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Hi Sophia and all involved with the production of ‘Once My Mother’ which I watched on ABC TV recently.
It was a deeply moving story and beautifully told – congratulations and thank you (and your dear Mum) for telling it. All your mother went through and her very survival after it all, was just phenomenal. I shook my head at how much suffereing she and so many others went through, and the cruelty of humanity. We need to know about these stories, the history of our elders, and how to live better lives as a result. We need to listen to each other in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The film left me with some profound messages and realisations:
– We need to respect our senior citizens and the things they went through, especially those who’ve come to Australia escaping war and persecution. Do we take the time to respect them or be amongst them in society? Do we shut them away or take the time to visit and just ‘be’ with them?
– You never know the lives and stories of ordinary strangers you pass in the street – what they’ve suffered and gone through and have survived. We need to respect and honour each other. Take the time to smile at someone, to listen, to be respectful rather than rushing about our own lives.
– Australia must welcome present-day refugees and those escaping the horrors of war, hunger, and persecution. Australia was a haven for Helen and must continue to be so for others. It’s easy to focus on statistics but these are people’s lives. We all deserve a decent, healthy, happy life free of hunger and poverty.
I hope every school and family would have the opportunity to see this film – beautiful – thank you.
Thanks for your lovely comments Therese. I find it heartbreaking that refugees trying to come to Australia today are being treated so disgracefully. My family was so lucky to have been part of the postwar wave of refugees and were treated in such a humane, welcoming way. How things have changed…
Thankyou so much for completing you and your mothers story.
There are many emotions that your narrative have drawn from me…the main one being the “power of understanding”. Once we understand their story, we can then unravel our own.
Yes that’s the key Bridget – at some stage in our lives we need to look at our parents objectively as people who tried to do the best for their families, as most parents do. It was when I was able to do this that I comprehended what a loving mother I’d had all along, and all those feelings of betrayal I’d lived with were replaced by pride in having such a beautiful woman as a mother.
Thank you Bridget, much appreciated.
An honest frank and touching story beautifully narrated. An account of one womans journey enduring years of unfathomable hardship and neglect starting in childhood; and another womans journey of shame, abandonment
and self reflection – a journey of the soul and what it is to mature, forgive and to be able to put things into perspective. This film is a true testament to the human spirit and the will to live. How this woman went on
to be a mother and a wife without suffering severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder speaks volumes of the inner resolve she possessed. She had grit, determination and a cast iron will to move forward with her life and devote herself to Sophia and her children and husband. I was deeply moved
by this story and also saddened by a history never told, ready to be forever lost for the sake of dirty politics.
I’ve just finished seeing your story….thank you for sharing it…I’m feeling a little overwhelmed however that has prompted a question….a few years ago I was working in a community housing organisation and one of my tenants, Jan, went into care. A solicitor informed me I was to arrange for his belongings to be sent to the tip. Jan was a very dear man, proud and kind, he would always have a glass of jouce with ice waiting for me when I was to visit. He would show me photograhs and tell me pieces of his story. I knew there was a son in Strathfield and they were estranged. The solicitor insisted the son would not one to be informed. My supervisor said “tip it”. I was disobedient and arranged for SVDP to take the furniture, clothing etc and I took the photos and little bits and pieces to the nursing home. At the final clean up I shredded old bills and then found a small folder with some personal papers..passport, Polish army ID and so on..the nursing home wouldn”t accept them on his behalf, it was all that was left of this sweet 95 year old, I didn’t have the heart to destroy them… I still have them and wish there was a “place” for them…perhaps you might have a idea….my numger is 4787 6010 or 0402508232…Jenny
That’s a touching story Jenny. I completely understand why you couldn’t bring yourself to throw Jan’s personal things away. I suggest you get in touch with Anna Pacewicz at the Kresy Siberia Foundation. There’s a virtual museum on the website – Anna would be the best person to assess if Jan’s documents etc are of value. Sophia You can contact Anna through: http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum: http://kresy-siberia.org/muzeum/?lang=en
Sophie I felt your mothers abandonment, your being in the orphanage as I, the waiting for her to come, the decisions she made to keep you guys together, her broken heart by her Italian lover. The hunger, the cold, so much more; your research was outstanding.
I remember a Polish family came to Maitland NSW where I was in the school, 5 children came in, the eldest Mary, I befriended the frail girl who could speak no english…sadly they all drowned in the Hunter River on Christmas break with her family. I carry her memory always. “Lest We Forget”.
Thank you Sophie, your mother was an amazing survivor.
Thanks for your comments, Robbie. I’m always happy to hear that my story has meant something to others. And that’s such a sad story about the Polish family, especially as you can imagine what they may have gone through before even arriving in Australia… Sophia
Hi Sophia, I just wanted to send you a quick message to say thanks for making Once My Mother. It brought back memories and a few tears of my amazing Babcia. It’s also inspired me to travel to the village my family is from (also in the Ukraine now) and to also reconnect with family that was once lost. I’ll be travelling in November with my Uncle who was last in the village 73 years ago and my father who was born in a German camp and never got the chance to see where the family was from. It will be amazing and I can’t wait to share this experience with them. Thanks again for your wonderful story.
Thanks Jason, My own experience of going to my mother’s village had a profound effect on me, in a way I’m not even able to articulate. I’m so glad you’re going on a similar journey… Sophia
I saw your film yesterday on ABC. what an incredible and moving story, it brought me to tears. To survive all that your mother did is an amazing feat of the human spirit. I am so glad she found some happiness in Australia and it seems very relevant in these days of antagonism towarda refugees. Thank you for sharing it.
Thanks for your lovely comment Doug. I’m pleased to say that Amnesty International have screened the film a number of times to highlight the resonance with our current, tragic, refugee crisis.
This afternoon, I watched a repeat program on the ABC of “Once My Mother’. It was absolutely brilliant. Watching this program brought out emotions I thought were long buried about my own mother, who often told us stories about her very poor childhood, and like Sophia, I stopped listening. It was only much later that I learned to appreciate exactly what she went through as a child. I had a Norwegian uncle who spent a lot of World War 2 in Auschwitz Prison Camp in Germany. A very, very emotional and thought provoking story. I’m so pleased I took the time to watch it
Thanks Norma – I always hope that my story might help people to examine their own relationship with their parents – I’m so pleased to hear when that is the case. Sophia
I have just viewed “Once my mother” on ABC and found your mothers and your story of survival resonated with me, moving me to tears at times. I have purchased a copy to share with my siblings.
I want to thank you and your mother for your honesty and courage and for sharing your story. Like other commenters I’ve also learned about a chapter of history I was ignorant about.
Thanks Dow. Despite the family stories I grew with, I was also ignorant of the big historical story until I started to properly research it. I’m so pleased to play a small role in shining a light on this extraordinary chapter of history… Sophia
I’ve just seen your film on the ABC, although I missed the first half hour so will buy the DVD when I can. I was glued, mesmerised,as much about the history as about the personal story of you and Helen. I’m sure my youngest daughter will want to see it as we have had some very rough times in the past – because of my illness she suffered abandonment issues which she is currently resolving, although I didn’t leave her intentionally. Anyway, brilliant film, and congratulations to you, Helen, and all concerned for sharing it with us, the wider public. I think such stories as Helen’s – pre, during and post WWII – should be part of world history. Thank you. Jennifer
Thanks Jennifer. I do hope the story can help with some of the issues in your own family. You can purchase the DVD directly from our website. (Make sure you use the oncemymother.com.au link – the oncemymother.com link no longer works)
Just watched ” Once My Mother ” on the ABC.
I would like to say a big thank you for sharing the story of your Mum’s life and yours.
Also I learnt so much about the true history behind what we were taught and read.
The film is a credit to you and all those involved in bring her life story to us.
Thanks so much Frances. An accurate account of history is hugely important. Fortunately some historians are now writing books with the objective of providing an accurate account of World War Two, not the skewed accounts which have focused almost entirely on Western Europe. Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is one of the excellent books around – it looks at Stalin and Hitler as two equal monsters. Sophia
Have just watched Helen and Sophie’s story on ABC TV 26/07/2015.
What a magical, loving and reverential tale of not just survival, but life lived large.
Having lost my own mother as a 9yo boy, then my mother-in-law who gave me a 40 year gift as my very close second “Mum”, now recently, the girl who was for nearly 50 years, my lover, wife and soulmate . . . your journey of awakening has stirred emotions of great tenderness, honesty and self awareness.
I thank you for sharing this with me . . . and offer my best wishes for your future. How proud Helen must be of her daughter and her family as she watches over you.
A chance remark alerted us to the fact that our children knew little of how my wife and I met, wooed, and wed. In the little time my wife and I had, we set out to tell our tale to our children – and their children. We did not set out to write a book but, with words and many photos we traveled a journey not dissimilar to yours – and a book it became.
For my wife (and I’m thinking of Helen) it gave focus to the life of a highly respected nurse, wife and mother. To me, it has given me purpose when all consuming grief would rather that I hide in a dark place.
God bless you Helen. Through your greatest gift of life to a greatly loved daughter, and her skill as a story-teller, you have brought great dignity to the human condition.
Thanks you for your beautiful comments Ken. I’m so happy to share my story and hear how it connects with people like yourself… Sophia
Having just watched a screening of your movie I have a question to ask. How come you did not approach Kleenex for sponsorship? You would have definitely increased their sales! A beautiful, poignant story. As an Aussie I witnessed when I was a child, the prejudice that ‘New Australians’ faced back in the fifties – what has changed? Thankfully we now accept those who fled or left Europe during and after the war but you have shown the incredible ordeals they suffered. Thank you.
Thanks Paul – I wish we’d had you on board when we were raising the money – we never thought of approaching Kleenex!
We were so lucky being welcomed as ‘New Australians’. Imagine anyone in government today coming up with that label for our latest refugee arrivals…
I have just watched, Once my mother, on the ABC
What an epic tale of survival so lovingly told.
I think this story says much about the people who made our nation what it is and must also be a lesson to those among us who think they have it hard.
Riveting, touching stuff. I can’t wait for your next offering.
Thanks for your comments Ted. The dramatic post war transformation of Australia into a multicultural society never fails to amaze me. I don’t think Australians appreciate what extraordinary political vision it took. It really is an amazing chapter of Australian history. I’m so glad my family was part of it (and was so welcomed).
I’m still wiping the tears that I let drip down my face while watching this beautifully put together film. I haven’t seen anything that has moved me so much in such a long time – perhaps it’s because it is real – a real story among all the noise of today. Thank you for sharing this beautiful, sad and courageous story and for your honesty when relaying your own struggles trying to figure it all out, and making it so easy for the audience to understand. Truly extraordinary. Thank you.
Thanks Catherine – I’m so happy to hear that my story resonates. It’s what you hope for as a storyteller… Sophia
To: Sophia Turkiewicz
Congratulations for the gripping documentary ‘Once my Mother’. What an extraordinary story and what an amazing personal journey for both of you. I am so impressed with your courage in doing this story and how you managed to patch it together with so much footage of those times. The images from Poland, Russia, Tashkent, Iran and Rhodesia and even Australia are so graphic. An overwhelming confrontation with the suffering of refugees that is indeed humbling, particularly when one realises the life as led by your mother. Should make people not so ready to judge the refugee today (I hope). Well done.
I set out to tell a story from the perspective of ordinary civilians swept up in history. I’m proud of the way the refugee experience is so vividly expressed through the archival footage we found. I always hope that when people see the film, they’re reminded of our current refugees trying to find safety today… Sophia
I watched your documentary on the ABC today, 26 July 2015. I didn’t know it was you that directed Silver City. I too have my own third generation Holocaust survival story to tell. Your story touched my heart. Before mum died, she started to lose her memory too. I lived my life hating her stories and resenting her shame, guilt and trauma.
After mum died, I realised that her stories died with her, but I also felt regret that I did not record them. I do remember most of them and they interlink with my own story of rejection. You see she wasn’t my biological mother, she was my adopted mother who lost a child in Germany to whooping cough. She too had a baby out of wedlock.
Then I came along from a German mother and Polish father after my mother died from cardiac arrest two weeks after I was born. Mum was living in Canberra when the Polish priest mentioned that I was for adoption and would a Polish family like to adopt her. So mum and dad did.
