Copyright 1995 ABC-CLIO. This review was taken from the ABC-CLIO Video Rating Guide for Libraries on CD-ROM, a 5-year compilation of over 8900 video titles and reviews, 1990-1994. For information regarding order VRGL CD-ROM, contact: ABC-CLIO, P.O. Box 1911, Santa Barbara, CA 93116-1911; 805-968-1911

This following text has been included in the UCB Media Resources Center Web site with the kind permission of the publishers.

The Struggles for Poland

  • Once upon a Time
  • Rating: *****
  • Audience: High School to Adult
  • Price: Public performance: $59.95
  • Date: Copyright 1988. Released 1989.
  • Descriptors: Poland - History.
  • Production Information: Live action, Archival footage. Color. Closed captioned. 60 min.
  • Production Company: WNET (New York)
  • Available from: PBS Video 1320 Braddock Pl. Alexandria, VA 22314-1698 (703)739-5380
  • ISBN: ISBN 1-55951-308-X.
  • Cataloging: 943.805'6 Poland - History - 20th century|| Jews - Poland
  • Print Entry #: 1:1403
  • Reviewer: Douglas Rees

    Events have conspired to give this series an enhanced significance. This episode on the origins of modern Poland is especially valuable for understanding the roots of the reborn nation's tortured history. Rising out of the collapse of the balance of power in Eastern Europe at the end of World War I, split between militarized Socialists and anti-Semitic conservatives, and hobbled with three different institutional memories of how to educate children, deliver mail, and mend roads - modern Poland could not even count on an agreed-upon frontier with any of its neighbors. The ongoing liberation of Eastern Europe has led to an increased interest in that region in American schools. The issue of this PBS series in videocassette format is timely.

    On the whole, the content of Once upon a Time is sound and surprisingly detailed. Only when it makes vague references to the Polish "democracy" that supposedly preceded the partitions of the 18th century is it misleading. The government referred to was, in fact, a sort of formalized chaos, whose purpose was to prevent the Polish monarchy from interfering with the rights of the nobles to the unrestricted enjoyment of their authority over their serfs. The program does much better when it jumps forward to the 20th century, covering and detailing Pilsudski's various romantic military adventures, and the rise of Demowsky's National Democrats, who were anxious to cut a deal with the Russian czar for home rule. These two figures dominate Poland's story for the rest of the period. The shortcomings of the Versailles Treaty as it pertained to Poland also receive duly detailed coverage.

    This is a standard documentary on a historical subject. That is, it consists of file footage and head shots. Most of the interviews, however, are with actual participants in the events of the 'teens, and they speak with an immediacy and humanity that counterpoint the old grainy footage powerfully. The fact that these elderly people were teenagers when they were tossing hand grenades or dodging bullets will likely give this production added interest to viewers of the same age. Only the choice of narrator seems questionable. Roger Mudd's delivery seems far too pedestrian to do justice to the subject.

    Overall, Once upon a Time is a uniquely valuable tool. It will be useful to high schools, community colleges, and public libraries whose patrons have an interest in recent European history. It is an excellent piece of work on an important subject, an example of public television doing what it does best, at its best.

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