Posts Tagged ‘Jewish interest’

The City and the City (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir.: Christos Passalis, Syllas Tzoumerkas; Cast: Alexandros Vardaxoglou, Vassilis Kanakis, Angeliki Papoulia, Niki Papandreou, Vasillis Karaboulas; Greece 2022, 96 min

Actor and director Christos Passalis (Dogtooth) and Syllas Tzoumerkas (A Blast) get behind the camera for this incendiary expose revealing in six scenarios how Greece was complicit in the genocide of thousands of Jews from the city of Thessaloniki during the German occupation of the Second World War.

Even during the war the repression of Greek Jews was not a new thing: it started in 1927 with the foundation of the “Nationalist Union of Greeks” (EEE) and their newspapers that set out to fight the Jewish community for the low paid jobs. “Separate Jews from the Natives” was one of their slogans. “The Jew must go” – this one became reality under German rule; teaching the Jews a lesson was the edict of the times: “Jews must learn to do things with their hands other than counting money”. And “The time has come, for the yellow star people to pack their bags and go”.

Jews were lined up and put into the Baron Hirsch ghetto, whence they were deported to the death camps. Early in 1943 Sarina writes an imploring letter to her son Maurice, who has taken refuge with relatives in Athens. Concerned for his wellbeing she says: “Dear Maurice, we are all confined in the ghetto. This all seems to be the work of an experienced sadist. What we fear most are the deportations. Some trains have already left. On the day of the deportation, people burn money, documents and furniture. They abandon their whole life.”

Epanomi, 29 km from Thessaloniki, serves as a transit camp for the city’s Jews. Some are executed, others sent to German camps and a few are released after ten days. In an interlude, we watch the burial of Sarah, Sarina’s home help, who was treated like a daughter. Nina (Papandreou) is told to stop her brother chanting. Normality is soon replaced by reality. The 500-year old Jewish cemetery of the city, housing half a million tombs, is demolished by the Germans with the help of the local Christians during the second year of occupation. The broken marbles of the graves are used for the re-construction of several buildings, among them the St. Demeter cathedral. The bones of the dead are ground into sand for construction sites. In 1950, after litigation, the administration of the State of Greece builds on the top of the ruins of the Jewish cemetery the new part of the Aristotle University. In 2014 the government installs a memorial stone at the University campus.

Only 4% percent of the Jewish population will survive. Nina’s (Papandreou) report from the Hirsch ghetto: “Arriving at the Hirsch Ghetto, we are pushed into a room with German soldiers. They lifted our skirts, stripped us naked and used their fingers to probe our privates for hidden jewellery. This included my ten-year old sister. When they found nothing, they started slapping my mother. Hasson, one of the Orologas brothers, cut her hair with a pen knife, injuring her scalp. The son of our local butcher got so angry he tried to kill Hasson, but he failed and was shot on the spot. My mother was put into a cell under ground, we never saw her again. Our Rabbi, 70-year old, had to clean the ghetto with a broom for a whole day.”

After liberation, Hasson was executed, but the bigger names survived. In 1957, Max Merten, the butcher of Thessaloniki, visited Greece and was arrested. After eight months he was let go, the West German government had offered a loan. SS Captain Dr. Alois Brunner, Eichmann’s ‘right hand’ died peacefully in 2010 as consultant to Syria’s Hafez el-Assad.

After a dreamlike meeting between Nina and Mauricein the old city, we learn that the city’s brothels had been destroyed after the war. Some of the business was done in the old railway station of Stravrapouli, where  the Pavlos Mecas camp had been.

The last part is a surrealistic collage that sees one of the surviving members of the family trying to get government compensation, meanwhile, on the beach, the last peaceful years of Sarina’s family play out with a competition to find the ‘most moronic’ winner of a fancy dress event.

Reality bites again: In 1943, after the deportations ended, thousands of Jewish businesses were again sequestered, snapped up by local entrepreneurs and state institutions. After the war, hundred sought the return of their property. Not even half of them were successful, the main reasons for denial were “Abandonment by the former owners” and “the lack of death certificates for the victims in the death camps”.

Cinematically brilliant and thematically relevant The City and The City once again proves that the Holocaust was not an isolated event. Before, during and after WWII Jews were the victims of state-organised pogroms, supported by a majority of the population who they thought were their neighbours and friends. AS



Love it was Not (2020)

Dir.: Maya Sarfaty; Documentary with Helena Citron, Roza Citron, Frank Wunsch; Israel/Austria 2020, 86 min.