I’d like to have a chat with you if you could, to share my own story and possibly seeing how my two parallel lives could be depicted in film. Only a Polish director could ever understand my story.
We are all destined for greatness, but only first we should share our stories.
Please give me a call.
0468 345 199
Brilliant storey what an amazing woman to endure &survive all that occurred in her amazing life. I felt her sadness & what I really wanted 2 do was hold her &her sadness . Gr8 job how blessed r u 2call her your mother ☺️
Thanks for your comments Kaylene,
Yes I do feel blessed having such a beautiful, heroic woman for a mother. And I feel so proud to be able to share her story with others… Sophia
I have just stumbled across your wonderful story on the ABC. Your insights into the hardships imposed and even more miraculously survived are both heartbreaking and inspirational. I have worked with the elderly all of my working life and are fascinated by all of their stories, but the strength and fortitude of many who emigrated to Australia is incredible. Thank you for sharing Helen’s story.
Thanks so much Rhonda,
I’m so lucky that the last years of my mother’s life were in a wonderful aged care home in Adelaide. The staff there became ‘family. Over the last couple of years we’ve had some excellent screenings for Aged Care professional – the discussions that the story generated have been some of the best Q&A experiences my producer, Rod, and I have had… Sophia
Hello, wow your film ‘Once My Mother’ blew me away. What an absolute heart breaker of a story. Australia was your home long before it was mine and I’m sure glad your at home in a place that gave you and your mother comfort and stability. Thank you for sharing xx
Thanks Casey, I am so thankful we ended in Australia. One of my favourite scenes in the film is my mother’s impassioned speech about her love for Australia. As you say, this country gave us comfort and stability. If only we could say the same for today’s refugees… Sophia
What a beautiful and heart rending story…what wonderful people Helen and Sophia are..and how beautifully does it expose how tragic is can be when we see things only from our own perspective. This journey must have given so much understanding to both mother and daughter.Helens quiet determination to just keep moving forward was truly inspiring. Sophia’s decision to view her own history through her mothers journey was so loving and touching. I love this story.
Thanks so much Sharon. I do feel lucky that I was able to find a way of understanding my mother for who she really was. From the many Q&A screenings we’ve had I’m very happy that the story has often been a catalyst for audience members to want to re-examine their own parental relationships… Sophia
Dear Fabulous Sophia !! I saw this exquisitely crafted film some time ago ( as soon as it became available actually ) and it moved me beyond bearing… seeing your little Mum as her mightly story unfolded, alongside your fragile journey with her was truly truly special and resonated on many levels for me. Might I share my very deep gratitude for the role of Helena in Silver City, the frankincense nights shoots and lumbering truck arrivals at Scheyville and your lovely calm measured presence on the set…. it’s such a privilege to have worked with you and to offer heartfelt congratulations on creating Once My Mother.
Hi Debra, lovely to hear from you! Thanks so much for your comments. As you can obviously see, I’ve been trying to tell this story pretty well all my life. So it’s great to feel that I’ve finally told the story I wanted to tell – after all those previous attempts, of which Silver City was an important step in the journey. Thanks so much for being part of my journey Debra – it was wonderful working with you all those years ago, when I was just finding my feet… Lots of love, Sophia
I just want to say thank you for sharing your story, just fantastic,I watched it on the ABC as I missed it at the Deckchair cinema in Darwin. I have purchased my own copy as it certainly struck a chord, my mother came out on the ship ‘Dunvalk’ with her mother post World War II as one of many unwed mothers, via Fremantle to Wellington where Grandma was assigned to a job at a girls boarding school with mum. She was originally form Estonia and fled after her first husband was taken. She met my grandfather at a German refugee camp and did not reunite with him until 17 years later. I have also learnt so much from your film about another chapter of World War II that so many do not know about. Very moving as my mum also lost Grandma to dementia in the end,so again thank you, you certainly deserve all those awards you have been recieving
I have just seen “Once my mother” at the Dreux film festival(in France)and it moved me so much I just wanted to let you know!
I am French and Poland is relatively near France, yet I had no idea as to what happened to the people there. I remember learning in my history classes (I am 45) that Poland had been sacrificed during WWII but that was just a fact: you don’t realise, especially as a high school student, what that really means for the people and how it ruined so many people’s lives, for generations.
Thank you so very much for making such a universal story out of your mother’s personal story. Thank you for making this film.
Im wondering if we are able to show this film as a community screening on Mother’s Day this year?
Yes, we’re very happy to facilitate screenings. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange. Let me know your phone number and address.
Rod Freedman, Producer
hi, just finished watching your wonderful movie. Thankyou so much for sharing your mother’s and your story. I think it is very interesting and satisfying to find out about our parent’s life stories, and what kind of journey has brought them to the present.
Thanks for your comments Zelda. I feel so happy that my family story has helped others to understand their own family…
Dear Sophia, I happened upon your film from the Kresy Siberia website. My mother and father both were taken to Siberia and later to Africa. Growing up, there childhood was very rarely discussed. I was fortunate to have extremely hard working supportive parents who allowed me many opportunties. My dad is now 86 with Alzheimers and my mom is 81. Many of my relatives were lost during this period. I am greatful that you made this film as I have been recently thinking that this part of history has been airbrushed for many politcal reasons. I am a semi-retired physiotherapist but also have done a lot of community theatre. Do you know of any plays which document this period of Polish history.? Thank you again for your work.
Aileen Szkwarek Ottawa Canada
Thanks for your response Aileen – your story sounds very similar to my own (and we almost ended up in Canada instead of Australia!). Unfortunately I don’t know of any plays about the subject – your best bet would be to make enquiries through the Kresy Siberia Organisation – they have a very active chat room. I found them very helpful when making enquiries during my research into my story – I was amazed at how many people took time to respond to my questions…
Dear Sophia, thank you so much for making this film,I only see the trailer and I am touched and I really like to see here in Germanny..is there any possibility?
Hi Lisa, We have entered some festivals in Germany but have not been successful, although we are now in various international festivals. But you can order a DVD from our website at http://www.oncemymother.com or go to http://www.roninfilms.com.au/feature/10691/once-my-mother.html
Thank you for your interest in the film.
I have just finished watching this and I just had to write to you. I have had my own personal battles with my mother and only now, at 25, have I really started to forgive her. Your film made me cry tears of sadness and joy, I just can’t fathom how one woman who was so alone could survive. Her strength is incredible. I have just started writing up a little question list that I want to interview my own mother and grandmother to find out about their lives before they are gone. Thank you for this film, you have moved me and my heart will never be the same.
Thanks so much Jessi-lea. Your response is what I had always hoped that my story would do – to try to understand our parents as human beings, making choices they thought were in our best interests. And also to see how important it is to record your parents’ lives before it’s too late!
Thank you so much for sharing with us this wonderful wonderful story. I have sat entranced today and will think of you both many times I know in these next few days.
Hi Jane, Apologies for my very belated response to your post – thanks for taking the time to respond yourself – your comment means a lot to me… Sophia
Congratulations on your amazing film Sophia about you and your mother. I was utterly engrossed in the story which I may probably never forget. What an extraordinary woman your mother was and how sad it is that we do not appreciate our parents until we are much older. I ditto all the other comments you have received. And thank goodness for iview too..
Thanks for your lovely comments Jenny. And so pleased you caught it on iView – it’s a great invention! Sophia
Hi Sophia, I just watched your film ‘once my mother’ and was compelled to write to you. Tears mixed with pain and joy fall freely after watching. What a moving experience and gift you have given to the story of this country. Your mum would have been so proud of you to tell such a authentic story. Thank you for your grace and your beautiful melodic voice over this film. I’m a fan, simple! What’s next, can’t wait for your next film! Cheers Diana
Thanks Diana – really touched by your comments… And I’m very happy that you called my story ‘the story of this country’. Our family’s experience was not unique – there were thousands of Polish survivors of Stalin’s gulags who settled in this country and call themselves ‘Australian’. Sophia
I am in nz. How do I go,about buying the DVD “once my mother”? I can’t figure out the web site – seems to go in loops
Hi Stef, Go to the link that takes you to Ronin Films. Or go straight to Ronin Films website and purchase DVDs directly from them. http://www.roninfilms.com.au/video/858/0/10691.html Let me know if you’re still having difficulties, Sophia
In the midst of feeling a little sorry for myself re some “difficult” things going on in my life, I found your film on iview. Wow. If ever there was a right place, right time moment this was it. Your mother had the heart of a lion – her fortitude, her love for you and the sheer beauty of her soul through all she endured, have touched me deeply. I have never been anything but loved and when it comes down to it, that’s really all we need! So I’ve stopped feeling sorry for myself will move forward with my future, grateful in the knowledge that compared to that of your mother, my life is easy.
Hi Gail, I’ve had quite a few comments like yours at screenings and it makes me happy to know that my story has helped people consider and appreciate their life/relationships in a different way. Thanks for your response – such comments mean a lot to me! Sophia
Hi there – I run the Illawarra Film Society in Wollongong and would like to screen this film as part of my 2015 program – is there a capacity for me to do this please on Sunday night 15 October 2015 – I screen at Greater Union Cinema Wollongong – happy to chat if you want to give me a call – 0421655149 – thanks very much – Theresa Huxtable
To whom it’s concerns
My name is Yifat Oron and I’m the fundraising manager for Courage to Care organisation.
Courage to Care is a travelling educational program and exhibition demonstrates the importance of standing up to prejudice and discrimination whenever it occurs.
We were very impressed from Sophia Turkiewicz life story and film and we would like to approach her to be our guest speaker on one of our main fundraising events in the beginning of next year.
I would appreciate it if you could give me her contact email/number so we could contact her.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Hi Yifat, Happy to talk to you – I have sent you a reply privately. Sophia
I just watched your incredible story Sophia. Oh my…. I am so touched. ( half an hour after watching it) still in tears, for you, for your amazing mother and sadly for my parents too. But Thank you.!
I too am an immigrant to Australia arriving on a boat in Fremantle with my polish mother and father. Now that my father has
passed away and my mother has dementia I yearn to know and understand my past. Through your story I was able to get an insight to what my parents life must have been like. I reflect on the times my dad tried to tell me stories about his past. It was your story that made me remember them. My parents and I too have a story but sadly I have taken it for granted , your story has made me connect with my parents’ past. Thank you again !
Hi Teresa, I’m so pleased that my story has helped you understand your own family stories more. There’s a terrific book called The Persian Blanket, written by Perth author Tim Chappell about a Polish Siberian survivor called Janina who came out on the General Langfitt, the same boat that my mother and I came out on (Janina was a lifetime friend of my mother’s). Janina’s memory was amazing and there’s so much detail about her time in Siberia. I highly recommend the book – it gave me so much background detail for my film, not to mention being a compelling story! Sophia
Thank you for sharing your mother and your story ‘Once My Mother’. I just finishing watching it on ABC.
I am saddened and inspired in the same measure by what happened and the determination and strength in both of you.
All the best for your future projects!
Thanks you so much Florence. I’m so happy to hear that my story is reaching out to people… Sophia
We happened by chance to see this story on ABC late on Sunday night. We just wanted to say how much this story moved us. What a beautiful person your mother was Sophia, and to endure what she did in her life is beyond belief. This story will stay in our minds for a long time.
Ann & Charlie
Thanks so much for your response Ann and Charles! I’m so glad you managed to see it on ABC, given the late time-slot and absolutely no promotion. We were very disappointed that ABC wasn’t able to give our story more prominence – especially given their charter to reflect Australian life and stories. My producer strongly argued for a better time slot but unfortunately we couldn’t persuade them. But ultimately I’m very happy that my mother’s life story was seen by audiences around the country – she would have been amazed… Sophia
I watched your film this afternoon. I had read about it in the Sydney Morning Herald while living in the US and really hoped I would be back in Australia in time to catch it at the movies. I got back on Thursday and there it was on ABC. Alas, jet lag prevented me from watching it yesterday.
I also am the daughter of a mother whose life was irrevocably altered by her unsolicited trip to Siberia ℅ uncle Jo.
