide evidence of what we cannot change, or quell the uncertainty and doubt regarding the identity of the perpetrators of the crime? Does a trauma like Katyn, which was characterised by silence and denial for half a century, require this extraordinary degree of repetition? Does this ending point to an ethical duty to keep impressions of the dead alive in the aftermath of their violent death? Was Wajda, in his anxious quest for the most effective form of transmitting this memory to younger generations, following Nietzsche’s insight that pain is key in fashioning memory? (‘If something is to stay in the memory’, writes Nietzsche, ‘it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory’).[64] Is the will to remember here counterposed and in opposition to the active need to forget – that mode of forgetfulness, perhaps necessary for robust health, which enables subjects to ingest and incorporate experience but also to digest and expel it? Or is the symbolic repetition of trauma a necessary aspect of working through loss and of ‘letting go’ of the lost object? In other words, is the return to the scene of a crime that cries out to be remembered a necessary step, as Wajda’s film suggests, in the process of letting go of past traumas?

Asked in an interview about the impact he thought the film would have in Poland Wajda stated: ‘If my film has an impact I hope it’s going to be atoning, soothing, because for the first time the crime – the lie – has been shown on the screen’.[65] Pressed to answer whether he thought that the film may change the way people thought about the massacre and Poland’s relations with Russia, he responded: ‘I wanted this film to be a farewell, an end to the subject. What I didn’t want was for it to cause any political problems, any conflicts. I just wanted it to end the subject’.[66] On one hand, it would seem that Wajda’s emphasis on remembering and working through the past injury exposes an insatiable desire for curatives, for healing. However, on the other hand – to return to one of my earlier questions – if the purported goal of the film was ‘atoning’, as the director states here, then why does his film end with such a stark, perhaps even accusatory, portrayal of the executions? It seems to me that his ambiguous mention of ‘atoning’ (for who is to do the work of atoning here?), despite his claims to the contrary, suggests an inability to let go of the past.

The Katyn trauma seems to remain an open wound deeply engraved into the Polish collective memory. As Ewa Thompson notes, ‘Of all the murders of Poles by the Soviets this one is best remembered’.[67] We could even argue that the Katyn tragedy could be seen as an instance of ‘chosen trauma’, which Vamik Volkan defines as ‘the transgenerational transmission of […] a shared traumatic event […] linked to the past generation’s inability to mourn losses of people, land or prestige’, which ‘indicates the large group’s failure to reverse narcissistic injury and humiliation inflicted by another large group, usually a neighbour’.[68] According to Volkan, the term ‘reflects a large group’s unconscious “choice” to add a past generation’s mental representation of an event to its own identity, and the fact that, while groups may have experienced any number of traumas in their history, only certain ones remain alive over centuries’.[69] The reasons for an inability of Poles to gain a sense of closure and move beyond this past seem both political and psychological. On one hand, it took a long time for the truth about Katyn to emerge and gain recognition. But on the other, it would seem that Poles have so become so invested in the wound that the wound has come to stand for identity itself.

The Katyn case is also symptomatic of the persistent difficulty in Russian coming-to-terms with the repressed suffering and transgressions of the Soviet era,[70] the reasons for which lie to a large extent in the sheer scope and nature of the Soviet terror, which included brutal state-led efforts at modernization (e.g. ‘dekulakization’, the Ukrainian famine, etc.), the arrest and deportation of targeted nationalities in the 1930s and 1940s, crimes directly related to the Second World War and its aftermath, and many others.[71] Apart from the long-awaited admission of guilt regarding the Katyn crime, the truth about the mass murder of the regime’s own subjects has also been slow to emerge. Since the late 1980s, numerous mass-grave sites created by Stalin’s NKVD containing the remains of tens of thousands of victims have been uncovered across the Soviet Union.[72] But while for some the bodies represented a tangible sign of the final break with the past regime, over the last two decades there has been neither a proper explanation nor a proper commemoration of their deaths.[73]


Maja Komorowska as the mother of the cavalry captain in Wajda’s Katyń. Photograph: Piotr Bujnowicz /

The difficulties in recalling traumatic experiences from the Soviet era further remind us of the comparative silence with which Western Europe regards this memory: while all sorts of cultural and historical remembrance evoke the crimes of Nazism and Fascism, comparable markers of the crimes of Stalinism are much fewer. By comparison, historians in the countries of the former Soviet Bloc have only just begun to revise their understanding of Soviet domination, and to reappraise the consequences of communism.[74] Yet the status of that ‘wound’ – along with legal and socio-psychological implications – remains contested and ambivalent to this day. At the pan-European ceremonies held in Gdańsk on 1 September 2009, on the occasion of the seventieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, the Poles and the Baltic states pressed Russia to atone for Stalin’s collusion with Nazi Germany, while Putin rejected a comparison of Stalinist repression with Nazi German genocide, as well as the demands for Russian accountability. As Thompson notes, ‘When the collective memories of neighbouring countries differ so dramatically, it is virtually impossible to achieve closure’.[75]