Israeli writer/director Maya Sarfaty builds on her award-winning graduation short film The Most Beautiful Woman (2016) with this ‘impossible love’ story that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau  between Helena Citron, a Slovakian Jew, and one of her captors, Viennese SS Unterscharführer (Sergeant) Franz Wunsch. Although the title suggests otherwise, witness reports from seven close female camp survivors claim ‘he loved her to the point of madness”.

And somehow Sarfaty helps, however involuntarily, to cement this statement. True, Wunsch, born in 1922 like Helena, was a sadist who beat male prisoners to death and helped at the infamous ‘Rampen’ selections. But he also risked his life to save Helena and her sister Roza (1932-2005) from certain death, literally storming into the corridor leading to the infamous “Shower Rooms” to free Roza, although he could not save her two children, much to Helena’s chagrin.

Helena and Roza were amongst several thousand Slovakian Jews deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, before the Death Camp was fully functioning. The women helped with the demolition of older buildings and many were killed during the TNT explosions, where they were literally at the ‘coal face’. “We had become animals, ready to push our best friends to the front, just to survive ourselves”.

Helena first met Franz Wunsch on his birthday when he asked the women prisoners to sing a song in his honour. Helena chose the titular German hit song “Liebe war es nie” (Love it was Not) and Franz politely asked her for an encore. This was the beginning. Soon afterwards Helena caught typhoid, which was usually fatal, but Wunsch instructed the camp medics to look after her, and she recovered.

In an interview in 2003, Wunsch shares his memories of Dr. Josef Mengele who warned him “we are all going to be persecuted’ and promised not to denounce Wunsch, who had been wounded at the front and walked with a limp before being assigned to guard duty in Auschwitz. He found himself in active service again after the camp internees were sent on a death march. Helena and Roza were amongst the few who survived.

After the end of WWII Wunsch tried to pursue the relationship, but his letters were ignored and eventually he gave up. In 1972, Helena, who had emigrated to Tel Aviv in Israel, got a letter from Wunsch’s wife, pleading her to come to Vienna, where her husband was on trial for murder. “I know the two of you had been close, and I want you tell the court about it”. Under pressure to stay put, Helena still made the journey to Vienna and told the court about Wunsch’s crimes, but also how he saved her sister’s life. Wunsch was acquitted, the jury members, in an interview, claimed to have been on his side. “It was difficult in Austria to get a guilty-verdict in cases of concentration camp guards” said the state prosecutor of the Wunsch inquiry, very much resigned to the fact.

Wunsch’s daughter Dagmar also has her say, indignant that her father wore a medallion with two only photos: that of Helena and himself. “It should have been Mutti’s photo” says Dagmar, visibly upset. Bizarrely Franz Wunsch cut Helena’s face out of one of the photos, and superimposed it onto that of another woman, adding himself into the collage to make out they were just ordinary lovers in real life.

Artists Shlomit Goper and Ayelet Albeuda assemble a multilevel 3D photo montage together with the cuttings of Wunsch superimposed on the reality of the death camp. DoPs Itay Gross and Ziv Berkovich have taken great care filming the survivors, two of them having died before the feature was released. Helena Citron died in 2007, Franz Wunsch two years later. Their relationship in the hell of Auschwitz was a sort of ‘follie a deux’, unimaginable in the real world, rather like the death camps themselves. AS

FROM 26-28 January 2022 | JW3 Cinema LONDON NW3 | HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY


What If? Ehud Barak on War and Peace (2020) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Ran Tal; Documentary with Elud Barak; Israel 2020, 85 min.

In his immersive new documentary Israeli director/writer Ran Tal (The Museum), interviews former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The upshot? That war has dominated Israel’s history – from before its foundation of to the ongoing stalemate.

Since the State of Israel came into being, the Premier also served as Defence Minister. This changed in 1967, after the war when battlefield hero General Moshe Dayan became Minister of Defence. Since then, five Prime Ministers have been high ranking military men: Yitzak Rabin, Ygal Allon, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some people may include Menachem Begin, who was a leading proponent of the Zionist Underground, responsible for the death of over 80 British soldiers in the bombing of the Hotel King David in 1946. Barak was only PM for two years at the turn of the 20th century when he met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the failed Camp David meeting in 2000, where President Clinton tried in vain to broker an agreement between the two leaders. It turned out to be the last time a peace agreement seemed possible.

