'Santa Rosa: An Odyssey in the Rhythm of Mariachi'
small, 'Santa Rosa: An Odyssey
in the Rhythm of Mariachi', Okładka (nid 7032048)
The documentary gives voice to the little-known fates of Polish refugees in Mexico – testifying to a different historical narrative as the grateful former exiles remember a paradise lost.
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 20th July 2013, accompanied by a meeting with the filmmakers.
Questions for a Pole Living in 19th-Century Mexico
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 nine, 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 León, 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 US.
Frida Kahlo’s Polish Connections
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 Wierciński. 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 Wierciński fell ill, and his untimely death in 1948 at age 26 put an end to the family’s plans of settling in the US. In autumn 1948, Alina and her two children, Bogdan and Janina, returned to a Poland under the communist regime.
Although Joanna had 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 Józef Wierciński, her grandfather. This was how the filmmakers found her and decided to make her quest the main plot of their film.
Cultural Fusion: Poles in Latin America
One of the protagonists of the film, Czesław (Chester) Sawko – a well-known millionaire, inventor and philantropist from Chicago – died on 25th June 2013 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 appearance in the film as another former Santa Rosa child. Stella arrived at the colony from the USSR, accompanied by her older sister.
On 18th July, the Chicago Tribune devoted a whole column to the compelling story of Czesław Sawko. In an interview published in the Monitor on 10th 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. For more information about the project, see the official website: santarosa.com.pl
Written by Paulina Schlosser, 22 Jul 2013
santa rosa polish colony
polish refugees in mexico
polish consulate in chicago
Sources: Joanna Trzoska for PAP, santarosa.com.pl