HENRY JAGLOM, TRAIN TO ZAKOPANÉ”


I followed my father around with a tape recorder for more than 30 years. I was determined to capture as many of ;his extraordinary stories as I could - stories which started with his astonishingly privileged childhood and youth in the last decades of Czarist Russia, his subsequent experiences during the Bolshevik Revolution when he was imprisoned as a "capitalist," his escape to the newly created post-World War One State of Poland and his subsequent business activities in Central Europe between the wars.

In the late 1920s, my father was on a business trip by train to Warsaw, like the one that takes place in this film. On that crowded train trip he did meet an attractive Polish Army nurse, along with several others, who invited him to join them in their cabin. That meeting and its consequences are what this film, "TRAIN TO ZAKOPANÉ" is about. The nurse did say what she says in the film and my father did react to it the way he does in the film and make the decision to act as he did. Therefore the incident that takes place on the train and its aftermath in the ski resort of ZAKOPANÉ are all true, though the dialogue and secondary characters are mostly mine.

My father's mother, some eight years earlier in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, had been struck by typhus and did leave Russia for Poland to find a cure for her illness. She did find her way to the recommended hospital/sanitarium in ZAKOPANÉ that was said to be her best chance for recovering her health. Though coming from considerable wealth and privilege in pre-revolutionary Russia, she was turned away from being treated there, as takes place in this film, because she was Jewish. And the consequences of that rejection were as they are in the film. Again, the specifics of dialogue and secondary characters are mine - as is the suggestion that the two nurses were, in fact, the same person.>

When Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany five years after the time of this film, my father had become a very prominent and successful businessman, as his father and grandfather before him had been in Imperial Russia. He had married my Berlin-born mother in 1930 and with their young son, my brother Michael, lived in the elegant seaside suburb of Zupport, in the League-Of-Nations created "Free State Of Danzig." The Danzig Senate offered my father the extraordinary job of General Director of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. He accepted this critical position which made him a key business figure in the Central Europe of that time. Even after Danzig voted in the Nazis in 1935 - and the swastikas flew over the home movies I have of my little blond brother playing beneath them - the Senate asked my father to stay on in his position. Realizing clearly by early 1937 - as so many others sadly did not - that there was no future for him or his family as Jews any longer in Danzig, he gave the Senate what he considered to be a "correct" six-month notice in which to find a new man for the job. Distressed at the potential loss of such an effective and productive man, even if he was a Jew, the Senate wired Berlin to see if something "could not be done." After some prodding (and one can only imagine the conversations) an offer is said to have come back that would "solve the whole problem": Berlin offered to make my father - and his family - "Honorary Aryans." Yes, there was such a warped category for "exceptional" cases at that time but - as my father told my mother that night - "If they want to make you an 'honorary' what you are not, then it is even worse than one realized to be who you are." With my brother, my parents drove across the border to Poland and flew on a "vacation trip" to London, telling no one, leaving behind everything - home, cars, office, position and employees. They never returned.

The events in this film occurred a few years before my father met my mother. The night he told me and my tape recorder the story of what happened to him a half century before on that train when he met the Polish nurse and spent those days with her in ZAKOPANÉ, we were sitting in the library of my parent's Manhattan apartment in the mid-1970s. They had been married over 40 years at this point. It was past midnight and although we had thought my mother had gone to bed, she suddenly appeared in the doorway in her nightgown, asking us why we were talking so late and telling me to let my father go to bed. "In just a minute," my father answered, and when my mother left he told me the rest of the story - the part about what had finally happened to the three-sided ring, as my father's voice tells it at the end of the film - in a whisper !

Only in writing "TRAIN TO ZAKOPANÉ" has it become clear to me how profound this encounter had been in my father's life. And I wondered, for the first time, if he had ever told it to my mother. They were married for 60 years when she died in 1990. He died two years later, at 96.

Henry Jaglom