The vocabulary of grievance (as the social and legal articulation of grief) and the attendant belief in its efficacy in redressing grief that permeates Polish and East European political discourses today have ironically deflected attention away from the more immaterial, unquantifiable repository of public and private grief that is part of the dark pages of East European history. Wajda, whose father was among the Polish officers killed by the NKVD in Kharkov in 1940, knows this hurt. As he confesses, ‘I remember well the disquiet, hope, and desperation of my mother, who, until her death in 1950, waited for a sign from father, a prisoner of war in Starobelsk’.[76] Much of his film is devoted to picturing the fates of women in similar circumstances to those of his mother. He shows the mother and the wife of a cavalry captain awaiting his return even after the war has ended, until they come into possession of his diary that reveals to them the last hours of his life; the sister of a Polish pilot murdered at Katyn, who like Sophocles’ Antigone, chooses to mourn the death of her brother openly even though it goes against the sovereign law, leading to her disappearance into the darkness of the secret police underground prison; and the wife of a Polish general also murdered in Katyn, who suffers pain, loneliness, and resentment. In a short sequence, Wajda also depicts the deportations of the families of the Polish POWs to the Soviet Union, while leaving their fates to our imagination.

A recently published assembly of impassioned, conflicting testimonies of the deported children of the Katyn victims now tells us about the separation, adversity, and survival endured in Soviet and German camps, permanent exile, and of losses that cannot be undone.[77] The stories in these pages, along with the dramas of the families depicted in Katyń, confront us with all that is incommensurable and unquantifiable when it comes to their pain. Like the stories of women and children depicted in Wajda’s film, their testimonies repeatedly remind us that there may never be enough expressions of individual or national justice, reparation, guilt, pain, or anger to make up for the wounds cleaved into the Polish psyche, remembered as inconsolability itself. Revealing all that cannot be healed, they undermine the hope that grievance can adequately do the work of mourning. Like Wajda’s characters, they demonstrate that there is no simple ‘moving on from’ or, ‘getting over’ that history. Yet, as Sara Ahmed reminds us, the ‘solitariness of pain is intimately tied up with its implication in relationship with others’.[78] In other words, pain requires acknowledgement; if it is witnessed it can be granted ‘the status of an event, a happening in the world’.[79] She signals a tension between the impossibility of sharing pain and the necessity for an ethics of pain that is witnessed by another. This paradox points to the importance of seeking and examining ways to attend and represent the pain of others so it might be witnessed, if not vanquished, despite the difficulty of such a project.

Pain, ethics, and politics are also central to the final thoughts that I wish to offer here. I want to attend to a lacuna in the content of Katyń, which is difficult yet important to articulate. This lacuna concerns the representation of loss in Wajda’s film, which, I would like to propose, oscillates between mourning and melancholia. In his classic essay on these themes, Freud argued that a successful work of mourning constitutes an articulated reaction to loss: the loss is recognised by the subject and separated through the recognition of what has been lost.[80] What is ‘recognised’ is both separated from the body (anticathexis) and simultaneously interiorised within the body through a kind of psychic assimilation. In contrast to mourning, melancholia is characterised by the inability of the subject to separate itself from the object and thus recognise what has been lost. As Freud puts it, ‘melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious’.[81] It is the difference, in other words, between what is conscious and what is not; between that which is recognised as existing outside by the ego and that which has been introjected by the unconscious.

Earlier I pointed to the affirmative, healing quality of Wajda’s film (as did many critics elsewhere, as well as the director himself). The Katyn victims may have died as isolated individuals, the argument goes, but their witnessing by the film’s audiences in contemporary Poland could be seen as a ritual of incorporation into the social body from which the dead had been subtracted by violence. The healing of the wound inflicted in Katyn is represented as the healing of the nation; the covering over the wound allows the nation to become whole again. According to Anne Applebaum, with Katyń Wajda ‘wanted to create something that would get Poles to talk to one another, to reflect upon common experiences, to define common values, to admire similar virtues, to forge a civil society out of an anonymous crowd’. In Applebaum’s view, ‘Katyń is deliberately intended to inspire patriotism, in the most positive sense of the word’.[82] As such, the film appeals strongly to ‘Poles’ need for national identification at the beginning of the twenty-first century’.[83] However, and this is my point, in Wajda’s film some losses come to embody the collective loss more than others. Some losses are taken in as ‘ours’, and others excluded. Polish-Jewish losses suffered at Katyn do not appear as losses at all.

