Where the Devil says Goodnight

The lady featured was a great friend of Ron’s and she trusted him with her incredible true story. She never told it to anyone else, I was indeed very privileged.

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Screenplay nominated for a US Heritage and Cultural award. Needs a production company.

LOGLINE: Young newlywed Beata Karp, after being incarcerated in a prison camp in Siberia during WWII, takes a perilous journey through Siberia in the hope of reuniting with her family and freeing them from their work camp.

SYNOPSIS: On a Russian-occupied Bialystok street in early 1940, educated, down-to-earth, Lithuanian aristocrat Beata is arrested with her Polish husband Kaz. They’re taken on a three-day-long journey with little food and water only to find themselves imprisoned in infamous Baranovichi where a brutal Russian interrogator knows she speaks five languages, which can only mean one thing: she must be a spy.

Kaz is tortured to death and four months later Beata is sentenced to ten years in a Siberian Gulag near the Arctic Circle. She and thousands of people spend six weeks standing in open cattle wagons crossing the world’s biggest snowfield to reach Camp Yaya, a place otherwise known as ‘The Gates of Hell.’ The date: November 27, 1940. Poles called Siberia, ‘Where the Devil Says Goodnight’.

At Yaya the freezing ice-encrusted wood huts house two hundred mostly innocent women. The stern, icy Commandant tries to persuade Beata to embrace Communism, in return being schooled in espionage to travel worldwide. She declines and her ten-year sentence means life if she survives because for her the needle on the Richter scale of misery is about to set new records.

In a bleak, harsh environment Beata is thrust into the disgusting conditions of the Gulag, the vile behavior of the Russian soldiers and the unbearable cold – contrasting vividly with Beata’s idyllic childhood on a family estate full of warmth and love. Near to death several times, Beata is nursed back to partial health by her friend, Polish actress Yaga Domanskz. Beata and Yaga’s spirit and humor make these brutal scenes more palatable. Beata shows amazing strength in the face of death and despair, as do all of the women; thousands of whom had been there since the 1917 Russian Revolution. The small portions of so-called food are filled with sawdust and their clothing is totally useless in the harsh weather. As they watch the moon haze over in the bitter Siberian nights, Chuckchi tribesmen murmur: ‘The moon is putting on his furs.’

Grueling work entails making military uniforms in two twelve-hour shifts on worn-out Singer machines. The operators, with scurvy-covered skin, lice-infested clothing have only a small blizzard-battered, ice-encrusted hut in which to relieve themselves. When a fight starts after Russian women ridicule Beata’s skinny condition, Yaga goes to her aid. Their punishment is fourteen days working with the biggest, strongest and toughest women Beata has ever seen. These log cutters chop down trees in a forest four miles away, which they then load onto sleds to haul back to camp. Of the five thousand prisoners, they’re the best fed and clothed in Yaya – and the most feared, even by the Commandant. Few care if Yaga and Beata are ever seen again. Against all odds, these Russian women take to this skinny, dignified lady with her captivating true stories of a world outside Russia that they’ve never heard of, and Beata survives again. These ladies in hut 42 are now her friends.

A year later Polish citizens are allowed to write a letter to their families on a four-inch piece of grubby paper. Another year passes and Beata is staggered when handed a reply from a place deep in Siberia: three members of her family are still alive. Eighteen months later, Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt agree on amnesty for all Polish citizens. Beata is released and embarks on another grueling journey to find her family members, who may still be alive in a village five hundred miles away. Months later, she finds them and after nursing her mother back to health, Beata returns to Yaya station then to Uzbekistan and joins the forming Polish Free Army to fight the Germans – Lithuanians are not included in the amnesty.

In the Army, Beata meets up with her father’s long-time friend, General Anders, now commanding officer of the Polish forces, and pleads with him for help. A week later he hands her three sets of forged papers made by the Poles, stating her Lithuanian mother, step-sister and her five-year-old son Roman are Polish citizens. Against his advice, an undeterred Beata, wearing a Polish uniform and praying for her family remains unseparated, sets out for the commune using goods such as vodka, cigarettes, chocolate and tinned foods to bribe the friendly Russian peasants for help. Incredibly, knowing nothing of the war, they trust and help her.

Beata’s courage is tested more than once, especially at a station checkpoint when her step-sister crumbles under the pressure. Thanks to Beata’s wit and determination months later, given up for dead, Anders is astounded to see only four wretched survivors of the Karp family. Benita is not there. All were repatriated to England from Persia, and Beata never saw the large family estates she inherited aged twenty-one.

Like many stories set in this time period, ‘Where the Devil Says Goodnight’ has its share of tragedy. However, the indomitable spirit of Beata leaves one with a sense of hope. Beata later married Zbigniew Redziowski in Penwood, Buckinghamshire, and they moved to Argentina and then Australia where I met her. Beata became a close friend and shared her story of survival with me. Beata died of a stroke in 1983, aged sixty-five. It was a privilege to have had her as a family friend, and her inspirational story is too precious to remain untold.

 

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