Ehud Barak (*1942) grew up in Mishmar Ha Sharon, a small Kibbutz. He remembers nights round the camp fire when the young members of the modest Kibbutz – a family room was a just 11 square meters, and there was no loo – they sang patriotic songs that told how “it was worthwhile to die for one’s country”. 300 meters down the road was the Arab village, the inhabitants “looking like our biblical forefather”. There was no tension between the two communities, but one day, the Arabs disappeared. The Kibbutz suddenly grew, taking, over the land which had belonged to the Arabs. When Barak became Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army he once asked the Chief of Military Intelligence if they should assassinate Yasser Arafat. The answer was negative, since Arafat was deemed to be a political leader.

A few years later, the situation had changed. Barak saw active service in the 1967 war, which, so he believes, was won, “because we attacked first”. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (Barak flew in from California, where he was studying), the roles were reversed: Barak was part of heavy fighting in the Sinai peninsula.

After the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Barak became leader of an Elite Corps, called the ‘Wrath of God’ who targeted terrorist all over Europe, killing, among others, Abbas al-Musawi, the Secretary General of the Hezbollah which he had co-founded. Asked about the civilian victims of these killings, Barak is clear: “When you operate, not to kill civilians, you won’t do anything.”  Referring to the assassination of Sadam Hussain, he claims history could have been entirely different: “Over a hundred thousand lives lost in the Iraq war, might have been saved”.

Strangely enough, the Rabin assassination “is not comparable with the aforementioned terror acts”. Sometimes Barak sounds reasonable: defending the reason to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon, or offering to divide Jerusalem in four sections, an offer Arafat refused at Camp David. But then he slips back into the warrior position: “We can not offer the Palestinians an enlightened occupation, that would be an oxymoron”. In 2001 Elud Barak lost the General Election to Ariel Sharon – an ex-general, responsible for the massacre at Sabre and Shatila.

No doubt Palestinian leaders are thinking on the same lines as the Israeli commanders – but how can you sit down and negotiate a peace treaty with somebody you would have assassinated, had you had the chance. This is the real oxymoron. Ran Tal’s feature is sad proof the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will go on for a long time: the language of war speaks loudest. AS


The Vigil (2019) ****

Dir: Keith Thomas | Cast: Dave Davis, Lynn Cohen, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman, Fred Melamed | US Horror, 89′

A malevolent spirit is the suggestible unseen character in this Keith Thomas’s unique horror debut set amidst Brooklyn’s Hasidic community.

A religious practice known as ‘sitting shiva’ is the premise of the claustrophobic funereal spine-chiller. Jewish family members are required to provide comfort and protection to the deceased by sitting with the body and saying prayers for a seven days and nights. Sometimes a ‘shomer’ is paid to do the honours, as is the case here with Yakov (a convincing Dave Davis) a young Jewish guy who is ingratiating himself back into the tightly-knit community and finds this a respectable and fairly easy way of making money. But clearly a deeply unsettling if redemptive one, as we soon find out.

Thomas creates a palpable sense of terror with his seriously spooky soundscape and nauseous colour palette soaked in ghastly dried bloods and neon greens all shrouded in deathly shadows. Much of the dialogue is in Yiddish adding an exotic twist to proceedings delivering a unique cultural experience. It soon turns out that the deceased, Ruben Litvak, a Holocaust survivor, was himself haunted by a dybbuk (or evil spirit) who followed him back from wartime Buchenwald. Meanwhile his ageing wife Mrs Litvak (Lynn Cohen) is a menacing character who has also suffered in concentration camps and is now scratching around on the foothills of Alzheimers. All this feeds on Yakov’s own mental instability over a tragic event in his past forcing him to make a midnight call to his psychotherapist for some emotional support. Or at least he thinks he’s talking to Dr Kohlberg.

DoP Zach Kuperstein must get some of the credit with his spooky camerawork and lighting techniques during this night of terror and spiritual retribution. This is an intelligent piece of filmmaking that shows how trauma can feed on itself and actually perpetuate mental anguish and paranoia until eventually this scenario becoming hard-wired into the brains of those affected and their descendants. MT



#AnneFrank: Parallel Stories (2019) **** Holocaust Memorial Day

Wri/Dir: Sabina Fedeli/Anna Migotto | Italy, Doc 95′

Italian filmmakers Sabina Fedeli and Anna Migotto (Father Lenin e i suoi fratelli) commemorate the life of Anne Frank with a parallel portrait of the young diarist. Helen Mirren reads excerpts from her diary. Meanwhile five female Shoah survivors, about the same age as Anne, talk about their experiences and the fight to keep memories alive.