In his essays, Freud often presented introjection and incorporation, two crucial analytical concepts for an exploration of the concepts of mourning and melancholia, as synonymous terms. In their reading of Freud’s ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ in light of Sandor Ferenczi’s distinction between introjection and incorporation, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok have enriched significantly our understanding of mourning and melancholia through their insistence on the necessity of recognising incorporation, rather than introjection, as defining all the possible pathological forms and variations of mourning, and by proposing the notion of a ‘psychic crypt’. Such a space, they suggest, is generated by an impossible mourning in which the Other is kept inside the self unconsciously, as though buried alive. Incorporation of the object emerges out of a failure of symbolisation. In mourning, psychic pain can gain access to symbolisation, whereas in melancholia there is a blockage, an inability to symbolise out of an excess of incorporation. For Abraham and Torok:

Incorporation results from those losses that for some reason cannot be acknowledged as such. The words that cannot be uttered, the scenes that cannot be recalled, the tears that cannot be shed – everything will be swallowed along with the trauma that led to that loss. Swallowed and preserved. Inexpressible mourning erects a tomb inside the subject.[84]

In mourning, psychic pain can gain access to symbolisation, whereas in melancholia there is a blockage, an inability to symbolise out of an excess of incorporation.[85] While Wajda’s film can certainly be seen as an expression of (nationalist) mourning, it also reveals the presence of latent melancholia, an inability to mourn adequately. This inability manifests itself in the forgetting of the detail of difference regarding the losses that the film invokes.

For, as Anna Cienciala reminds us, ‘about 10 percent of all Polish Army officer prisoners were Jewish’.[86] In Simon Schochet’s estimate, 462 Polish Jews lost their lives at Katyn,[87] but it is believed that this number was much higher. In a preface to the memoirs of Solomon W. Slowes, a Polish-Jewish officer who survived the camps, Władysław Bartoszewski notes that about 1000 Jewish officers perished in Katyn, including Major Baruch Steinberg, the chief Rabbi of the Polish Armed Forces.[88] These facts, though they sometimes make their way into the historiography of Katyn, are hardly registered in popular collective awareness; they remain, for the most part, in a sphere of denial. In Wajda’s Katyń too, the Polish-Jewish losses are absorbed into the traditional nationalistic scripts of Polish martyrdom. This elision in the film’s content, which is otherwise infused with Christian iconography, thus works to reinforce the dominant notion of Polish identity, free from the unsettling and ‘diluting’ influence of the other.[89] While in Kantor’s Let the Artists Die bereaved memory manifests itself merely as ‘a trace eluding all attempts at appropriation’, Wajda’s film shows that ‘even the contestation of political prohibitions that establish the boundaries between grievable and ungrievable lives can still repeat the repudiation of unspeakable losses within the public performance of mourning’.[90]


Polish military prisoners in Andrzej Wajda’s Katyń. Photograph: Piotr Bujnowicz /

My attention to the simultaneity of recognition and disavowal at work in Wajda’s film is not meant to eclipse our attention to its significance or to Wajda’s important contribution to the discussion of the ‘Jewish question’ in Poland.[91] In several of his films Wajda has dealt overtly with Judaism and the Polish-Jewish relationship, most recently in Korczak, Holy Week, and Pan Tadeusz (1999). But, if one of Wajda’s goals with Katyń was to bequeath a painful memory to the younger generation, especially ‘those moviegoers for whom it matters that we are a society, and not just an accidental crowd’, as he put it, then this omission should give us pause.[92] His silence about the Polish-Jewish losses suffered at Katyn is all the more puzzling in light of the ongoing re-evaluation of Polish national identity and the place of Jews in it,[93] which was invigorated recently by Jan Tomasz Gross’ book Neighbors (Polish edition 2000, English edition 2001), in which the author discussed the murders of several hundred Jews by their Polish neighbours on 10 July 1941, in the town of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland.[94] We may even say that the symbolic exhumation of the Polish losses in Wajda’s film (cleansed of all Jewish traces), and the unprecedented media attention it received at home, screen (in a Freudian sense) the symbolic dimension of the recent exhumation of Jedwabne’s victims’ remains during the inquiry by the Polish Institute of National Memory. But if one of the film’s main tasks was to commemorate a national trauma, to reconstruct the vitality and identity of the nation in the wake of the event, then, in present-day Poland, this task also includes a radical rethinking and reformulation of the very notions of boundaries and borderlines regulating exchange between the inside and the outside, between self and other, indigenous and foreign. As Ewa Plonowska Ziarek has argued, it is only by exercising a certain capacity of moral hospitality to its other and working through the painful past ‘that contemporary Poland stands a chance of inventing new, more ethical modes of collectivity and solidarity, no longer predicated on the narcissistic investment in its own suffering but more concerned with the responsibility for the suffering of others’.[95] Working through the past here does not mean a taking leave of the past or a facile integration of the lost other, nor is it reducible to individual grieving. Rather, it entails ‘a re-visioning of Polish identity that incorporates the historical reality of Poland as a set of multicultural communities, each distinct in historical and social development but all linked by common experiences of citizenship, occupation, violence, and loss’.[96]