While watching the footage of your film I wept as footage of the cattle/ swine tucks rolled across the freezing landscape. The phrases your mother used were much the same as the ones my mother used to describe that awful journey.Three weeks in a swine carriage, with little food , water or warmth. She talked about the death of an infant during that ride . He was thrown of of the carriage by his foot.
My mother was one of the lucky ones who was allowed to join the army and those, I think, in her perception were her finest days.Her journey from Buzuluk, through Persia, Iraq, Palestine and Italy, before she landed in England in 1946 took 6 years. Years of uncertainty,and longing.The betrayal of Poland was a truth I was bought up with.
I ended up being born in the UK to parents who could never marry; but living in an almost commune with many adults who were my “parents’ as well.
i felt such relief for you when you finally understood how little she had and what she had to overcome. I have a dear friend in England who has similar misgivings about her feelings towards her mother. I will send her your CD.
Thank you for making this film.
Thanks for sharing your story too Ewa. Are you aware of Kresy Siberia Foundation? http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html They would be very interested to hear from you and record your story. The organisation was created in 2001 to ‘record, research and remember’ the Polish families who were deported to Siberia. They have a very good virtual museum on the website which has information about the whole experience. Sophia
Sofia, what an experience you gave us last night, and I just happened to keep the TV on after The code. A brilliant story showing it is never too late to search for the real truth as THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!!
Thank god Australia allowed mothers and “illegitimate children” It was our gain and England’s loss that you mum made it to Oz.
Thanks for your lovely comments John – I’m so glad we ended up in Australia too! My mother embraced this country and called it her home, as you saw from that impassioned speech that she makes in the film… Sophia
I watched your documentary last night on the ABC and was amazed at the resilience of your mother. What a woman! I was touched to hear and watch your stories, just heartbreaking. Thank you for having the courage to document both hers and your story and to share it with the rest of the world.
I am happy that you were able to make peace with your mother and just as importantly with yourself.
Thanks Daiana – I feel very happy that I was able resolve my relationship with my mother before she died… Sophia
I watched your exquiste and painful film last night just after hearing Kari Gislason talk about his mother’s journey The Promise of Iceland. I lost my mother in recent times and pay tribute to her daily albeit in private ways. Thank you for so tenderly and honestly enabling all our stories.
Such a lovely response Belinda – I’m really touched… Sophia
Saw ‘Once My Mother’ last night on ABC Television – magnetically gripping- powerful,poignant, sad and inspirational.
Thanks for your comments Brian – I’m so happy when I hear that my story resonates! Sophia
I Watched your story last night such an emotional Journey I couldnt stop crying.
Thanks Tony. I’m so glad the story touched you emotionally… Sophia
Thanks so MUCH for sharing your mothers amazing story! She is a remarkably resilient person. Hearing what she went through was both heart-breaking & heart-warming. What make her keep going, in spite of such suffering is truly inspiring. I think Helen is a hero & a beautiful person in every respect – may she rest in peace… You must feel so lucky to have such an AMAZING mother! 3 years ago I wrote a non-fiction e-book about ww2 veterans [Stories Worth Telling] but I think your mother’s story is by far one of the most astonishing stories I have ever seen. “Once My Mother” is a Fantastic film– so thanks again for making it!
Thanks for your comments Kevin – I am lucky to have had such an extraordinary mother – but it took me many years before I appreciated her heroism! Good luck with your own storytelling – so important to have a record of the stories that make up the Australian experience! Sophia
I watched your film ‘Once My Mother’ last night and I can’t stop thinking about it. You have told a really wonderful story through this film and having had a very difficult relationship with my own mother, I can relate to what you were saying and the feelings you describe.
Your mother must have been an incredibly strong and resilient person to have survived such a hard life, but she did, and she loved you very much. I couldn’t stop crying at the end and I really wanted to thank you for making such a great film. I am a Film Festival veteran of over 20 years and really good stories like yours are rare,very moving. and one which I won’t forget.
Thanks so much Susan – I’m touched by your response… Sophia
What a story! I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen even for a second. How did you find so many archive films? I didn’t know it exists. When the film finished I started to cry. My both parents were sent to Siberia too.
You are very talented. The film is very good. I hope you will make more films in the future.
Thanks for your response Linda! The archive footage was a huge challenge but we’re very pleased with what we ultimately managed to find. You can find all our archival sources in the credits at the end of the film – our website also has all the credits listed. Are you familiar with Kresy Siberia Foundation? http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html They would be very interested to hear from you if members of your own family were deported to Siberia. The organisation was created in 2001 to ‘record, research and remember’ the Polish families who were deported to Siberia. They have a very good virtual museum on the website which has information about the whole experience. Sophia
Thank you for such a detailed and beautifully-made tribute to your mother. There’s not much that interests me on television these days, but I’m glad I switched to ABC after watching the Easter Island program on SBS.
Thanks Richard – I’m glad you found Once My Mother on ABC as we didn’t receive the promotion we had hoped for, although we knew we had an audience for our film if people had the opportunity to hear it was on. We have spent the past 3 months screening the film in cinemas right around the country – and have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the story. The audiences we came across were squarely in the ABC demographic. We were very disappointed to find that our national broadcaster had programmed a commercial, genre, UK drama in the earlier prime time slot in preference to using that slot for an Australian story that reflects what it is to be an ‘Australian’ today. Surely this is part of their charter? Okay – I’ve got that off my chest! Sophia
Watched your story last night on ABC.
What an amazing woman your mother was.
I hear your pain, regarding having closed ears to one’s parents stories when we were young. I seems to be common place.
I have no suitable exsuse, except to say
we, at that age, are were busy creating a family of our own, we had little time for anything else.
They were an amazing generation, our parents.
Are you planning to write a book?
Thank you for a truly wonderful story
Hi Kathleeen, I hope my story is a timely reminder to record those family stories while our parents are still around to tell them. I’m considering a book but depends on a number of factors… Sophia
Hi Sofia I was blown away by your film which I watched on the ABC last night. My Polish mothers journey is almost identical to Helena’s from the time she left Brody until she ended up in a refugee camp in Southern Rhodesia. That’s when her life changed. She worked as a nurse in Salisbury and met my English father who was stationed in Rhodesia with the RAF during the war and stayed. I was born in Zimbabwe. My parents live close to me now and my mum Maria is a hardy 88 yr old. Poles are remarkably resilient people. Thank you so much for making this film. I will be buying copies to send to all my family. Regards Nora
Glad to hear that your own family story has resonances with mine. Are you familiar with Kresy Siberia Foundation? http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html It was created in 2001 to ‘record, research and remember’ the Polish families who were deported to Siberia. They have a very good virtual museum on the website which has information about the whole experience and includes the story of the Poles who ended up in refugee camps in Africa (as well as India, Mexico and New Zealand). Sophia
Such a privilege to be taken along on this journey, the archival footage so powerful, the personal story so brave and human, and all crafted with such honesty. I am especially interested because of working on that idea that we can’t progress in life very well until we understand and forgive our parents. That has been my aim with men and their fathers, as the 20th century’s nightmares shattered so many parent child relationships. So today, after seeing the film on ABC last night, I feel my world has expanded. Thankyou and well done.
Thanks so much for your comments Steve – much appreciated. I’m an admirer of your own work in the area of parent/child relationships. In fact your ‘Raising Boys’ book was frequently thumbed through as our own son made his journey into adulthood… Sophia
My name is Gosia and I’m one of the volunteers who works on bringing the Polish Film Festival to Seattle.
I had the privilege to introduce your movie today and to read a letter from you before the screening. I’m writing to you because I think your movie was extremely powerful, beautiful and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing this incredible story with us.
I saw your wonderful film at Warrawong yesterday on the recommendation of my cousin who had seen it last week. I drove down from Sydney. It was so deeply moving and the story fascinating. My father was born in the Ukraine (Polish sector) at about the same time as your Mum. His childhood was very similar to your Mum’s being orphaned at about 10. The village was Uherenyv- Stary about 20kms from Ivano Frankivsk. I was fortunate to go back and visit in 2001 with him to the village and some few family. It reminded me so much of your visit to Oleszow on the film. He was taken as forced about to work on a farm in Germany in 1942 and eventually found his way to Australia in 1949 after a few years I’d displacement camps. Fortunately, his story was far more positive than that of your poor Mum- she must have been a very strong person deep down. My father is so like like your Mum now in the film- he is 91 yrs old- lives in Aged Care in Sydney and his memory is becoming very confused. How great it would have been to have them converse and share their stories a few years ago when they were able. Anyway, thank you again for your truly inspiring story.
Sent from my iPad
Hi Ann, Thanks for your lovely response. And for your own story… Sophia
Hi Sophia, I saw the film today at Warrawong thanks to the recommendation of my cousin who lives in Wollongong. I drove down from Sydney. It was a fascinating story and I was deeply moved by your portrayal of your mother’s story. My father was born in Uherenyv- Stary in 1923. The village was about 20 Kms from Ivano Frankivsk. His story was similar to you mothers in the early years- he was orphaned at about 10 yrs. but he ended up being taken as forced labour to Germany in 1942. He worked on a farm where he had a much better experience than your mother had and eventually travelled to Austraila in 1949 after 4 yrs in displacement camps. He is now 91 yrs old and lives in aged care in Sydney- he is at exactly the same stage now as your mother was during the filming. He also looks a little like your Mum. His memories are now confused but his stories are fascinating. I was fortunate to travel back to the Ukraine with him in 2001 and visit his village and some family that were still there. It was so like the village where your mother was born. Fortunately, I have written most down- it would have been wonderful for them to have met and talked a few years ago. Anyway, thank you so much for for this wonderful story.
Where can I hire/buy this video.
Thank you Danuta
Hi Danuta, We’re expecting the DVD will be available towards the end of the year. We currently screening Once My Mother around Australian regional centres and can’t release the DVD until after we’ve finished the cinema run. We’ll notify you when it’s available. Which city/country do you live in? Sophia
Sophia and Rod, I saw your film yesterday and find myself still very present to it.
I had expected it to be heavy and harrowing, a hard movie to watch. Instead, I was struck by the way in which you presented Helena’s extremely difficult life without drama or fuss. The abiding thing I took from the film is the respect and grace with which you opened to your mother, Sophia, and the depth with which you listened to her. Once you really heard her, and she felt completely heard, there was no separation. The legacy of the film is love and grace.
Hi Christine, glad you got to see the film. We’re so pleased that it got to Caloundra – just wish we could have been there ourselves… Sophia
i need to see this film, can I buy a copy somewhere. I have written 6 chapters about my life in Goodwood Orphanage from 1954 to 1963. Please contact me Sophie. Kind regards Denise
Hi Denise, I’m very interested in your experiences at Goodwood Orphanage – I’ll make contact with you privately. Sophia
Couldn’t get my Mother to the Perth screening as she was too ill at the time recovering from cancer, and would love to know when “Once your Mother” may be available on DVD so that I can get the entire family to watch it.
Your family experience is so vastly different from mine, though the geographic route was similar with the addition of a 6 year stay in India for my Mother and her Parents. I would dearly like to know how you got to your sources in Europe for your research, as I would like to prepare a book for my son and his future descendents about both my parents quite different paths and experiences in getting to Australia.
Hi Bronislaw, We can’t release the DVD until our regional cinema run is over – we’re expecting that to be towards the end of the year. We’ll notify you when they’re available…
In terms of your own research, Kresy Siberia Foundation’s Virtual Museum was invaluable to my own research – suggest you start there – http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html. Excellent books that I used for my research included Michael Hope ‘Polish Deportees in the Soviet Union’, Keith Sword ‘Deportation and Exile’, and Tomasz Piesakowski ‘The Fate of Poles in the USSR.’ Books by historians Norman Davies and Timothy Snyder were also invaluable. If you go onto our website you’ll find a list of our end credits with all the archival institutions we sourced for visual material – http://www.oncemymother.com
Hope that helps, Sophia
I saw this at Warrawong yesterday afternoon. What an amazing piece of work – storytelling, research, production and everything else that goes into a movie! I just loved it. The contrast between the brutality and violence of what happened in WW2 and the gentleness and understanding that developed as mother and daughter rebuilt their relationsip is still with me. “Once my mother” should be a must-see movie for everyone, especially those who think that war or violence is a way of finding national security or of resolving differences. Understanding built on love and communication is the only way.