Mirren is filmed in the claustrophobia of a re-constructed room where Anne Frank lived in hiding for over two years, before her arrest and consequent deportation on 4th of August 1944 to Westerbrook transit camp. To break away from the cramped domestic setting, these readings play out to a background of filmed sequences of a woman (Martina Gatti) travelling around Europe to create a sort of video diary of Frank’s life with some rather corny observations. By far the most important part are the interviews with three Croatian Holocaust survivors including Arianna Spörenyi; the sisters Andra and Tatiana Bucci; as well as fellow survivors Helga Weiss from the Czech Republic and Sarah Lichtsztein-Montard, who escaped from the Parisian Velodrome round-up, were she was incarcerated on 16th July 1942.

Weiss kept her own pictorial diary in Terezin (Theresienstadt) concentration camp – her father encouraging her to draw only what she could see. Terezin was a special camp in many ways: The Nazis used the old fortress to gather Jewish artists and scientists together – even asking the well-known Jewish film director Kurt Gerron (ex-UFA) to make a propaganda film (The Führer gifts the Jew a City), showing the Jews living a live of cultural relaxation, while the poor German citizens were suffering from Allied bombing raids. When the fake documentary was eventually aired worldwide, Gerron and his family were already dead, murdered in Auschwitz. Worse, the Germans convinced a Red Cross delegation on site, that Terezin was a sanatorium after all. Anne Frank and her older sister Margot were deported from Westerbrook to Auschwitz and thence to Bergen Belsen, where both died of Typhus in February 1945. They are buried in a mass grave.

Fedeli and Migotto are rightfully critical of contemporary Italian politics: “refugees are drowning on our coasts”, but they fail to mention the Nazi collaborators in the Holland where more than 100, 000 men joined the Waffen-SS and became active soldiers for the Third Reich. 

DoP Alessio Viola’s images convey the incredible loss and the struggle of these survivors who have difficulty sharing the trauma with their own children about life in the camps. Padded out with some redundant detail, #AnneFrank is nonetheless a moving portrait of a young women who was robbed of a creative life by a unique and monstrous death machine – feeding off the ongoing Anti-Semitism which continues to spread through Europe and elsewhere. AS




Prosecuting Evil (2018) **** Canada Now 2019

Dir/Wri.: Barry Avrich; Documentary with Ben Ferencz; Canada 2018, 83 min.

Best known for his Shakespeare adaptations, Barry Avrich turns his camera to his Jewish heritage with this moving portrait of international lawyer Ben Ferencz, who worked tirelessly to bring justice to those who had suffered because of their faith. As prosecutor for the first Nuremberg Trials, and Chief Prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Trials after WWII in Germany, Ferencz later worked on the establishment of The International Court of Justice in De Haag in 2007.

Ferencz was born in 1920 in Transylvania, which changed hands between Romania and Hungary during the post-war period. Because of rising Anti-Semitism, his parents emigrated to the USA where he grew up in Hells Kitchen, a poor district of New York. His school grades enabled him to gain scholarships at High School and later Harvard, where he studied law. He was recruited very late into the Army, and was sent to General Patton’s HQ, and later the War Crimes Department. Returning to the USA in his late twenties, he found himself being recruited by Telford Taylor as one of prosecutors for the Nuremberg Trials. Afterwards, Taylor appointed him as a successor to Robert H. Jackson, as Chief Prosecutor for the Einsatzgruppen Trial in 1947/48. 

The Einsatzgruppen were a special SS unit who often worked with the regular German Army to murdering Jews, Roma, and communists – they were basically a group of killers and never encountered armed resistance, murdering only civilians. Otto Ohlendorf, leader of Einsatzgruppe D, which operated in Ukraine and the Crimea, was one of 24 defendants, of whom 13 were sentenced to death.

The defendants were highly educated. One of them, Otto Rasch, leader of Einsatzgruppe C, had a double doctorate. Ohlendorf was an economist and worked with Ludwig Erhardt (later ‘Father of the West German Economic miracle’ and Chancellor in the 1960s) in the SS economic department, planning for the future of National Socialism after the war.

During the trial, he claimed self-defence stating his prosecutors knew nothing about the threat the Soviet Union and Jews posed for Germany. He vowed that Jews would suffer in the US if he and his co-defendants were convicted. Ohlendorf also insisted, “that he would do it all over again, even killing my sister, if I had to.” Ohlendorf, like his boss Heinrich Himmler, saw himself as decent and humanitarian. He told the court about his advice to the Einsatzgruppen when dealing with a mother holding her baby: “Do shoot the baby, this way the mother will also be killed, this is much more human”. Ferencz had to admit that Ohlendorf was quiet a gentleman – apart from being a mass murderer.

Ferencz stayed on in Germany after the Nuremberg Trials and with Kurt May he set up a reparation and rehabilitation programme for victims of the Nazis, later helping to establish the reparation agreement between Israel and Germany, and the German restitution law in 1953. He returned to the USA in 1956, and worked in partnership with Telford Taylor.

