Santa Rosa: A Polish Odyssey in the Rhythm of Mariachi
The documentary film gives voice to the little-known fates of Polish refugees in Mexico, testifying to a different historic narrative as grateful former exiles remember a paradise lost. The film enjoyed its premiere screenings in Chicago’s Copernicus Center on the 20th of July, and it was accompanied by a meeting with the filmmakers
As Sławomir Gruenberg, the director and author of the film’s script explained:
Most of the people that made this journey from Siberia to Mexico live in Chicago. Teresa Sokołowska was one of the people from a group of 1,434 Polish refugees who came to the Santa Rosa colony from the USSR upon the invitation of Mexico’s president, Mr. Manuel Avila Camacho. This Polish woman, who found herself in Santa Rosa at the age of 9, underscored that Mexico was a second motherland to her.
Sokołowska, who presently resides in the outskirts of Chicago, in the town of Niles, said:
Nobody spoke or wrote about our fate. After the end of the Second World War, we were a group lost in history. We were the second lot to be transported over there. It was a little Poland on foreign land. We felt happy and free.
The co-author of the script and the producer of the film, Piotr Piwowarczyk, pointed to the fact that 70 years have passed since the first transport of Poles to the city of Leon, about 300 kilometres north of Mexico city, the capital. From there, the refugees, many of whom were orphaned children, went to Santa Rosa, which became their home for the following three years. The camp was formally closed in 1943, and most of the refugees travelled to the U.S. Piwowarczyk commented:
This film is our personal tribute and a celebration of the 70th anniversary and reminder of a very beautiful and entirely forgotten episode of Polish-Mexican relations
The preparations and gathering of various documentary materials for the film began in 2011, and a year later its production kicked off in Poland, travelling onto Chicago and finally to Mexico.
We were aware of the fact that if we are to make a film about Santa Rosa, it has to happen as quickly as possible, because from this group of about 1,500 Poles, the only ones still living are those who came to the camp as children or teenagers. There are no more grown-up refugees who stayed in Santa Rosa, because they already died.
The film presents the story of Santa Rosa through the eyes of Joanna Matias, a young Polish lawyer who makes a journey to Mexico searching for the grave of her grandfather, Józef Wiercinski. Józef and Alina, the grandmother of Matias, had found refuge in Santa Rosa and they were also the first couple among the refugees to be married in Mexico. Soon after the marriage Joanna’s father, Bogdan, was born. Unfortunately the young husband and father Wiercinski’s fell ill and his untimely death in 1948 at age 26 put an end to the family’s plans of settling in the U.S. In autumn 1948 Alina and her two children, Bogdan and Janina, returned to communist Poland.
Although Joanna heard stories of Santa Rosa from an early age, because her grandmother had remarried the subject of her first husband was somewhat prohibited and became a family secret. Joanna always dreamt of going to Mexico and searched the Internet for any trace of information about Jozef Wiercinski, her grandfather. This was how the filmmakers found her and decided to make her quest the main plot of their film.
One of the protagonists of the film, Czesław (Chester) Sawko, a well-known millionaire, inventor and philantropist from Chicago, died on the 25th of June at age 83. Sawko arrived at the Santa Rosa colony with his siblings and spent three years there. Out of gratitude to the Mexican people, he founded a school and an orphanage there. Sawko’s wife, Stella, whose maiden name was Stanisława Grocka, also makes an appearnce in the film, as another former Santa Rosa child. Stella arrived at the colony from the USSR accompanied by her older sister.
On the 18th of July, the Chicago Tribune devoted a whole column to the compelling story of Czesław Sawko. In an interview published in the Monitor on the 10th of March, 2003, Sawko commented:
I am 73 years old and I can easily forget what were we talking about just a minute ago. But what I went through when I was 10, I will never be able to forget. I recall vividly how the Soviets came and arrested us, the journey in the cattle cars to the village near Archangielsk, our everyday fight to survive. All of this is still very painful. Even now, it's hard for me to describe the poverty and filth we had to live in. Sometimes I feel ashamed to talk about this with Americans, because they cannot believe how one can go through this ordeal and still be a 'normal' person.
The film’s production was supported by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and its promotion in the United States was organised by the Polish Consulate in Chicago.
There are plans of screening at film festivals in New York City and Los Angeles. The documentary will also be presented in Poland and in Mexico.
For more information about the project, see the official website: santarosa.com.pl
Paulina Schlosser, source: Joanna Trzoska for PAP, santarosa.com.pl 22/07/2013