What a lovely response Jolyon – I’m really touched… Sophia
Hello Sophia, I was at the Nowra advance screening last night (front row in between my parents). So many more questions and comments filled my mind afterwards. Thankyou for treading a journey which must have been a mixture of intrigue, sadness and probably at times trying and frustrating. What a journey! I was extremely moved- social justice is extremely important to me and therefore why I get so emotional. I would have loved to talk with you for hours! I have a story to tell too- mine is different to yours in that I am raising a young man with Down Syndrome- we have had some incredible things happen to our family over the years from his health issues to discrimination in school and my collapse when he was 10 to discover I had PTSD. He is now 22 and I wish I could tell our story in such an evocative way! Another story that needs to be told. How will we ever stop injustice towards people if we don’t get to the depth of what effect that has? On your tale- it seemed your mother had no malice towards those that put her through so much (except maybe for your birth father?)was that the case? She seemed to be so forgiving all the way through? I think that’s a huge key. I believe God has and will use her in a mighty way through you- He has been with her every step of the way, keeping her alive and well and getting her here to Australia. I have not felt so moved and deeply touched by a film in a long time. Grazie Mille and merci beaucoup xx I would love a copy when it comes to DVD
Hi Corrina, I’m pleased that my story resonated for you, especially given your own personal circumstances. In answer to your question about my father, in the early years I know my mother felt anger towards him but I think she forgave him in her old age. As I did too when I realised that he was so young when I was born – aged around 25, and he had spent years away from his family while fighting the war. At the time I don’t think he had the maturity to deal with the situation he found himself in – and let the women sort out his problem…
I’ll put you on our mailing list and let your know when the DVD is available…
Thankyou Sophia, saw your story last night at Warrawong with children, beautiful film. I undertook a similar journey 12 years ago to discover how my Grandparents came to Australia. My Grandfather enlisted and was taken back to Germany early. My Granmother, from western Poland was taken to a labour Camp in Germany. Similar stories of hardship and tragedy. The Soviet side of the story that you portrayed answered many questions around why families would not let them return to Poland. My kids know many of the stories. Your documentary prompting more discussion and filling in some questions around why families in Poland discouraged those prisoners returning after the war. Brought back memories of reconnecting with my lost family and piecing together my Grandparents experiences. Thankyou
Hi Mark, I’m so glad that the film has generated discussion amongst your family. Those family stories are so important – it’s all that we’re left with in the end…
can I buy a copy of the film. I have not seen it yet and I doubt I can get the Kingaroy cinema to put it on (small country town). But I would love to see the film please.
Hi Sandra, we’re hoping that we can release the DVD later this year. We’ll notify you on our website. In the meantime, the closest screening to you is at the Caloundra Film Festival on Thursday, October 2nd (I know that’s still a long way from Kingaroy!) Sophia
I was quite overwhelmed by ithe film’s power as well as its seamless usage of relevant historical footage. The casting of the actual persons who are the exponents of the tale is extraordinary … especially when the director of the film herself is one of these persons.
And beyond all this is the utter poignancy of the tale and the way in which the writer/director tells the story, never seeking to glamourise or sanitize, her part in that which transpired.
It is truly a great film.
Hi Marc, Thanks so much for your kind comments – much appreciated, Sophia
Composer Cezary Skubiszewski’s beautiful soundtrack from Once My Mother can be heard on ABC Classic FM this afternoon, Sunday 14th Setpember, at 3.45pm. Don’t miss it! http://www.abc.net.au/classic/content/2014/09/14/4085920.htm
Unfortunately I missed this film.I was away in Poland at the time,looking at the history of my own mother.She was taken from the town of Jaworzno by the Soviets and spent two years in Siberia as a 17 year old.She subsequently went to what was then Persia and then to Italy.She finally settled in the UK.There is a Siberian society in the north of Poland,near Gdansk,comprised of relatives of people like our mothers.They have brought a train from Siberia to Poland of the type which was used to transport our mothers.I would really like to see this film and wonder how that might be possible.I would also love to read anything that Sophia has written about her own and her mother’s story if anything is available and to hear Sophia speak about her journey and that of her mother if there are any plans for her to do this.Our mothers’ experiences must have been very similar.
I look forward to hearing from you.
With kind regards,
Hi Krys, Let me know where you live. If it’s in Australia we are currently screening the film in many regional cities. There are also some international screenings happening so hopefully there will be something shown in your vicinity… We have just sent out a newsletter, which I will email to you, with information about our current activities, along with links to the media courage we’ve had in Australia. Regards, Sophia
Went to see Once My Mother followed by Q&A with Sophia and Rod at Mt Vic Flix last night. Spanning a long period of time the mother’s story is finally told and the daughter available to hear and record it. The gaps in the narratives of the mothers life and the daughters understanding were filled in. This film is a powerful testimony to the way stories can endure and be reclaimed and the ‘receiving frame’ or conditions for hearing them favourable. There is a worksheet you can download from this website. A very important film for so many reasons and each person will most likely notice and take something away from it. I URGE you to see it.
I work with people who were adopted or removed from families and every day encounter these ‘enduring gaps’ in the narrative. Reasons for speaking up, reasons for not wanting to hear, reasons for silence and protection, shame, self attribution of unworthiness etc, these are just some of the experiences that people described when they have been separated from family.
I would love to have a copy of this film to use in my work with groups. It reminds of the anthropological work by Barbara Myerhoff – with elderly Jewish holocaust survivors living in Venice Beach California. A book and a film ‘Number our Days’ has inspired narrative therapy. Once My Mother is going to be an important and enduring film for Australia. I feel proud that it was made in this country and is so sensitive to human values and understanding. Thank you so much to all involved.
Thanks so much for your comments Deidre. I’m so pleased that you see a way to use the film as part of your important work. We’ll let you know when the DVD is released – we’re hoping it will be later this year. Sophia
Obejrzałem dziś film na festiwalu Niepokorni Niezłomni Wyklęci w Gdyni i zrobił na mnie duże wrażenie. Historia niezwykła, do tego świetnie opowiedziana. Mam nadzieję, że będzie jeszcze możliwość zobaczenia go w Polsce. Pozdrawiam!
My wife and myself have just watched your film at the “Cursed Soldiers” Festival in Gdynia, Poland where we live.
I must say that we were deeply touched by the story of your relationship with your Mother and with the story of your Mother’s life, the more so as my grandmother and her three sons, i.e. my father and my two uncles, were deported to Siberia, where they spent almost six years, from 1941 until late 1946. All of them remained in Siberia, near the town of Irkutsk, and for reasons unknown to me did not take the opportunity to be evacuated along with Gen. Anders’ troops.
So much said, I have only one technical comment to make about your film, namely that it would be much easier to understand for the Polish viewers if you have included Polish subtitles whenever your Mother speaks in Polish. Strangely enough,even though her English is quite easy to understand for an English speaking person (needless to add, there were Polish subtitles added for those viewers who do not understand English, but I tried to actually listen to what you both were saying rather than read the subtitles), her Polish, believe me, is quite difficult to follow, be it because of the articulation or the quality of the recording.
Once again, thank you very much indeed for your film.
Maciej and Iwona
Hi Maciej and Iwona,
Thanks for your warm response to the film! Your family members who stayed in Siberia may not have been told there was an ‘amnesty’. Many Poles remained in Siberia and had no idea they’d been freed – it was left up to the camp administrator to pass on this information. There are thousands of Polish families who have remained in Siberia to this day. After the fall of communism the Polish Government invited these Poles to relocate back to Poland. Thousands did, but for others it was too late – after so many years they had put down too many family roots in Siberia and that is where they have stayed. The Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum, which was created to ‘record, remember and research’ the Poles’ deportation to Siberia has a great deal of historical information that may help you understand your own family’s circumstances – http://kresy-siberia.org/muzeum/?lang=en
Thanks for the feedback about the Polish subtitles – my mother’s Polish was a ‘pre-war’ Polish (with added English influences from her years in Australia) – maybe that’s why you had difficulty understanding it? I’ll pass your response on to our Polish producers.
This si a remarkable film – all I can say is thankyou
Thanks Pamela – appreciate your comment…
Can you please advise me how I can purchase a copy of your DVD?
Hi Anna, DVDs of Once My Mother have not yet been released. But please register your contact details on our website and we’ll let you know when they are available, possibly towards the end of the year. Sophia
Sorry Sophia but my message was a little mixed up at the end it should have said”Thank you to both you and Rod for a wonderful film no matter how heart breaking it was.”
I’m still thinking and talking about it today, I just can’t get the film out of my mind.
Thanks Suzan – I’m touched that the story resonated so powerfully with you… Sophia
I met you last night at the Regent Theatre Murwillumbah.
Thanks for the moving story of your relationship with your mother and of course the documentary of the fate of the Poles in WW2, a history of which I, together with my parents, am a part.
My parents were Zygmunt and Maria Pracki/a and I have posted their details on the Wall of Names in the K/S Virtual Museum. I also have placed our photos from those times on the website – you may be interested in some which reflect similar images to those you used in the film. Unlike your mother, Mama and I were sent to a refugee camp in the Sind Desert, north of Karachi, then in India.
I wrote the narrative for Jadwiga in one of the K/S Galleries. However, I became overwhelmed by the whole thing and no longer visit the website. I do know Stefan and Anna, who have visited us here in the Tweed Valley.
Thanks again for the very touching film. Do get in contact if you feel like it. I would be pleased to recive updates on the film, especially screening dates on the ABC. I am the local Convenor of Friends of the ABC and I would like to alert my local members when it is to be shown.
Sandy (Alexandra) Copley
Thanks Sandy, it was great to have you at the screening to be able to tell the audience of your own family’s experience of Siberia. As I said that night, there are thousands of Polish/Australian families living in this country who shared the same fate as my mother, and your own family. This story is part of Australia’s history – it’s not just something that happened in some other part of the world.
I’ll check out your family and photos on the Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum Wall of Names and have have added your contact details to our mailing list so you’ll receive news of upcoming events. We have quite a few regional Q&A screenings in NSW, Queensland and Victoria organised over the coming months – I’ll be putting out a newsletter with details of these events very soon.
Hi there, I won’t be able to view the movie at the Ashfield Polish Club and was wondering where and when will there be another screening?
Hi Basia, I’ve sent you an email with information
I would like to know when this movie will be shown in Paddington please. cj
Once My Mother recently had a 5 week season at Chauvel Cinema, Paddington, but it has now finished it cinema run there (and today was final screening at Hadyn Cremorne). Sorry you missed it! The next screening in Sydney is at Polish Club, Ashfield, 3.15pm Sunday 14th September. I will be attending to introduce the film.
Polish Club, Ashfield
http://www.polishclub.net.au/ – !facilities/c66t
Over the coming weeks there are further screenings confirmed in Sydney and the wider region. Please check our website from time to time for details. Sophia
I was fortunate enough to attend the screening of Once My Mother at the Riverside Theatre last Monday night the 1st September.
What a outstanding film.
My mother came from the Ukraine after the war and went through similar experiences to those of your dear mother.My mother rarely spoke of her experiences and I can only image what she went through.MY mother passed away nearly 3 years ago at the age of 87 and to this day I can only hope and pray that she is now at peace.Thanks to your wonderful story I feel that I now have a better understanding and knowledge of what happened to innocent people like your and my mother.
I only wish that she was here with me now so I could talk to her and maybe help her through the pain she lived with all her life.
I was unable to stay for the questions and answers after the film but let me tell you that I left the theatre with more than one tear in my eye.
Once again thank you a wonderful no matter how heart breaking it was.
Dear Sophia, I am sorry not to have met you at the launch in Narooma but there were many people at the screening this morning. What a remarkable story about yourself and your mother’s struggle. I and my mother are the same age as you two but at least both grew up with parents. All that going on when I was growing up in the apartheid era in South Africa with a ridiculously high standard of living. I am in Australia and mother in England – the victims of Africa. Thank you for sharing your feelings, which is a fine example of documenting stories. Good luck for the future.