Discussing the ways in which memories of the Second World War have shaped the imagined geography of Europe, Henry Rousso quotes with approval the Dutch specialist on sites of memory, Pim den Boer, who argues that Europe ‘needs sites of memory: not as a mnemonic technique merely to identify mutilated bodies, but in order to make people understand, forgive, and forget’.[97] To Rousso, this means that ‘European memory must be conceived within a horizon of expectation rather than within a space of experience, and is therefore something that has yet to be built rather than something to be exhumed’.[98] I share these authors’ concerns over the role memory has come to play in the reorganisation of the European political landscape in the wake of perestroika and the Iron Curtain’s collapse. In this essay I have examined the part played by cultures of remembrance in general and the Katyn massacre in particular in shoring up the borders of emerging postwar national or supranational (‘western European’, ‘Warsaw pact’, ‘pan-European’) identities. At the same time, however, through my analysis of Kantor’s Let the Artists Die and Wajda’s Katyń, I have also sought to point to the simultaneous difficulty and necessity of confronting bodies from the past, bodies which retain the marks of politics, history, violence, and reverence. Entire histories and identities were buried at Katyn. After their long sojourn in the earth, they resurfaced once more on Kantor’s stage and on Wajda’s screen, forcing their audiences to become excavators of these lives and pasts. In Kantor’s performance, these historical remnants are exposed in disarray, placing upon the spectators the task of locating the displaced artefacts and organising a mnemonic field of the dead. Wajda’s film has also renewed our affective engagement with this past by mixing reality and fiction, while serving as a reminder that we are all responsible for what we make visibly available and want to share. In the face of the trauma of Katyn, these artists neither give us justice nor assert the redemptive value of bearing witness. Instead, they make us acknowledge that which can never leave us. Moreover, they remind us that the ethics of digging up bodies, both literal and metaphorical, should be based upon more than an instrumental relation to the traumas of the past. As I have argued here, the main ethical impetus behind their engagement with the past arises from their need to bear witness and to mourn. The work of mourning may never dissolve all melancholy or heal all wounds, but it is to be hoped that it may disclose unrealised possibilities within the past and create new openings for the future.


