"Return to Poland," a "World" special on WETA (Channel 26 at 9) is really two stories. It is the story of Marian Marzynski, born a Jew but raised a Catholic to escape the Na- TV Preview zis, an emigrant to the United States in 1969, now returning to his homeland for the first time. In that sense, it is a personal tale.
But it is also a report on Poland today, a country in the midst of a political transformation. Marzynski, a filmmaker and teacher, was in Poland last spring. His account is more a collection of revealing glimpses than an organized summary, more a citizen's homely view than a formal portrait.
He talks to old women and young families. He questions schoolchildren and photographs flower sellers. No one calls what is happening in Poland a revolution, Marzynski observes, but in some ways that's what it seems to be.
On May Day, instead of a ritualistic parade of slogan-carrying party faithful, there are crowds of people in Warsaw milling under a rainy sky to festive music. The party leadership is actually walking, just like everyone else, a Pole notes in amazement.
A week later comes the commemoration of the end of World War II, traditionally another stiff Soviet-style holiday, since it was the Red Army that drove the Germans from Warsaw. Marzynski focuses instead on a promenade of Polish hippies, long-haired and carrying peace symbols. An antiwar demonstration outside government aegis is still a novelty in a land where -- at least in theory -- the Communist Party and politics are synonymous.
The events of the past year in Poland -- the emergence of Solidarity, the free trade union, the political reforms, the economic collapse -- are so interesting that these ordinary scenes are worth the look. They provide a good textual sense of what it must be like to be Polish in a time when, joyously yet warily, a people takes charge of its destiny.
The other aspect of Marzynski's film, his return to an abandoned homeland, is also moving. The house where he lived as a boy has been torn down, the lumber sold to neighbors. But there are many who remember him and embrace him warmly. They catch up on births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
What obviously matters most to the filmmaker is retracing the steps of his survival during the war, when, as a small boy, he was passed from family to family. His mother, unable to care for him and afraid both would be murdered by the Nazis, left him in the courtyard of an orphanage with a sign around his neck. A woman named Krysia helped him in this pathetic odyssey. For a time, he was cared for by nuns. Marzynski relives it all.
At some point, Marzynski received Communion and for a time during and after the war he was an enthusiastic altar boy. But he came to recognize that he was not really a Roman Catholic. And in 1968, when the party stirred up the embers of anti-Semitism in a moment of political unrest, Marzynski decided it was time to leave.
Marzynski's feelings about Poland strike me as bittersweet. He is grateful for his survival, mournful about the disappearance of the world of Polish Jews, excited by the political changes and, ultimately, glad to get home -- a farm in Illinois. For all that, he concludes that emigration is not free of pain. It is, he says, "like the extraction of a big tooth with root problems." In one hour, "Return to Poland" has a lot to say.