Thanks Tracey! We’ll be heading your way again very soon (well, almost…) We’ve now also confirmed a cinema season at Roxy Cinema in Nowra, beginning Friday 26th September, 6.30pm. I’ll be there on that evening for a Q&A. Please let any friends you may have in the area know! We’ll have details of other regional screenings on our website very soon. Sophia
Thankyou Sophia for making this extremely moving and emotionally piercing film. I heard echoes in your mother’s story of my own father, Heinrich, a Polish Jewish refugee who also made it from labor camps in Siberia to Tashkent, and eventually to Australia. What incredible lives. We keep them in our memories. Victoria
Thanks Victoria. Not sure if you know that there’s a great deal of information on the Kresy-Siberia Virtual Museum website about the deportation of the Poles to Siberia. About 20% of the Poles who were deported were in fact Jewish, not because Stalin was anti-Semitic at that time but because they happened to live in the eastern part of Poland that Stalin annexed on 17th September 1939. Sophia
I haven’t seen the movie as yet but heard a review on ABC and it will be a must to see. I have often thought that my mother’s story should be captured in a similar way. Born in 1925 she was taken by the Nazi’s at age 14 and never returned home. My eldest brother was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany and arrived in Australia at age 5. Story too long to tell here but a sad tale in many ways. I am hosting a conference in November in Wollongong titled ‘Developing Elite Minds’. Your question ‘What does it take to survive?’ fascinates me and largely influences my work. When I visited Poland in 2010 it changed me in a way I can’t describe.
I can’t wait to see the movie and thanks for producing so tangible and personal.
We are now starting regional screenings of Once My Mother and we have just confirmed a cinema season at Warrawong, near Wollongong, starting September 25th, 6.30pm. I’ll be there on that evening for a Q&A. Maybe you could come to that? We’ll have more details of our regional screenings on our website soon. Sophia
Hi Sophia. Thank you very much for making this heartfelt movie about your amazing mother.
I learnt so much that I’d never heard about. I felt love and compassion for what these incredible war refugees went through. I feel ashamed about my piddly small first world problems and will try to live with more gratitude for his lucky and good my life is. Please make more stories like these. Best regards, Alison.
Thanks Alison – really appreciate your comments.
Thank you so much Sophia and Rod, and others who contributed, for making this incredible film. I saw it last night at Avoca Beach Picture Theatre and was filled with so many mixed emotions at what I had experienced through your beautiful, honest, and courageous storytelling. I was deeply moved by Helen’s horrific experiences in her younger years, and was full of admiration of how she lived and coped with what life put in front of her. I have been inspired by Sophia for her willingness to search for the truth behind her mother’s behaviour and to be able to come to a place of forgiveness for past perceived behaviours. I think both Helen and Sophia are extraordinary women and I thank them so much for exposing themselves and their incredible story. Hopefully, many, many people will see this film, especially politicians/leaders in our country, and be moved to rethink how Australia treats migrants and refugees nowadays. More stories please, you tell them so beautifully and sensitively.
Thanks so much Jennifer! We’ve had a couple of Amnesty International screenings recently in Australia which were arranged to highlight the difference between current refugee policy and the spectacularly successful postwar refugee program. I hope my film helps to show how it can be done well with wise political leadership – something so tragically lacking today.
Thanks for sharing – a wonderful film on so many levels. A magnificent tribute and testimony to your mother’s determination and positivity in the face of so much brutality, a story of coming to terms with a parent and a past, and a reminder that much of what we know of the past often omits huge chunks of what really happened – the story of the Poles through this period being such a hidden story.
We saw this last week and have been recommending it to friends as a story that needs to be heard and seen – and a beautifully made film.
An added bonus was seeing Steve all these years on – we worked together many decades ago (late 1970s) – give him my regards.
Thanks Ian! So much of the story of World War Two is unknown to us because the focus of Western history books has been on Western Europe, largely ignoring what was going on in Eastern Europe under Stalin. Fortunately there are historians like Norman Davies and Timothy Snyder, whose important book ‘Bloodlands’ is an attempt to redress this imbalance and create a more accurate record of the Second World War. My ‘good man’ Stephen sends his regards…
Hi Sophia. Thank you for sharing with us,the general public, the reaffirmation of the bond with your mother. Her story is remarkable for lots of things, not least being the positive life force she asserted to survive & ultimately thrive. She never was a “nobody” – she was robbed of identity but not personhood.
Do you think there are more stories to be told eg among the European people who worked in Adelaide’s Central Market? I shall certainly seek out the book Bloodlands.
Dear Sophia. Thank you for sharing your renewal of your bond with your mother with us, the general public. I am a psychologist living in Adelaide since 1964 & a regular attender @ the Central Market since 1970. I have always wondered about the stories of the European women who worked there eg the Atlas continental deli & I hope your movie may inspire someone to look a little closer at that aspect of Adelaide/Polish/European history. And the love which you brought to making this movie is palpable. Thank you.
Thanks Julie. I’m so grateful I was given the opportunity to put my own family story on record. Like my mother, all those others who came to Australia as post war European refugees were witnesses to the greatest catastrophe of the 20th Century. Their stories urgently need to be recorded because they are part of Australia’s own story now. I hope my film might prompt others to record precious stories from their own family experiences … before it’s too late.
I simply wish to thank Sophia Turkiewicz for making such an extraordinary film. Hopefully it might act as a reminder of the extreme difficulties so often faced by people before they arrive here. The present government seems to have abandoned all generosity and decency. Your skill in blending your mother’s very personal story with the extraordinary detail of geopolitics back then was remarkable. Thank you again. Tony
Thanks Tony! I hope that my film might remind Australians that the current refugees trying to reach Australia are not ‘illegals’, but people – individuals and family members – who are almost certainly coming with their own unique and tragic family stories of loss and dislocation.
JON T – Chauvel screening
What a powerful, moving true story and with an all too rare uplifting ending too. Congratulations – a beautiful film beautifully produced.
Thank you for telling an extraordinary,moving and beautiful story. It will remain with me for a very long time.
Thanks for your comment Frances! It means a lot to me to know that the story resonates with you…
I’m so touched by your heartfelt response! And so glad that you and others are learning the story of the Poles’ deportation to Siberia. I myself didn’t know the historical story until I started researching the background to my family stories. I was just as amazed as you! Once I knew the full story I had to do what I could to shine a light on this piece of history. My mother had nothing but love and affection for ordinary Russian people: ‘it was the Russian government that was the problem’ is what she always said. Your own people suffered as much as the Poles through those dark days. But at least now we know the truth. There’s a very interesting book by an American historian, Timothy Snyder, called ‘Bloodlands’ if you want to learn more about the whole story.
Thanks again for your beautiful response – it means a lot to me.
MAXIM DRYGIN at Chauvel Cinema screening
Watched the film today at Chauvel Sydney expecting anything else but such a deep and painful experience of a talented feature documentary.
It was an extreme torture for a Russian to watch this film witnessing chronicle of unknown events being unfolded layer by layer in front of you via a titanic video archive search and compilation effort multiplied by the impact of those events on the your own family, Sophia; witnessing all the truth about soviet invasion of Poland so skillfully hidden (till these days!) from citizens like me for years by official propaganda.
I’d like to personally apologize for the grief, for the Siberia hell, for the loss of your mums sister, for the brutal and inhumane treatment of Polish prisoners of war that was never officially declared, for everything that my nation caused to your family and the whole Polish community during those dark pre-and-post WW2 years, Sophia. You are a perfect example of strength, courage, and determination, like I believe your mum had been all those years.
I saw the movie today – it was fantastic – congratulations to Zosia Turkiewicz for telling the fantastic story. The world needs to know what happened to poles during WW2.
I would really like to buy a DVD copy of the movie. My father also experienced deportation to Siberia and liberation as he joined Anders Army (and ended up in Australia). He is in a nursing home and unable to go to a theatre – so I’d really like to buy a copy and get him to watch. Hope it will be released soon – I’d like to know how to order a copy.
Hi Ala and thank you for your comments. You can subscribe to our Newsletter on the website HOME page and we’ll let everyone know when the DVD is available – probably later in the year when the cinema season is completed. Cinemas don’t like to have the DVD available. I hope that your father gets to see it. Let us know and please stay in touch. Regards, Rod Freedman, Producer.
A beautiful and remarkable film.
Thanks for your lovely response Marion!
The film was an amazing story of strength and love. My daughter came to see it with me, and we both shed some tears.
I went to school with Sophia, but she probably won’t remember me; I have school photo in my album!
Which school are you referring to? (I went to quite a few!) I’d be very interested to talk to you and see the school photo. Please put your contact details on our Talk to Us page and I’ll be in touch… Sophia
Thank you Kaye. You can contact Sophia via the ‘Contact Us’ on the website HOME page. Thanks for your response!
Jan and I saw the film last night at the Paradiso Cinema in Perth. Our son who lives in London is married to a wonderful girl whose Polish grandparents and father, from what we gather, must have gone through the same horrors as Helen and Sophia. Evidently their family group somehow held together. We have gently foreshadowed our interest in their story but have politely been rebutted. Your wonderful film helps us to understand their path from Poland to Iran, the loss of a 10 year old brother, we think from typhoid, their later transfer to Uganda and then London. And now their family thread of this fabric of their family epic will be there for our granddaughters to see if they want to. We as parents will now be better able to understand and look forward to obtaining a copy of the DVD when it is released in October.
Thanks so much for your response David. I’m so glad that my story has filled in some gaps in your own family history. When I seriously began researching it was a wonderful and satisfying feeling to finally have a proper understanding how all those family stories fitted into the big historical picture!
Thank you David. Please Subscribe on the HOME page and we’ll let you know when the DVDs are available. Hopefully, it will provoke members opt the family to tell some of the stories. Some are happy to talk about those experiences, whilst for others, the memories are painful. Best wishes, Rod Freedman, Producer
I just saw the film in Sydney and wanted to say congratulations on making such a deeply moving and beautifully crafted film. I lost my own mother 5 months ago – she also had dementia – so perhaps I’m more sensitised at the moment to stories about mums. But this said so much more – about WWII, Poland and Australia, refugees and how they enrich a nation. Remarkable bravery and honesty from Sophia in the telling of her own side of the story -enormous empathy, love and understanding in the telling of her mum’s. Thank you.
Thanks so much for your warm response Richard – its great to hear that the story resonates!
I saw Once My Mother at the Nova, this evening. I’m not Polish, or even of recent migrant heritage, but I was very touched by your beautiful film. When we are young we are so quick to judge our parents. You did well to piece together your mother’s story and mend the relationship while you could. So often it is too late by the time we realise that our parents were trying to do their best in a tough world, just as we all are.
Thanks Heather. So many people have come up to me at screenings regretting not having resolved their own difficult relationship with a parent – I hope that my story is a timely reminder of the importance of this…
RITA GILGIC – Adelaide screening
Thank you for this incredible documentary of your mother’s journey through war-torn Europe and your life together here in Adelaide, afterwards. I saw this with my husband and brother on the weekend here in Adelaide and was incredibly moved. Still am.
So much resonated with my own family history. My grandmother was a German-Russian born in the Crimea and was exiled in the early 30s to the gulags of Siberia with her husband and two small children; she was the only one to survive. Her baby daughter died on the cattle-train journey to hell and was simply tossed away by guards. The rest died from starvation, illness later. I heard her stories when young and they always filled me with such sadness. My grandmother somehow survived and ended up becoming a settler/colonist there, remarried a Russian and my mother was born in Siberia.
However, when the opportunity arose, they were able to flee Russia, through Germany, then down to Italy..and finally Australia. I have a feeling they had forged documents that listed them all as Polish. All their arrival records here state that they were. I had heard stories about them walking out with a huge group across country and only just making it aboard some last ship before the army arrived, but could never understand how this could have been. Perhaps it was during this time of Polish amnesty!
Your documentary has shed new light and a vision of what they also could have experienced…and I thank-you again for that. Oh…and my husband’s mother and uncle were also placed in the Goodwood Orphanage for a while, I believe about a decade before you. Their mother was a separated-single Italian, so we certainly shared many connections to your story!
Thank you, Sophia, for making this powerful film and allowing strangers into your life. I saw it yesterday at Nova, Adelaide and it’s still in my head. All should see it; I hope the season is extended. Congratulations on an exquisitely crafted film.
Thanks so much Julia – really appreciated your comments!
