“The party is on” – The lost Warsaw

The quotation mark is truly necessary in the title of this post, because even if the pictures you will see here below are mostly nice and cheerful, the story we are going to tell is linked to one of the most brutal and senseless destruction in the history of mankind, the annihilation of Warsaw in 1943-44.

If you have an old friend whom you meet and you’ll become neighbors after a long time (let us say, nearly 157 years), it is a joy that pervades the everyday life, everyone thinks and speaks about it. Probably this joy led scenarist István Békeffy and film director Viktor Bánky to interweave in 1939 into a new Daróczy-Hunnia production, the film Áll a bál (“The party is on”) based on the idea of József Babay and Pál Barabás, a Warsaw thread, which otherwise would have not been necessary to the logic of the story. And the film crew could not suspect that with the exterior shots of about 10-12 minutes they would record something which literally within days would be irrevocably destroyed by the western and eastern wind, so that they would be preserved only in this form in a nation’s collective memory.

The tale of Áll a bál fits into the system simply called “the Hungarian style” between the two world wars, which elevated to now unimaginable heights of success the Hungarian film industry. This tale brings the princess (Zita Szeleczky) into the arms of a poor-born diplomat (Jenő Pataky), but the old prince (Gyula Csortos) does not look kindly on this love, and “banishes” the young handsome diplomat to Warsaw, and the beautiful princess to Switzerland. But finally, after many complications and adventures everyone will be home to Budapest, the old prince’s heart relents, and the young couple, of course, will come together.

In the sequence of shooting of the period, which was always adjusted to the complexity of the scenery, they first completed the studio recordings, and then they started the external shoots. The crew went to Warsaw on 21 August 1939, and returned on 26 August, followed by the attention of the reporters of the Képes Krónika (Illustrated Chronicle), who were hungry of stories and pictures, just like the hundreds of curious fans.

The crew before leaving, on 21 August 1939. To the left, the main character Jenő Pataky, director Viktor Bánky with arms akimbo, to the right cameraman István Eiben, and covered by the camera, producer József Daróczy

Képes Krónika, 27 August 1939

Late August newspapers, however, were not so cheerful…

“No! – says London. Hitler’s proposals are considered unacceptable”

Let us see then the wonderful images of Warsaw by István Eiben, specifying the locations wherever it is possible. In this we will be greatly assisted by a short Polish blog post, where many people try to recognize the locations. Of course, when the author makes a mistake, let the reader correct it – all corrections are welcome.

Common Polish-Hungarian border: Lawoczne
Erzsi Simor in the foreground

The Polish Foreign Ministry, Brühl Palace, Pilsudski square. The palace was destroyed in the last minutes of the war…
A street corner, probably in front of the Foreign Ministry, with György Gonda in the forefront. To the right, probably Edward Rydz-Śmigŀy

The neighborhood of the Foreign Ministry

The Embassy of the Hungarian Kingdom in Warsaw, on 15 Mokotówska
The neighborhood of the Embassy

Aleje Ujazdowski (?)
Taxi in Warsaw, next to the embassy

A small shop next to the embassy, with György Gonda making a phone call

Internal shoots, probably at the embassy. To the left, Jenő Pataky, to the right, in the role of the ambassador, László Földényi. The real Hungarian ambassador in Warsaw at the time was dr. András Hóry.

Chopin’s statue by Wacław Szymanowski in the Łazienki park. Destroyed in 1940, rebuilt in 1946
This handwritten message was found on the statue base on the day after its destruction:
Nie wiem kto mnie zniszczył ale wiem dlaczego. Żebym nie mógł zagrać dla waszego führera marszu żałobnego.
“I do not know who destroyed me, but I know why. In order not to play the funeral march for your Führer.”

The Belweder palace, rebuilt during the Nazi occupation.
Entrance of the Stary Rynek. This image figures from the opposite side in the title shots of Michał Waszyński’s Jego ekscelencja subjekt (1933)

The Stary Rynek was destroyed in the war, but rebuilt in the 1950s

The two main characters of Jego ekscelencja subjekt were Eugeniusz Bodo, who would perish in the Gulag, and Ina Benita, who would die in the canals of Warsaw. The story of the film is similar: the shop assistant falls in love with the daughter of a rich man…

But let’s continue with the shots of Áll a bál.

The royal castle. Destroyed in 1939, later rebuilt
Entrance of the castle

The Castle square. The Sigismund Column cannot be seen on this picture

The streets of Warsaw (and other Polish cities) were unimaginable without the cab
Ulica Ladislawska

Hotel Europejski, entrance

Saxon Palace, Saxon square. Destroyed in 1944
Zita Szeleczky and Jenő Pataky, with a street of Warsaw in the background

Grójecka, suburb. István Kovács in the role of the chauffeur

Ulica Opaczewska

Within one or two months some of the charming Warsaw trams got an extra board…

Narutowicz square near Opaczewska street. To the left, the Banach bazaar

– Telefon – says György Gonda.
– Proszę – replies the seller.

The car takes gas and leaves Warsaw towards Okęcie…

Just within two to three weeks the roads leading out of Warsaw looked completely differently.

The diplomatic corps leave Warsaw on 21 September 1939 under German supervision.

The Áll a bál was presented in the movies on 28 September 1939.

Private photo from the Szeleczky collection. Thanks to Márton Kurutz

Új Nemzedék, 28 September 1939: “Besides the Polish question, a long series of problems are on schedule in the German-Soviet meeting in Moscow”

Új Nemzedék, 29 September 1939: “Here’s the German-Soviet agreement!”

By then, the progressive countries already succumbed Poland with united forces…

…and the crew saw Warsaw again – on screen. (The color pictures are re-colored by digital technique.)

The inscription: Słuzew. dw. kol. Grójeckiej

The latter images were also recognized by Jenő Pataky who received a minor nervous breakdown. These are the same scenes we saw in Grójecka.

The destruction of the Royal Palace, with the Sigismund Column in the forefront. The pictures were likely taken during the bombing of Warsaw on 4 September 1939.

At that time already thousands of Polish refugees tried to reach Hungary. The Hungarian society unanimously helped them. A strange coincidence that one of the two films of the period in which we see the figure of governor Miklós Horthy, representing the unity of Hungarian society, one is precisely Áll a bál.

To the right, a rare portrait of Horthy, in civilian clothes. In the foreground, Béla Mihályfi in the role of a State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, to the left, Gusztáv Vándory

Jenő Pataky and Zita Szeleczky, cheerfully dancing toward the happy end. They could not know that Hungary was only given four and half more years before the sad pictures of Warsaw becoming a reality here as well…

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