A Battle of Thermopylae during early-WWII? It did not happen during la Bataille de France, when we managed to loose against an enemy not that much stronger (except aircraft-wise – long time I’ve talked about armored vehicules on this blog). 8 month earlier, during Fall Weiß, in Westerplatte, you had your 209 guys defending against circa 3500. They were tasked to hold this little piece of land around Gdańsk/Danzig, obviously overly symbolic for Germany in the same fashion as Eupen-Malmedy or Elsaß-Lothringen (up for grabs). And that’s exactly where WWII started for Poland.
With a decent amount of machine gun and not much else, they were supposed to stand for 12 hours until reinforcements. They were never reinforced but stood nonetheless 6 days.
Good movie material, wouldn’t you say? There are actually two movies made about it.
Westerplatte Broni Sie Nadal was made in 1967 by Stanisław Różewicz. Kind of conventional in fight scenes, some dialogs made me wonder. For instance, there is a scene where polish officiers discuss reddition, afraid they might actually get shot on the spot: one of them mention he was himself in Prussian army during WWI and witness that germans are not per se criminals. Could be a simple fact: any random man born in these contested territories might have been involved on one or another side depending on the timeline. Could also be seen as a communist point of view to which no national allegiance matters, honoring the fighters but sligthly disregarding their cause nonetheless. Thinking about this, I’m curious to know how many movies were made about WWII in Poland during the communist era. The year is 1939. August 24th, Nazi Germany sign a non-aggression pact with Soviet Russia – even if the secret provisions are not yet known. September the 1st, Nazi Germany invade. September 17th, Soviet Russia invade Poland. Short acceptable timeline. Kind of hard for Soviets to looks like they’re part of the good guys in this story, and I’m not going as far as talking mass-murders and deportation. Soviet Russia actually started what is called there the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany war by attacking on their rear people defending against Nazi Germany. If that was a joke, it would be funny. It’s not.
Tajemnica Westerplatte was directed in 2013 by Paweł Chochlew. However slow at times, it’s decently done, good dialogs, comedians (Michał Żebrowski: Jan Skrzetuski in Ogniem i mieczem; Geralt of Rivia in Wiedźmin – the Witcher movie which I’ll watch any time soon but I’ve been told is astonishingly cheap; surprisingly Polish hetman Kybowsky in Kremlin-sponsored movie 1612 “released on November 1, 2007 to coincide with the celebrations of National Unity Day on November 4 that marks the expulsion of Polish troops from Moscow”, that he does not find more anti-polish that Ogniem i mieczem would be anti-ukrainian), special effects. In Tajemnica Westerplatte too there are debates among officiers -and troops- about whether they should surrender or not.
In 1967 movie, Major Henryk Sucharski was outright portrayed a charismatic, down-to-earth, caring, commander of Westerplatte. Each time he thought about surrender, he did it with regards of saving lives of his troops. Each time, except when he actually surrendered, he consulted with his fellow officers. It was stressed several times that, unlike his second, Captain Franciszek Dąbrowski -much more warmongering-, he was a son of peasants like the rest of the soldiers. In this new movie, Sucharski would be shell-shocked and Dąbrowski in command.
It apparently leds to arguments summarized on wikipedia as “(the dispute) centres on the question of who commanded the defence of Westerplatte […]. Interestingly, this dispute does not involve historians since it is not taking place as an academic debate. It is the domain of disputes of people passionate about history on the internet and in the press, in an atmosphere of gradual and consistent repetition of various unconfirmed sources […] This dispute has gone so far beyond its narrow circle of fans of the internet, moving into the mass media as a dispute over a film script and the spending of public money on a film which aims to show the new ‘truth’ about the defence of Westerplatte […] Regardless of the disputes, Sucharski and the two hundred other defenders of the WST will remain in the circle of good memory, regardless of whether they wanted to defend it to their last bullet, or whether they contemplated putting down arms already after 12 hours of the first shot of the Schleswig-Holstein on 1 September 1939”.
As a matter of fact, even in most hardcore german units where fanatism was a priority matter, giving up when there was no longer any ammunition and mean to continue the fight was not considered undignified. No matter how much true they historically are, none of this couple of movies is depicting a shaming way the defence of Westerplatte, on the contrary.