Dear Sophia and Rod,
We were so pleased to see the film at last (the last time I met Rod, it was still an idea, I think). It’s a movie for all the daughters of hero refugee mothers. My mother-in-law fled Latvia with three children under her arms, lost her husband in a concentration camp and made a circuitous route to Chocolate City (Greta). It wasn’t until she died that her children found her photos, letters and papers under the lining of her bedroom drawers and began putting her story together. Thank you for telling Helen’s story – it is also an acknowledgement of our Marija and all the women who think their struggle is not worth mentioning. Their stories are the bedrock of post-war Australia.
Appreciate your comments Ian! I agree that these stories are the bed-rock of post war Australia. I’m so pleased that the Australian/Polish community is currently creating a ‘Polish Museum and Archives in Australia’ as a way of recording the history of the Polish/Australian experience since settlement. I’m hoping that other national groups are doing the same. As well as the stories, there are so many letters/documents/artefacts etc that should be preserved (such as those that your mother-in-law hid under the lining of her bedroom drawers – such a touching image!)
CAROL OMER, Adelaide
I can not recommend this outstanding documentary film highly enough.
We were mesmerized by the story, the beautiful editing, outstanding footage and ultimately the recognition that hell really did freeze over in Siberia and that Love thawed it out again.
Congratulations Rod Freedman and Sophia Turkiewicz and the production team both here and overseas for crafting a powerful, evocative Story that left us all sitting in silence at the end, not wanting to get up out of our seats and leave Helen and her extraordinary life.
Thanks so much for your lovely response Carol.It means a lot to me…
Thank you for such an extraordinary film. I have just been to see it this afternoon at Manuka in Canberra. It is such an enobling tale of endurance and survival and coming to terms with fate. Sophia’s feelings of abandonment are entirely understandable and what a loving relationship she had with the aged Helen. I heard Sophia’s interview with Phillip Adams and was very struck with what they both had to say about Australia’s post-war migration policy and the shame of the current government’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers. Congratulations on a marvellous film
Thanks for your warm response Claudia! So glad that the story resonated. And yes, there are valuable lessons to be learned from the phenomenally successful Australian government program to re-settle European post war refugees after the Second World War. When the appeal went out for countries to accept these refugees, Australia was one of the countries that responded enthusiastically. In the space of 4 years 170,000 refugees arrived by boat to Australia (my mother and I were just two of these refugees) and in the next 20 years Australia was transformed from a predominantly Anglo-Saxon country to the multicultural country that we have today. Mind-boggling when you consider the speed and scale of the transformation! Governments set the ‘tone’ of any national conversation on a political issue. And governments can appeal to our better – or worse – instincts. How lucky I feel that the post war government set a tone that appealed to the better instincts of Australians, Even the label ‘New Australians’ was an open-hearted statement of acceptance. I’ll be very happy if Once my Mother can contribute to the national conversation that we’re having today about the current refugee situation. These new refugees are trying to come to Australia for the very reasons that we came here for…
VERONICA DUINKER – Orpheum screening 27 July
A pleasure to meet you and Sophia last night. You’ve produced a very profound movie that spoke to me personally, with my mother having gone through the same thing. You’ve helped me fill in more gaps – mum was one of the fortunate ones that was chosen for the Polish Army (from Siberia). And I didn’t know about the Polish Commander playing such a crutial role in freeing mum (and Helen) from the Gulag.
I love how proud the Poles are – through all their adversity over the years. And I know where I get my free-flowing tears from !
Thank you both very much for your beautiful film.
Thanks Veronica! And yes, General Anders was extraordinarily courageous – his story should be told too!
Congratulations on Cremorne show and high quality Q&A – special thanks to ST for repeating the questions before answering.
Suggestion for wider distribution uses: 1 Add lesser title ‘An Australian Story’; 2 in some cases, use as title Once My Mother (Told Me)
Hello Sophia, Rod and Lesley,
What a special evening it was. What an extraordinary love story that you shared with us folk at The Regal Cinema. How fitting too; one story of struggle, survival and quiet triumph, screened into a place that the folk of Newcastle refuse to allow to disappear or be forgotten. Your story Sophia, your mum Helen’s tale, so deeply intwined, resonating with painful truth, dignity and courage, all in equal measure. Immensely powerful, not a hint of a sentimental paw-print anyway. Congratulations on your achievement as a filmmaker and storyteller to deftly navigate a human heart that beats a the centre of any great tale. It was a privilege to be a part of the evening. Thank you.
Thanks so much for your warm response Greg. It was a very special screening at Regal Cinema last night. Rod and I felt that we were part of a real communal experience. It was great to be involved in such an engaged conversation with the audience.
I am already in tears. I took care of my mom for years with Alzheimer’s . Some things I can relate to. But, why isn’t this coming to the USA?
Which part of US do you come from? “Once My Mother” will be screening at Rhode Island Film Festival on 9th August. And we’ve also been invited to screen the film at Kansas Film Festival. We hope to organise other screenings in US in the near future. Check our website in the coming few weeks for more news.
Thank you to two courageous women for sharing their stories. A narration handled with sensitivity and honesty a privilege to have seen it.
Dear Rod and Sophia,
I just wanted to say that my father and I came to the screening at the NOVA last night and we wanted to congratulate you on a simply wonderful film — I was so touched to have been able to see it and share in the experience of it. So emotional! From the very outset – I mean, the first four minutes had me in tears and really it did not abate for the entire film – and yet it wasn’t an awful, painful type of tears but a cathartic, loving and empathic type of crying. It was beautiful to learn more about your life Sophia as I’ve known you for the duration of mine, but of course never knew what made you! I also loved (and relied) on the ‘character of Sophia’ in the film – so strong and open and steady, it meant that it wasn’t scary to go on the adventure of discovery with her. Beautifully edited and of course Cezary’s score was fabulous – a highly emotional character in itself! Anyhow – I know that all the audience around me were lapping it up – including me and dad. Well done to the both of you and I do hope you have a wonderful ‘season’
Thanks so much for your lovely response Alice. We’re delighted to know that the story is resonating with audiences, and we’re thrilled that the film is now being see by audiences right around Australia!
I was born in Perth WA.
My mother has the exact same story and probably lived with this character in the movie in the same camp in Africa.
My mother is still alive and lives in Perth. If you wish to talk about this I would consider this.
Hi Mark, I hope your mother has recorded her story for the Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum. If she is able to tell her story, here’s the link – http://kresy-siberia.com/contact.html
These stories are so important as they are the backbone of Australia’s post war history and our parents are now elderly, or have passed away, so there’s an urgency to have the stories recorded before it is too late. The Kresy Siberia Foundation are doing an important job in making sure that this tragic chapter of history is not forgotten.
Thank you Mark for getting in touch. I’m sure Sophia would like to talk to you. You could email your contact to us at email@example.com and we’ll be in touch. You never know the connections possible…
Rod Freedman, Producer
I was at last nights Melbourne screening and was truly touched by your story telling. My Grandparents arrived in Australia with young children in tow after having fled Poland to Germany during wartime. My mother immigrated here in her late 20’s. A few years ago, I took my mother ‘home’ to Poland after a 38 year absence. There she saw her deteriorating mother, with dementia who did not acknowledge her. Today, my mother herself has early dementia and I find myself recording many conversations so that the stories are not forgotten. Growing up, we did not have video to record the stories, but I vividly recall a brief conversation in our lounge room with my Paternal grandfather. My brother and I asked about the war .. we were perhaps 10-12 .. he removed his large faced watch from his left hand to reveal his ‘number’ tattoo .. lifted his pant leg to reveal a bullet wound .. we never asked again.
I am envious of the amount of footage you collected and the way you incorporated them into your documentary. I am proud to be Polish and am proud to spread the word about this most emotive story. I am a secondary school teacher and have passed on details of the documentary and the website to Curriculum coordinators and subject co-coordinators in Humanities and English. I would suggest that the documentary could make it onto the approved list for VCAA, the governing VCE body here in Victoria and that you should get in contact with them http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au to find out the process for selection. Again, thank you for telling this story and sharing it with us. I will proudly be an ambassador for this film.
Thanks so much for telling us your story and for your help in disseminating news about the film. This is exactly what we need. We’d like to have a chat with you next week. Please email your contact details to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Rod Freedman – producer
TAMARA OTELLO, Adelaide Nova screening 22 July
Greatly enjoyed this documentary and was deeply moved by the themes of war and migration, abandonment and loyalty, and forgiveness and celebration of the bond between mothers and daughters.
One of the best in years and rarely seen coverage of a piece of world and South Australian history.
RENATA EMILIANOWICZ, Cinema Nova, Melbourne 24 July
Congratulations to Sophia and Rod on this film. I just saw this documentary tonight in Carlton – wow, what an experience. By the end of it my heart was thumping out of my chest. It is such an amazing story – the human story but also – finally – the truth told as our parents and grand parents told us, now on the screen for posterity. This is a part of our personal history, our heritage. In this film is the story of the hundreds and thousands during ww2 who suffered and were largely forgotten thanks to the allies and Stalin.
I urge anyone with Polish roots or anyone who loves great Australian stories/docos to support this film during it’s run at Cinema Nova and anywhere around the country and world!
Can you please advise me where “once my mother” will be showing in Perth and suburbs
Hi James – Cinema Paradiso exclusive from tonight 24 July for 2 week season. Could be extended if the audiences come n numbers. Please spread the word. You can also subscribe to the newsletter on our website http://www.oncemymother.com
This is a message to Sophia – I have a very similar mother from Tarnopol (also Helen). She managed to get out of Siberia and on foot (and train) with 2 companions tramped through to Iran or Iraq (at sometime without proper footwear) and joined the forces boat to UK. From there her life was fairly normal, and I was born of a loving father and mother in the UK. We went to Africa and then she finally migrated to Bunbury WA in 1991 to be with her son and daughter in Australia. But the deep horrible past of being taken from her home in Poland to the concentration camp in Siberia left a permanent deep scar on her personality. It has affected me as her daughter and I am reluctant to watch the movie as it will bring back my mother’s soul which is within me – the tears well. Perhaps I should face it. Thank you for what you have done. My brother lives in Adelaide. Will your movie be coming to Bunbury. There are many poles here (and in Perth) Regards Alice Marais
Thanks Alice. We appreciate your story. It shows in Perth from 24 July for 2 weeks and more if the audience numbers are good. We’ll look up the cinema in Bunbury and see if they’re interested. I hope you do see the film. Many have felt emotional because of family ties but have found it beneficial. Let us know if you do see it and please tell your networks about it. Best wishes.
I had the pleasure of watching this film on the 21st in Canberra. Sophia’s story has amazing parallel’s with that of my sister and I (both Polish) and of being brought up in Orphanages. Some discussion was had between us after the film and an interesting point was made. Our mother never ever spoke of the war and what occurred to her. I suspect Sophia’s mother only told her what she wished to tell her. No doubt like our mother and many others she took many secrets of that time to her grave. This film certainly gave me a clearer understanding of what my mother probably went through. Like Sophia in her younger years, I just didn’t want to know.
Thank you Jim for your response to the film. I’m gad it resonated with you. Every story is different and reveals the hardships and struggles of the time, as well as the strength of the survivors. Best wishes.
I admired the film very much – what a difficult thing to draw together so many threads, history on the global scale plus two personal histories. I think it works really well. Helen’s charm and force of personality comes through so strongly and Sophia’s sense of reluctant search is something I think most of us can relate to. We love our parents but our need to make our own lives is so strong that we can’t always listen to them telling their stories. A tour de force of research – and the Q&A was so interesting on that.
Well done, all of you.
I thought it was amazing and deeply touching. Hope the film touches a few cold hearts to show what refugees have been able to bring to make Australia the wonderful country it is.
I think of what she was going through when I was a child playing in Parsley Bay and enjoying the peace and security of what my family gave me at the same time as she was existing in those terrible camps and coping with such a foreign and harsh Australian environment.
It touched me deeply.
MALGORZATA IZABELA KWOKA
I saw your movie at Orpheum tonight. I cannot say thank you enough. I cried the whole movie and I wanted to tell you what a huge impact your movie made on me.