  1. ^ My gratitude to Agnieszka Polakowska, Tamara Trojanowska, and the PTP editors and anonymous peer reviewers for their insights. Thanks to Anna M. Cienciala, Halina Filipowicz, Michal Kobialka, Robert Szymczak, and Dariusz Tolczyk for sending me their materials. Also thanks to Tamara Trojanowska and Pia Kleber for the opportunity to present an earlier version of this paper at their conference ‘After the Wall Was Over: Performing the New Europe’, held at the University of Toronto, 20-21 November 2009.
  2. ^ The film recordings of this cycle of performances, which are now published on DVD with English subtitles, are discussed elsewhere in this volume of PTP. Eds.
  3. ^ Ewa Plonowska Ziarek, ‘Melancholic Nationalism and Pathologies of Commemorating the Holocaust in Poland’, in Imaginary Neighbours: Mediating Polish-Jewish Relations after the Holocaust, ed. by Dorota Glowacka and Joanna Zylinska (Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), pp. 301-26 (p. 319).
  4. ^ Katyn: A Crime Without Punishment, ed. by Anna M. Cienciala, Natalia S. Lebedeva, and Wojciech Materski, trans. by Anna M. Cienciala and Maia A. Kipp (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), pp. 122 and 332.
  5. ^ This secret protocol agreed between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union on 23 August 1939 effectively divided Poland (and the rest of Central Europe) between their two spheres of influence.
  6. ^ See Cienciala et al., p. 222; Victor Zaslavsky, Class Cleansing: The Massacre at Katyn (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 2008), pp. 55-56.
  7. ^ Zaslavsky, Class Cleansing, pp. 66-67.
  8. ^ It was only in April 1989 that the Polish side of the Polish-Soviet historical Commission, established in late spring 1987, examined and rejected the Soviet Burdenko report, and a year later (on 13 April 1990) that the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev officially laid the blame for the Katyn massacre on the NKVD. Two and a half years later, on 14 October 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin handed over to Polish President Lech Wałęsa key archival documents concerning Katyn, including the document containing the Politburo resolution (from 5 March 1940) that ordered the liquidation of the Polish prisoners of war and the deportation of 100,000 Polish nationals.
  9. ^ However, as George Sanford notes, in this decade, Katyn appeared repeatedly in the Solidarity press, and the issue of commemoration of the Polish prisoners of war was raised in Solidarity’s negotiations with the Government. See Sanford, Katyn and the Soviet Massacre of 1940: Truth, Justice and Memory (London and New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 212.
  10. ^ Jeffrey Lawson, ‘Tadeusz Kantor and Teatr Cricot 2: When Theatrical Art Verged on Death’ (unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1995), p. 42. Of course, photography’s deeply rooted kinship with death has been noted by many authors. Among the very interesting sources on the subject are Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida, Judith Butler’s Precarious Life and Frames of War, Eduardo Cadava’s Words of Light, and Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others.
  11. ^ See Linda Haverty Rugg, Picturing Ourselves: Photography and Autobiography (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
  12. ^ As Douwe Draaisma notes, after the discovery of photography the medium became a frequent metaphor for memory: ‘After 1839 the human memory became a photographic plate, prepared for the recording and reproduction of visual experience’. See Draaisma, Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas About the Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 78.
  13. ^ Here and throughout this essay, unless otherwise indicated, I am quoting from Charles S. Kraszewski’s unpublished and undated translation of Kantor’s performance text for Let the Artists Die, which I consulted in the Cricoteka archives in Kraków. Tadeusz Kantor, ‘Let the Artist Croak’, trans. by Charles S. Kraszewski (Kraków: Cricoteka, no date), p. 231.
  14. ^ Kantor, ‘Let the Artist Croak’, p. 231.
  15. ^ I expand on this stage figure below (pp. 234-7 in the print edition).
  16. ^ Esther Leslie, ‘Absent-Minded Professors: Etch-a-sketching academic forgetting’, in Regimes of Memory, ed. by Susannah Radstone and Katherine Hodgkin (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 172-85 (p. 177).
  17. ^ Kantor, ‘Let the Artist Croak’, p. 242.
  18. ^ Michel Beaujour also comments on the importance of the notion of flashing images before death or fainting in the construction of self-portraits in his study The Poetics of the Literary Self-Portrait, trans. by Yara Milos (New York and London: New York University Press, 1991), pp. 140-141; see also Draaisma, Metaphors of Memory, p. 135.
  19. ^ You-Know-Who sings the popular soldier’s song ‘O, moj rozmarynie rozwijaj się’ (Blossom, O My Rosemary), from the First World War.
  20. ^ Gitta Honegger, ‘Forms of Torture: Found Meanings between Bausch and Kantor’, Theater, 17.2 (1986), 56-60 (p. 59).
  21. ^ Kantor, ‘Let the Artist Croak’, p. 243.
  22. ^ Ibid., p. 246.
  23. ^ Krzysztof Miklaszewski, Encounters with Tadeusz Kantor, ed. and trans. by George Hyde (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 127.
  24. ^ Krzysztof Pleśniarowicz, The Dead Memory Machine: Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre of Death, trans. by William Brand (Aberystwyth: Black Mountain Press, 2004), p. 248. During the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1920), Piłsudski led the Poles to victory in the Battle of Vistula (August 1920). As Anna Cienciala writes, ‘It is worth noting that many of the Polish officers taken prisoner by the Red Army in September 1939 had fought against it in 1920’. She also notes that ‘After the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Polish commander, General Władysław Langner, a Piłsudski Legionnaire in World War I and veteran of the Polish-Soviet War, decided to surrender [his troops] to the Soviets rather than the Germans... In the surrender agreement, even though Timoshenko’s representatives agreed that the Polish military should go free, they were arrested and imprisoned in Starobelsk, near Kharkov, Ukraine. Once there, the officers protested that their captivity violated the surrender terms’. See Cienciala et al, pp. 10 and 20, respectively.
