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Three Cheers for Three Stories of Galicia
Jun 3, 2011 Posted in: Blog/News 0

A review by M. Baier, author of The Fire Escape is Locked for Your Safety: On the Road in the Former Soviet Union

When my sister and I drove through the green and golden countryside of southeastern Poland and western Ukraine in the summer of 1998, it seemed as if we were lost in a time warp. Village boys played soccer while the family cows nibbled grass on the shoulder of the two-lane road, farmers dangled their legs from horse-drawn wooden wagons on their way home from the fields, and the regional capital of Lviv was slowly emerging from the decades of Communist decay. Three Stories of Galicia is set in this pastoral backdrop. In a series of black-and-white stills juxtaposed with present-day full color, the filmmakers gently draw out the first person accounts of ordinary people doing heroic things under the harrowing conditions created by the yin and yang of the World War II armies passing through their once-quiet villages.
Aharon Weiss, an elderly Jewish man, recounts the shocking developments of his youth when the German army arrived “one fine day.” (He quickly corrects himself, with poise and equanimity, that of course there was nothing at all fine about it.) As a boy he spent two years hiding with his family inside a false wall inside their small cottage and later in a dirt crawlspace next door, fed surreptitiously by a kindly Ukrainian neighbor, inventing word games to pass the time until they could emerge into the sunlight and their first bath in 22 months.
Olia Ilkiv kept a safe house and performed other duties for the Ukrainian national resistance until she was captured by Soviet intelligence officers, separated from her children and sent to prison near Moscow for 14 years for refusing to confess and expose her fellow resistance fighters. Even after being released, she struggled to rebuild her relationship with her children, who had been raised in an orphanage with Communist ways of thinking.
Stanislav Bartminski, a Catholic priest assigned to the area as a young man, worked for decades to bring honor and respect to the memory of different ethnic groups who had lived and suffered in his little corner of Poland. In a delightful surprise turn (which I won’t give away), the film reveals how in recent years he has become something of a rock star in his native land.
What makes this movie special is the warmth of the people who, despite having lived through horrific experiences, tell their stories without rancor or self-pity, but with wisdom borne of many years of perspective. You’re in for a treat.

In English, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish, with English subtitles.

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