I was so touched when I heard you interviewed the other day. I’ve yet too see the film. I’m thinking of taking my dad. His is a similar story. He grew up as an orphan. His mother left him when he was a baby with his grandparents. She didn’t return and they died before he was five. He worked on farms all over Poland and Ukraine and ended up in Mauthausen in Austria …a labour camp. He survived and when the US freed them, he walked back to Germany where he met my mother. They came to Australia as refugees. He is amazing and still believes he is a lucky man. He is the most positive person you could meet.
Please advise the next screening time in Brisbane, as I did not have chance to see this film on 15/7/14
Hi Maria – the film opens from 24 July at Palace Centro in Brisbane – and on 24 July in all other capitals if you have friends in other cities. Please leave your thoughts about the film on this website under TALK TO US. Thanks, Rod Freedman, Producer
LINDY W. at Hayden Orpheum Q&A 14 July
Great to see Once My Mother last night and to be there for a Q&A afterwards – really loved how the conversation spilled into Asylum Seekers and resilience.
What a phenomenal and timely experience – hard to understand now the struggle you both went through to get it made. How all its themes weren’t deemed relevant. Incredible.
I also really loved the narrative style of parallel lives. The film was beautifully constructed – coming in and out of the different presents and the masterful orchestration of time.
And all the archival footage – kept thinking: that terrible century and how much can change just in one generation.
Really fantastic. Thank you. There’s so much to think about…..
So Keep having the best time delivering it to the world!
MARG WATSON after Chauvel Cinema Screening 13 July:
I really enjoyed the doco – very moving, overwhelming, sensitively handled and beautifully portrayed. It also had a moving impact on people around me, watching and experiencing their own reactions.
So many themes intertwined in it – tenacity, resilience, courage and determination against all odds. I’m resonating with Sophia travelling to Italy to meet her birth father and her strong need and search for family connection and belonging.
I wish you and Sophia and all the crew a successful screening everywhere with it. These stories need to be told and be part of the historical landscape.
CHERELLE, BEIJING CHANNEL ZERO MEDIA
I was very touched by your film. I can see how struggling in a woman’s whole life to get reconnection with her original family, that happened to you, that also happened to many women in the earth. It is a long trek, you are very brave to open yourself and try to heal yourself through the films which is a mirror for us.
Love your film. Sensitive, real, insightful, full of deep and meaningful love. Thank you for your bravery and sensitivity
Thanks so much for your response Krystyna. We are very happy that the film is getting a national cinema release around Australia on July 24th! Sophia
To Sophia and Helen and all,
Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou for telling.
May thousands see Once My Mother in Adelaide. I will be one. The ad has screened. I see a part of my life reflected back to me. Same Orphanage.
What you both have to say goes beyond me, and yet I feel deeply connected to it.
Thanks Ruth! I’ll be in Adelaide for an Advance Screening and Q&A on Tuesday 22nd July, 6.30pm Nova Eastend. If you can get to that screening, come and say hello – I’d be very interested in hearing of your orphanage experience… Sophia
Hi, When we will be able to see this film in London?
Hi Marta, We’d like to screen the film in UK at some time but so far we’ve not had the opportunity or the time to pursue it as we’ve been concentrating on the Australian release. But hopefully one day! We’ll keep you posted. Sophia
Hi Marta, We have not found opportunities to show the film in London to date and we’ve been busy concentrating on the national cinema release in Australia which begins on July 24th. When that’s over we’ll make every effort to get the film screened in other parts of the world, particularly where there are sizable Polish communities (like London). We’ll keep you posted. The DVD will be available from around October of this year. If you haven’t already registered your contact details on our website, if you’d like to do so, we can let you know as soon as it is available. Thanks so much for your interest! Sophia
Tonight I had the pleasure of seeing your beautiful heart-wrenching movie. Your journey towards finding an identity will capture many hearts I know. As I told you, in 1983 an Iranian director, Khosrow Sinai, made a documentary about Polish refugees in Iran during WWII. A story that remained in my mind and heart all these years. I put the link to the english version of that movie which is called “The Lost Requiem” below if you interested to see. Also my sister in law, Parisa Damandan, has done a fantastic research on finding lost archive photos of Polish refugees in Esfahan-Iran during the same period of time. It called “The Children of Esfahan, Polish Refugees in Iran” and also she held photo exhibition of such around the world. I will put the link to her book too. Once again thank you very much.
movie link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ry5ERzEOU5c
book link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Children-Of-Esfahan-Abolqasem/dp/600519139X
Hi Afshin, Very much enjoyed meeting yourself and your wife at the Newcastle screening of Once My Mother. And thanks so much for sharing your information about The Lost Requiem and The Children of Esfahan projects. Both are important records of this extraordinary episode of history – and always interesting to learn about it from another cultural perspective. Regards, Sophia
HALINA ROBINSON (Sydney Fim Festival screening)
I was overwhelmed seeing the full theatre at the screening of your film which I wanted so much to see. It is very pleasing to know that this important film has been purchased for screening in so many places everywhere. Can imagine how many congratulations you have received.
My first impression was to admire how tenacious you were in getting to sources of knowledge about your Mother’s difficult and complex life. I have to admit to have tears in my eyes, and just wishing to give you a hug and gratitude for doing the task so difficult to accomplish. I know from my own experience how a personal story can influence people much more than the best researched academic dissertations.
The plight of Poles discriminated and relocated to inhuman conditions by the Soviets is so little known even in Poland! Having such a testimony in English, in a film arousing feeling and remaining in memory forever is a great achievement. Thank you Sophia.
Best wishes and warmest regards, Halina
Cassi Plate wrote:
Once My Mother achieves a finely wrought balance between the re-enactments, archival footage and the voice over, and another poetic balance between Sophia’s own story – as inherently descending from her mother’s tragedies – and the gradual unfolding of her mother’s and Poland’s epic tale. A magnificent film and a richly told story. I hope it is embraced wherever it goes.
FOYLE MCCAFFERY (Sydney Film Festival screening):
Not to be missed.
MICHAEL MANDL (Sydney Film Festival screening):
So many levels, captivating, heart wrenching, beautiful.
JENI THORNLEY (Sydney Film festival screening)
Sophia, and all … I really loved it… Such a great work, so much depth and love in it; and Sophia your steady gaze on the film, your mother and yourself … and history is remarkable … good on you! I loved, too, the insights into your own filmmaking in Silver City and Letters From Poland.
Saw the trailer (manuka movies)
Touched a raw nerve. My mother now 87,
Taken at age 15. She had me in a camp at age 18
We came here as refugees.
Forgiveness !! So much to uncover.
Very much looking forward to release of movie.
Thank you very much, Peter – please spread the word. Screenings start on 24 July and important to get people to come early in the season so they keep the film on. There will be a Q&A session at some time. You can subscribe on the Home Page to the newsletter to be informed.
JOANNA WEINBERG (Sydney Film Festival screening):
Just saw a marvellous true story at the film festival, Once My Mother tells a story which has never been told before, really worth seeing. I love how you get to hear from the director and producer at the film festival, it gives you such a great insight into the hearts and minds of the creators. Congrats to director Sophia Turkiewicz and Rod Freedman, producer of this brave and moving documentary.
BILLY MARSHALL STONEKING:
Great film – one of the few documentaries that has made me weep. Must see.
Wonderful film. A must see
MARTIN SIMPSON (Sydney Film Festival screening):
Just caught Sophia Turkiewicz’s remarkable documentary ‘Once My Mother’ at the Sydney Film Festival. The story of one woman’s courage on a journey of survival through war and destitution to create a home and family in Australia is counterpointed by the storyteller(her daughter)’s courageous and insightful journey to understanding and reconciliation. Layers of meaning emerge through layers of emotion in this wonderful film. Thanks and congratulations
ALANNAH BALL (Sydney Film festival screening)
I was completely moved by Once My Mother, it is a universal story that can touch the heart! Well done and congrats !
ELIZABETH SUGGIT (Sydney Film Festival screening):
This is an amazing film. The story of Sophia’s mother’s survival – orphaned at age – to a long life is a true miracle. We won’t know the stories of all the hundreds of thousands (millions) of displaced people at that terrible time but this is one. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction!
Im looking forward to seeing your movie…My father was a WW2 Polish survivor of Auschwitz
Buchenwald etc.He wrote a book of his truly miraculous journey..Maybe a film could be made of this..Our family would like to do this…with kind regards HenryK.
PS we all had a difficult childhood facing the
trauma of the past,but all these things are precious and irreplaceable…Our humanity and
perhaps a good education can teach one to turn a curse into a blessing……..
Thank you Henry for your interest in the film. We have national screenings starting 24 July – see the RELEASE section for details. Or SUBSCRIBE on the Home page to get our newsletter about screenings and the DVD release date.
Dear Rod and Sophia,
Totally inspiring session at AFTRS last evening. It gives me great encouragement to work as hard and with as much dedication on our new project on my husband’s Anglo Indian family story. I will spread the word on your film and I am really looking forward to the cinema release. Many many congratulations. Jen Ainge
Thanks Jenny! Good luck with your own project – so many stories, so little time…!
Hi Sophia – very much enjoyed your interview on Sky Business channel this afternoon. It’s always inspiring to come across individuals with drive and skill and a story artfully told. I look forward to seeing the documentary. Thank you and all the vety best to you and your family.
Thanks so much Kari! Screening info will be posted on this website in the coming weeks – so check it out from time to time. Cremorne Orpheum season starts July 24th. I will be doing Q&A’s at various sessions…
Thank you Sophia for so openly telling your mother’s story and in the process, your own. I too am a child of migrants, though I am not aware of my parents having similar experiences. Many migrants didn’t speak of the horrors they suffered in their war lives. They were/are just too happy to live peacefully in this wonderful country.
I know little of my father’s childhood except that it was almost as horrible as your mother’s. I am pleased for your sake that your mother’s story has a happier ending than my own. All the migrants who came to Australia as displaced persons after the second world war have horrific stories to tell. I am so very moved, and pleased that you have opened your life to public viewing and told your mother’s and your story. Thank you.
Thanks for your lovely response to the film. I assume you saw a screening at Arc Cinema in Canberra – the last screening is this Easter Sunday at 4.30pm, so tell your friends to go! Yes, behind every refugee arriving in Australia, not only those arriving after the Second world War, but those who have come since then – and are still arriving – each one has an equally poignant story to tell. These stories should be cherished – they are an important part of Australia’s history…
We have recently started with a research project on the Polish orphans that were deported to Oudtshoorn, South Africa, and I would like to get in contact with you if possible.
I would like to receive news and events info but do not use face book (long story) am aware that an email list is rather old fashioned but would you consider it?
No problem Kaylene, we’re in the process of streamlining our mailing lists and I have just sent out our latest newsletter. I’ll send it to you and put you on the list for future newsletters. Where do you live? We’re compiling our lists by State so that we can send news specific to that State.
Once My Mother is currently screening at Arc Cinema in Canberra (see link for dates and times):
And we’re thrilled that the film will have a cinema release at Cremorne Orpheum in Sydney, Nova Cinema in Melbourne and Luna Palace in Perth, opening in all three cities on July 24th. It will also screen at Regal Cinema in Newcastle from June 28. We hope to have news of screenings in other States very soon!
Could you please advise if there are any plans to show your film in Toronto, Canada?
We’re currently focusing on screenings in Australia but hope to extend to screenings in other parts of the world. Canada is one of the countries that we’ll be following up. Let me know if you’d like to be on our Newsletter mailing list which we send out when there are any developments.
I’m in Perth and very intrigued by your story. I have Polish roots – my dad was in RAF WWII squadron 303 and 306. Really connect with the image of the Pole as having a brick in one hand and a sword in the other – fighting and rebuilding throughout history – so survival is a legacy and product of the generational trauma of our past. How do I purchase a copy of the DVD?
We’re currently working on having cinema screenings of ‘Once My Mother’ in capital and regional cities around Australia (including Perth) in the second half of the year. We hope to have news soon so check out our website from time to time for developments. We can’t release the DVD until after the cinema screenings, but in the meantime, if you would like to register your interest on our website, we’ll let you know as soon as DVDs are available. If you are planning to research your Polish roots, have you checked out the Kresy Siberia Virtual Museum? They have been gathering material for years about the Poles who were deported to Siberia so if that was your Dad’s experience you may find some information there…
My family also was deported to Siberia, and landed in the camp in N. Rhodesia. Can we connect?