  25. ^ Michal Kobialka, Further On, Nothing: Tadeusz Kantor’s Theatre (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), p. 301.
  26. ^ Ibid.
  27. ^ Ross Chambers, Untimely Interventions: Aids Writing, Testimonial, and the Rhetoric of Haunting (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2004), p. 23.
  28. ^ Ibid.
  29. ^ Ibid., p. 25.
  30. ^ Ibid.
  31. ^ Ibid., p. 30.
  32. ^ Teresa Krzemień, ‘Kantor’, in Cricot2 Theatre Information Guide 1986 (Kraków: Cricoteka, 1986), pp. 11-13 (p. 12).
  33. ^ Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 7-8.
  34. ^ For further discussion of the legacy of these uprisings, see Krzysztof Warlikowski’s comments in ‘Life in a Cemetery’, elsewhere in this volume (in the print edition, pp. 93-108 (p. 100)). Eds.
  35. ^ Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol 18, ed. and trans. by James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74), pp. 29-30.
  36. ^ Peng Cheah, ‘Crises of Money’, Positions, 16.1 (2008), 189-219 (p. 194).
  37. ^ Kai Erikson, ‘Notes on Trauma and Community’, in Trauma: Explorations in Memory, ed. by Cathy Caruth (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1995), pp. 183-99 (pp. 185-88).
  38. ^ See, for example, Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory, and Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
  39. ^ Several other filmmakers who are known for their cinematic experiments in imaging trauma are more oriented towards formal innovation in their approach. These include Alain Resnais, Isztvan Szabo, and Aleksandr Sokurov.
  40. ^ Andrzej Wajda, Katyn, trans. by Jennifer Zielinska (Warszawa: Proszyński i S-ka, 2008), p. 80.
  41. ^ The character of the General’s wife was inspired by the description of General Smorawiński’s wife found in the book Powrót do Katynia (Return to Katyn, 1990) by Stanisław M. Jankowski, and Edward Miszczak. Like Róża in the film, she refused to make a public statement after the massacre had been revealed in Lublin (see Wajda, Katyn, p. 86).
  42. ^ Roel Vande Winkel, ‘Nazi Newsreels in Europe, 1939-1945: the Many Faces of Ufa’s Foreign Weekly Newsreels (Auslandstonwoche) versus Germany’s Weekly Newsreel (Deutsche Wochenschau)’, Historical Journal Of Film, Radio and Television, 24.1 (2004), 5-34 (p. 10) <>.
  43. ^ In addition to the footage from Katyn, this film also featured a section showing mass graves of the victims of the Soviet terror, mostly from 1937 and 1938, uncovered by the Germans in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia in May 1943 (this imagery is not presented in Wajda’s film). The images of the exhumations at Katyn, however, were never shown to the German general public during the war. Aiming to regulate affect and shield their audiences from the ‘excessive expressivity’ (Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 41) of this footage, they subjected it to explicit censorship, afraid that it might fuel public fears in Germany about their own soldiers fighting the Soviets or held captive by them and turn public opinion against the war. This decision was in line with the German general policy at the time that ‘no pictures should be shown which are apt to produce fear, horror or revulsion [of or at, the war]’. R.C. Raack, ‘Nazi Film Propaganda and the Horrors of War’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 6.2 (1986), 189-95 (p. 190) <>.
  44. ^ Zaslavsky, Class Cleansing, pp. 61-62.
  45. ^ Wajda, Katyn, p. 82.
  46. ^ Ibid., p. 100.
  47. ^ Dariusz Tolczyk, ‘The Katyn Massacre and the Western Myth of World War II’, in American Contributions to the 14th International Congress of Slavists, Ohrid, September 2008. Vol. 2: Literature, ed. by David M. Bethea and Christina Y. Bethin (Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers, 2008), pp. 1-15 (p. 12).
  48. ^ Joshua Hirsch, Afterimage: Film, Trauma, and the Holocaust (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2004), p. 34.
  49. ^ Ibid.
  50. ^ Irina Paperno, ‘Exhuming the Bodies of Soviet Terror’, Representations, 75 (2001), 89-118 (p. 108) <>.
  51. ^ Paperno, ‘Exhuming the Bodies of Soviet Terror’, p. 95.
  52. ^ ‘Thus’, writes Paperno, ‘the Criminal Investigation Report identified the officials blamed for the executions not only by name and rank, but, in most cases, also by using an additional qualification, “Jude”’ (ibid. p. 96).
  53. ^ Wajda, Katyn, p. 82.
  54. ^ Paperno, ‘Exhuming the Bodies of Soviet Terror’, pp. 96-97.
  55. ^ Judith Butler, ‘Torture and the Ethics of Photography’, Environment and Planning, 25 (2007), 951-966 (p. 953) <>.
  56. ^ Bernd Huppauf, ‘Experiences of Modern Warfare and the Crisis of Representation’, New German Critique, 59 (1993), 41-76 (p. 51).
  57. ^ Hirsch, Afterimage, p. 14.
  58. ^ Deborah R. Staines, ‘Auschwitz and the Camera’, Mortality, 7.1 (2002), 13-32 (p. 18) <>.
  59. ^ Marianne Hirsch, ‘Surviving Images: Holocaust Photographs and the Work of Postmemory’, The Yale Journal of Criticism, 14.1 (2001), 5-37 (p. 16) <>.
  60. ^ See Lawrence Douglas, ‘Film as Witness: Screening Nazi Concentration Camps before the Nuremberg Tribunal’, The Yale Law Journal, 105.2 (1995), 449-481.
  61. ^ Cited in Zaslavsky, Class Cleansing, p. 63.
  62. ^ See Katherine Hodgkin and Susannah Radstone, Regimes of Memory (London and New York: Routledge, 2003).
  63. ^ Wajda, Katyn, p. 184.
  64. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, ed. by Walter Kaufman, trans. by Kaufman and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), p. 61.