I’ve sent you a personal email…
We missed seeing the movie while it was showing at the Classic – if it will be shown again in Melbourne – or in Victoria somewhere, I would appreciate news of this; otherwise I will wait for the release of the DVD. This story has certain parallels to my life.
Hi Richard, Thanks very much for your interest. We are currently planning screenings in various States, including Victoria, but that won’t happen until second half of the year (earliest would be June/July.) We’d love to get the film out earlier than that but unfortunately these things take a long time to negotiate/organize. We were also hoping to have the DVD available soon but that won’t be available until the second half of the year too. In the meantime, Once My Mother is have a short theatrical season at the National Film and Sound Archive, Arc Cinema in Canberra in late March/early April (I’ll post a link and dates/times shortly). We’ll keep you posted about any interesting developments…
An amazing story of the human will to survive, told with honesty, compassion and dignity.
I recommend this film to anyone with an interest in modern history and a desire to understand our fellow humans.
The love between mother and daughter transcended the screen and affected all in the room.
A great emotional experience.
JOY BUDD, SWANPOOL CINEMA, BENALLA
We had the pleasure of viewing “Once My Mother” last Friday evening and what a treat. We overheard a lady say that it was the best film that she had seen this past 12 months. I entirely agree.
I loved the way the present and the past was interwoven in such an interesting and meaningful way. The sad topic was sensitively handled in a way that we could identify with.
I suddenly realised that I have known many migrants, but never did I think to ask them about their life from when they were forced out of their homes until they made a new home in Australia.
Another breathtakingly powerful film from Rod Freedman, that yet again explores what it means to be human, and the deep rewards that come when we dare to face the best and worst of what those who have come before us have experienced. Deeply human, shocking at times, but always engaging, this film is an ode to what it took one woman to survive.
A very brave, honest and moving film. Thank you for being so open in the way you shared your story, Sophia. It is such a personal and engaging way of telling the world about such a brutal and unacknowledged part our history.
EMMA MCGRATH – GLENVIEW COMMUNITY SERVICES,
Glenview Community Services was pleased to support the film ‘Once My Mother’ and Tasmania Action Day at the Breath of Fresh Air Film Festival. Using film is a fantastic and creative way to raise awareness and open up dialogue on issues that affect our community. Dementia and dementia care should not be taboo or a mystery – it should be something everyone is talking about and learning about. BOFA was the perfect platform to open up this discussion.
To all that has been said about this powerful, amazing film I want to add this: an intimate portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship set against the enormity of suffering of a whole nation of people. Thank you for your honesty in acknowledging your feelings of betrayal, abandonment, hate, shame, rebellion and defiance towards your mother at some stages in your life. Sometimes, people are forced by circumstances to make impossible choices in life, ones that can only be a lesser of two evils. It is heartening to see that a child can grow to understand, accept and forgive a mother for the choices she had made. A similar story played out in my family, though on a much smaller scale, and it took me many years to understand and accept the choices my mother made. I hope that this film will help my sister to also understand, accept and forgive. I saw the film with my mother, and at the end of the projection we hugged, kissed and I told her that I loved her very much. Thank you.
Hi Kasia, I’m so happy that my story has resonated with you. So many of my friends have lost their mothers and have regrets for not having appreciated them while they were alive. Keep hugging your mother! We’re hoping to have a theatrical season in Melbourne – will keep you posted. Sophia
KRYSTYNA DUSZNIAK (At Melbourne Classic Cinema screening)
I was at the screening today and though I knew bits and pieces of the story, nothing could have prepared me for the power of the film. It’s impossible to describe how truly overwhelming it is; you simply have to see it. There should have been a standing ovation today, but all of us were simply too moved to even clap properly. Sophia, Cezary, Rod, you have created a masterpiece, and Sophia, with her compassion, integrity and determination, has somehow avenged some of her mother’s sufferings, and the wrongs committed upon them both by history. Congratulations – I really hope the whole world gets to see this film.
I’m so happy that the film resonated so much for you Krystyna. For me this is the reward for all the years of struggle in trying to get it made. Sophia
An immensely powerful piece of work. I can feel the great catharsis in the telling of your tale will profoundly effect all whom are privileged enough to experience it, both those with similar stories as well as those with profoundly different stories. It is a fine example of the power of the human story.
Like you, I too have a story to finish telling and film to complete before I go to sleep eternally. Thank you for making this beautiful film.
Thanks Gary! I feel lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to record my family story. Don’t leave your own story for too long… Sophia
LECH MILEWSKI (At Melbourne Classic Cinema screening 16 Nov)
Very deep and moving experience. I admire your skill in interweaving your personal story with documentary and historical background. Thank you!
Thanks Lech! This is early days with the film so it is heartening to see audiences responding in such a positive way to the story… Sophia
MARIE WEISS (At Classic Cinema screening, Melbourne 16 Nov)
How moving an experience shared today with my father. A heartfelt thank you for giving a voice to my experience as a first generation Australian and child and grandchild of Poles like my grandfather, who died after a year in Siberia and my grandmother, mother and aunt who lived through the very similar deportations to Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan and journey through the Middle East eventually to settle in Melbourne, Australia.
Thanks Marie. As I said at the Q&A, I wanted to make this film not only for my mother but to have the story as a record for all those other hundreds of thousands of Polish families who shared the same fate. As I was researching, every other family story I heard was just as heartbreaking as my mother’s own experience. We’re hoping to have more screenings in Melbourne – check our website for updates… Sophia
Sophia, I wish I had commented today after seeing the film at BOFA that I think your mother was an incredibly strong woman. Aside from her indomitable spirit that kept her going through such suffering one of her greatest strengths was probably having the courage to leave you at the orphanage until such time that she could care for you. Treasure the memories and thanks for sharing them with the world.
Appreciate your comment Kerry! I hadn’t thought of my mother needing courage to leave me in the orphanage but of course you’re right – a lovely way of looking at it. I’ll treasure that idea…
Thank you sophia for documenting your and your mother’s story. As the daughter of polish parents who also went through extremely difficult times during and after the war my only wish is that more would know about the truth and reality of how polish people were treated. There are so many stories that need to be told. Maybe then Poland and its people will be respected for their true history.
Thanks Diane. The more research I did for Once My Mother, the more determined I was to do what I could to shed light on this chapter of World War Two history. Until there’s a general understanding of what was happening in not only Western Europe, but also Eastern Europe, our historical record will not be an accurate one. Sophia
5 stars. A moving story that raises questions about Australia’s inhuman treatment of refugees today.
Thanks Chris. We’re hoping that Once My Mother will be used as part of the national conversation about the treatment of today’s refugees. The comparison could not be more stark! Sophia
Such a moving and emotional movie. And very brave of Sophia to be so candid about her and her mother’s lives. Thank you, Sophia, for also revealing this relatively unknown episode in the war that has affected so many people. It has also helped me understand and appreciate, my own parents, both Polish refugees, that bit more.
Thanks Barbara, I’m so pleased Once My Mother has helped you to comprehend your parents’ experience. It’s so important to understand our own family history. Sophia
Loved this film for it’s honesty and beauty…..such a complex story, told so tenderly and respectfully. Historically and emotionally confronting. Thank you Sophia.
Thanks Rita! So pleased my story resonated with you. Sophia
Thank you Sophia and Rod. Epic in so many ways, from geography to politics to heart and all combined to spark a flash of insight, understanding, forgivness and love. A masterly told story. Thanks again. Lou
Thanks Lou. Rod and I are so happy that the story is finally being seen by audiences!Sophia
Upon seeing the trailer I wrote to my family members “I fear that this movie could break my heart in that tragic way that only human conduct can accomplish, and just as the narrator says that one small part of her cannot forgive, I fear that at least one small part of my then-broken heart will never be able to heal.”
Everyone on this planet needs to see this film!!! Truly reflects how our live are affected by what happens to us and the choices we make. Depicts hardship, love , forgiveness in a very poignant manner. Well Done!!
BRUCE BERESFORD’s comment :
‘It is inspiring to see something made with passion directly from the heart. Sophia’s mother’s story is amazing almost beyond belief and the interweaving of her saga with Sophia’s own story very deft, revealing and fascinating. It’s a rare human story told with compassion and insight. Will touch people all over the world.’
PETER WEIR’s comment
‘An epic story of survival told against a backdrop of war and its aftermath. With consummate skill, Sophia Turkiewicz weaves the personal with the historical, giving depth and meaning to both.’
Absolutely wonderful!!!! We were so moved by this amazing story of survival and love!!!
Dr Gene Sherman, Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation
Once My Mother had everything one could ever ask of a documentary: an untold, historically significant story, never seen before footage, a deeply personal interaction between two generations, brilliant direction and more …
Ela Samoraj, Warsaw University
Moving, beautifully made, painstakingly researched and skilfully edited feature. Grateful to have been part of the audience at AFF premiere at Palace Nova last night. Thank you Sophia for sharing your mother’s and your story. Congratulations!
Thank you for your responses to the film. The DVD will be available in February but you can give us your contact in BUY THE DVD and we will get in touch with when it is available.
Thank you for such a profoundly moving and beautifully presented film. It is rare to experience a film that combines social history, personal history and your own personal journey of discovery in one film. Thank you for your honesty, love and courage in sharing your story, your mother’s story and the story of so many forgotten people
GOSIA HILL, Adelaide
Today full house again (almost) at the second screening of Once My Mother at the Adelaide Film Festival. Audience sobbing, laughing and marvelling at the power of human spirit and mother-daughter love in the face of adversity. It was so special to watch this extraordinary film containing rare historical footage, with my own daughter Anna Hill. Long live Polish Mother-Daughter Love!
Your movie is beautiful. So well constructed, beautifully told and was seamless. As far as the story goes, I learned about that period in history which is so shameful but shows how the spirit can overcome even the most horrendous obstacles. I am still thinking about the movie although I saw it at the world premiere a few days ago. The truth can be so hard to portray but you were not afraid to tell us how YOU felt about your mother, along with your mother’s incredible story.
Congratulations on an amazing film. I feel privileged to have seen it.
KRYSTYNA MCCAUL, Adelaide.
Thank you Sophia and Helena for bravely telling your stories with such rawness, compassion and honesty. It was a privilege to be at the World Premiere last night and be touched by your lives.
GOSIA HILL, Honorary Consul for the Republic of Poland, Adelaide.
Congratulations Sophia and Rod! What a special night it was! Once My Mother – Feature Documentary is a tribute to the WW2 Poles and especially to the resilient, wise and relentless Polish mothers and daughters!
Nobody has ever found, nor been able to visit, my great grandfathers grave in a Siberian gulag. We can only imagine his fate. By sharing this story, Sophia has given a voice to all Poles who were deported to Siberia, and she has shown what acts of inhumanity were cast upon them. An important and timely work- thank you Sophia.
Congratulations Sophia on a beautifully and sensitively produced documentary on your mothers life. Very moving
Saw the Premier tonight. LOVED it, and have enormous respect for your mother and her life’s journey. And I admire your courage to share such an honest reflection of your relationship with her. Thank you
Have just seen it at the Adelaide Film Festival. Superb, easily earning its standing ovation.
Lindy Robyn F,
I saw your screening tonight. Congratulations!! What a powerful, authentic, personally revealing, heartbreaking and heartwarming film. An exploration of identity through two generations and that phenomenal history lesson on the displacement and devastation of a people – how did you achieve that in an just over an hour!? Journeying with you Sophia through your pain, curiosity, understanding and love – that was absolutely moving. Best of luck to you!!
Thank you, Rod and Sophia. What an an amazing story. Where can I buy the DVD so I can show the rest of my family?
Thanks Glenys. Register your contact under BUY DVD on the HOME page and we’ll contact you in February when we are able to start selling DVDs.
I am so glad that this story has been told. My mother Aniela was also taken to Siberia and suffered the same things. My mother in fact lived with Sophia’s mother in the same hut in Africa and I was born there a few days before Sophia. The photo of the the two christenings, the one on the left is my mother holding me. I await the DVD,