  65. ^ Wajda, cited in Brian Hanrahan, ‘Film Reopens Poland’s Katyn Wound’, BBC News, 5 October 2007, <> [accessed 29 July 2014].
  66. ^ Wajda, cited in ibid.
  67. ^ Ewa M. Thompson, ‘Ways of Remembering: The Case of Poland’, Toronto Slavic Quarterly, 23 (2005), 1-14 (p. 8).
  68. ^ Vamik D. Volkan, ‘Transgenerational Transmission and Chosen Traumas: An Aspect of Large-Group Identity’, Group Analysis, 34.1 (2001), 79-97 (p. 87) <>.
  69. ^ Ibid., p. 88.
  70. ^ The post-Gorbachev history of Polish-Russian relations around Katyn bears this out. During his visit to Warsaw in August 1993, President Yeltsin placed flowers at the Katyn memorial and asked for forgiveness, in what was widely interpreted as a personal gesture (see Cienciala et al., p. 260). Two years later, in his letter to President Wałęsa, he objected to unofficial Polish demands for a Russian apology and compensation for victims’ families. In 2002, President Putin also rejected the notion of an apology. In March 2005, the Russian Prosecutor’s Office announced that the Katyn investigation, which had been running since 1990, was closed. The Russian Procuracy investigations concluded that there was no evidence of genocide: the victims were condemned under the Soviet criminal code as it stood in 1940, which at the time did not include categories such as a crime of genocide, a war crime, or a crime against humanity (see ibid., p. 262). Therefore, the crime fell under the statute of limitations, a juridical concept which ‘has been compared to the “natural” forgetting of an offence through the passage of time, despite the fact that this concept does not apply to crimes against humanity’ (See Susan Rubin Suleiman, Crises of Memory and the Second World War (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), p. 225). However, the Katyn families, in line with the majority of Polish opinion, view the Katyn massacre as genocide and demand an official Russian apology and compensation (see ibid., p. 262). While the reasons behind Stalin’s decision to murder the prisoners remain unresolved to this day, most Polish and Russian historians now agree that Stalin ordered the execution of the prisoners ‘because they constituted an elite, the potential leaders of a future, independent Poland’ (ibid., pp. 141-2). Some scholars add that social class was also a factor, arguing that the Katyn massacre can be seen as the epitome of ‘class cleansing’. See, for example, Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland, vol. II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 452, or Zaslavsky, Class Cleansing, p. 5.
  71. ^ ‘Dekulakization’ involved imprisonment, deportation, and even execution of supposedly rich peasants (kulaks) and their families as part of the state’s attempt to destroy organised class resistance in the countryside, mainly in the early 1930s. See, for example, Werth, ‘The Crimes of the Stalin Regime’: Outline for an Inventory and Classification’, in The Historiography of Genocide, ed. by Dan Stone (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 400-419.
  72. ^ On the popular memory and memorialization of Soviet crimes, see, for example, Nanci Adler, ‘The Future of the Soviet Past Remains Unpredictable: The Resurrection of Stalinist Symbols Amidst the Exhumation of Mass Graves’, Europe-Asia Studies, 57.8 (2005), 1093-1119 <>; Alexander Etkind, ‘Hard and Soft in Cultural Memory: Political Mourning in Russia and Germany’, Grey Room, 16 (2004), 36-59 <>, and ‘Post-Soviet Hauntology: Cultural Memory of the Soviet Terror’, Constellations, 16.1 (2009), 182-200 <>; and Kathleen E. Smith, Remembering Stalin’s Victims: Popular Memory and the End of the USSR (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996). On the history of the Soviet gulag see, for instance, Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History of the Soviet Camps (London: Allen Lane, 2003). For ‘dead-body politics’ in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, see Katherine Verdery, The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Postsocialist Change (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999).
  73. ^ The campaign for recovery of memory (the opening of the multiple archives, the onslaught of memoirs, oral history collections, as well as artworks grappling with the painful past) from the early 1990s gave way to a state-sponsored nostalgia for the Soviet past, while the victory in the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945) that resulted in the triumph of the Stalinist state continues to provide a unifying bond for historical identity in Russia. This selective approach to national history, with an emphasis on national unity and national pride, is perceived to be better-suited to Russia’s national interest than the anti-communist message associated with the legacy of unconfronted memories of the Stalinist terror. It also leaves little space for critical questioning. While many survivors and victims’ organisations still require a complete disclosure of what happened, most Russians are generally reluctant to bear witness to this past and more concerned about their own safety in light of current terrorist threats than past wrongs. See Svetlana Boym, The Future of Memory (New York: Basic Books, 2001), and Adler’s ‘The Future of the Soviet Past’.
  74. ^ Konrad H. Jarausch and Thomas Lindenberger, ‘Introduction: Contours of a Critical History of Contemporary Europe: A Transnational Agenda’, in Conflicted Memories: Europeanizing Contemporary Histories, ed. by Jarausch and Lindenberger (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), pp. 1-22 (p. 6).
  75. ^ Thompson, ‘Ways of Remembering’, p. 8.
  76. ^ Wajda, Katyn, p. 97.
  77. ^ Teresa Kaczorowska, Children of the Katyń Massacre: Accounts of Life After the 1940 Soviet Murder of Polish POWs, trans. by Frank Kujawinski (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2006).
  78. ^ Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 29.
  79. ^ Ibid.
  80. ^ See Sigmund Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholia (1917)’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. 14, ed. and trans. by James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1957), pp. 243-258.
  81. ^ Freud, ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, p. 245.
  82. ^ Anne Applebaum, ‘A Movie that Matters’, The New York Review of Books, 55.2 (14 February 2008), 1-6 (p. 4).
  83. ^ Janina Falkowska, Andrzej Wajda: History, Politics, and Nostalgia in Polish Cinema (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), p. 262.
  84. ^ Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok, The Shell and the Kernel, trans. by Nicholas Rand (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 128.
  85. ^ In my essay ‘Marked by Loss: Mourning and Melancholia in Kantor’s I Shall Never Return’, in Polish Culture: Private Encounters, Public Affairs, ed. by Tamara Trojanowska, Agnieszka Polakowska, and Artur Placzkiewicz (New York: PIASA, 2012), I engage this theory of mourning and melancholia to analyse Kantor’s performance I Shall Never Return, which commemorates the death of his father, who perished in Auschwitz. I argue that for most of his lifetime, Kantor was unable to grieve his father, while the wound or psychic trace left by this loss effected an encystation, a demetaphorisation of the body which came to impersonate the object. The performance in turn, I propose, stages an attempt to come to terms with this loss and ‘decorporation’ of the cryptic object.
  86. ^ Cienciala, et al., p. 28. The gender of the Katyn victims is also a little-discussed subject, and one that remains to be fully investigated; the one documented female victim of whom I am aware is Janina Dowbor-Muśnicka Lewandowska, a well-known pilot in pre-war Poland. She was executed at Katyn on 21 April 1940. Her sister, Agnieszka Dowbor-Muśnicka, was executed by the Nazis at Palmiry near Warsaw two months later. There is a brief mention of Lewandowska’s biography in Łukasz Kamiński, ‘Warstwy kierownicze należy zlikwidować’ (The Management Structures must be Liquidated), Tygodnik Powszechny, 39 (22 September 2009) <,0,33540,8222warstwy_kierownicze_nalezy_zlikwidowac8221,artykul.html> [accessed 20 December 2011]. I thank Halina Filipowicz for this information.
  87. ^ Simon Schochet, An Attempt to Identify the Polish-Jewish Officers Who Were Prisoners in Katyn (New York: Yeshiva University, 1989).
  88. ^ Władysław Bartoszewski, ‘Foreword’, in Salomon W. Slowes, The Road To Katyn: A Soldier’s Story, trans. by Naftali Greenwood (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), pp. vii-xxxii (p. xiv).
  89. ^ This is not to deny that many of the Jewish-Polish POWs who perished in Katyn felt Polish; in other words, many of them belonged to the culturally and politically assimilated Jewish elite who treated their Jewish faith as a private matter and considered themselves Polish citizens. However, as Antony Polonsky points out, in the pre-Second World War period, ‘on the Polish lands the great majority of Jews defined themselves and were regarded by most of the population as a separate national group’. See Polonsky, ‘Introduction,’ Polin, 13 (2000), 3-33 (p. 8).
  90. ^ Ewa Plonowska Ziarek, ‘Encounters Possible and Impossible: Derrida and Butler on Mourning’, Philosophy Today (2006), 144-155 (pp. 153 and 151) <>. Space prevents more extensive discussion of these themes here; however, I engage more substantively with these issues in the work of both Kantor and Wajda – in the context of Polish-Jewish relations and the legacy of the Holocaust – in my forthcoming book on the status of memory, history and loss in the works of Kantor, Heiner Muller, Harold Pinter, and Artur Żmijewski. See also my essay ‘The Mnemonics of Kantor’s Wielopole, Wielopole’, Toronto Slavic Quarterly, 14 (2005) at <>.
  91. ^ For further discussion of cultural representations of Polish Jews in Wajda’s work, see Michael C. Steinlauf, ‘Poland’s Dybbuks: A Response to the Warlikowski Dialogues’, elsewhere in this volume (pp. 109-114 of the print edition). Eds.
  92. ^ Applebaum, ‘A Movie that Matters’, p. 3.
  93. ^ See, for instance, The Neighbors Respond: The Controversy over the Jedwabne Massacre in Poland, ed. by Anthony Polonsky and Joanna B. Michlic (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2004), and Imaginary Neighbours, ed. by Glowacka and Zylinska.
  94. ^ For further discussion of this subject, see the articles in the section ‘Reimagining the Jewish Legacy in Post-Communist Poland: Dialogues’, elsewhere in this volume (pp. 87-114 of the print edition): The Path to The Dybbuk’, Life in a Cemetery’, and ‘Poland’s Dybbuks: A Response to the Warlikowski Dialogues. Eds.
  95. ^ Ziarek, ‘Melancholic Nationalism’, p. 322.
  96. ^ Janine P. Holc, ‘Memory Contested: Jewish and Catholic Views of Auschwitz in Present-Day Poland,’ in Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland, ed. by Robert Blobaum (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005), pp. 301-325 (p. 325). I should like to add that much political, aesthetic, cultural, and scholarly work has been done in Poland in the last few decades to integrate Poland’s Jews into the nation’s consciousness. This includes new developments in Polish-Jewish scholarship, a series of Polish public debates on wartime Polish-Jewish relations, as well as the efforts to recover Poland’s Jewish heritage and culture through events such as the annual Jewish Cultural Week in Kraków. See, for instance, Contested Memories: Poles and Jews during the Holocaust and Its Aftermath, ed. by Joshua D. Zimmerman (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2003) and The Neighbors Respond, ed. by Polonsky and Michlic.
  97. ^ Henry Rousso, ‘History of Memory, Politics of the Past: What For?’, in Conflicted Memories: Europeanizing Contemporary Histories, ed. by Jarausch and Lindenberger (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2007), pp. 23-36 (p. 28).
  98. ^ Ibid.

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