But the fight to help and set up an International Court of Justice took him until 2002. Unfortunately, neither the USA, Russia, India, Pakistan, Israel and most of the Arab countries, are not part of the 120 nations, who have signed up to the genocide laws. Therefore, so Ferencz, at the age of 99 still as busy as ever, fights to convince the international community to sign up, because “War makes mass murderers out of otherwise decent people. And I have seen it again and again.” 

This documentary is the portrait of one of the giants in the history of law, a true humanitarian who helped to pave the way for an international law, which needs more signatories at a time when wars seem to multiply. AS



Wall (2017) ***

Dir.: Cam Christiansen; Documentary/Animation with David Hare, Elliot Levey, Nayef Rashad; Canada 2017, 82 min.

When Canadian producer David Christensen listened to David Hare’a 2009 Podcast Wall, a monologue about Israel building a wall between them and Palestine, he knew that animator Cam Christiansen would be the right person to tackle the project. The result, a mixture of 3D motion capture technology, documentary and hand drawn animation, is an aesthetically stunning portrait of the 708 km long wall, so far amounting to 4 Billion US dollars since building began in 2002. The political and human cost cannot be put into figures, and Hare’s script does not always allow us to come to terms with the numerous contradictions.   

Hare, who wore a Lycra suit for his first outing as an actor at the Pinewood Studios where the motion-capture footage was shot; is – symbolically – accompanied by the English/Israeli actor Elliot Levey and his Palestinian counterpart Nayef Rashad. Levey wants to stage a co-operation, something Palestinians are not fond of, because it would legitimise the status quo between Israel and Palestine. Hare visits the Israeli novelist David Grossman, who is critical of his state’s policies, but admits that there must be a place where Jews feel safe. Driving along the monstrous wall from Jerusalem to Ramallah and Nablus, we see the damage the continuous war has done. Nablus, once the trading centre of Palestine, is a ghost city. The most famous cafe, where guests once fought for one of the 500 places, is a ghostly place where Hare and his friends are the only customers. Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian administration has had better luck: mainly because it is one of the few places not mentioned in the scriptures of the main religions in the area. We learn that Hamas is not popular, they have won elections because the PLO is totally corrupt. Then there is the story of a man who has worked as in informer for the Israelis. Hamas, imprisoning him, then invented an innovative form of torture: on the wall of the cell, they have drawn a picture of a bicycle, asking the prisoner to fetch it, or risk torture. The journey is always interrupted by senseless controls by the Israeli forces, whilst a parallel road, fifty years in the future, will be reserved for cars with Israeli number plates, the traffic flowing uninterrupted. And the settlements, some even unlawful under Israeli law, overlook the West Bank in a very menacing way. But, the wall has stopped eighty percent of Palestinian terror acts in Israel. At the end, the black-and-white transforms into the colourful graffiti on the wall – not unlike those on the Berlin Wall.       

Whilst the aesthetics are brilliant, the political agenda is questionable – but perhaps, this is only to be expected. Nearly seventy years of permanent war has destroyed any kind of hope. For Israel, this means the most powerful military force in the region has no influence on the state of mind of its citizens: Grossman mentions that most Israelis feel vey insecure. Perhaps the repressed diaspora thinking has returned, but whatever the arguments on both sides, the founding father of Israel, Theodor Herzl, did not envisage a Sparta in the desert.  AS

WALL opens MARCH 1st | BERTHA DOCHOUSE | 6pm screening Q&A |Cam Christiansen

Les Quatres Soeurs | The Four Sisters (2018) *****

Dir.: Claude Lanzmann; Documentary with Ruth Elias, Ada Lichtman, Paula Biren, Hanna Marton; France 2018, 273 min.

Just seven months before his death in July 2018, Claude Lanzmann’s last “satellite” feature Shoah was shown on French TV. Even though the four interviewed Holocaust survivors are not genetic siblings, they share the real burden of survival (each the last of their families), yet their stories are very different. In reality their stories of survival are stranger than fiction. Two of them, Paula Biren and Hanna Marton, are still suffering from survivor’s guilt, because, however unwillingly, they were the one who escaped the Nazi extermination machine.

THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH (Le serment d’Hippocrate)

Ruth Elias (1922-2008) sings Czechoslovakian songs from her childhood, accompanying herself on the accordion. These tunes helped her and her fellow sufferers to survive in Auschwitz. Now at home in Israel, her upbeat optimism somehow jars with her macabre story as she cuddles a German Shepherd, the archetypal emblem of Nazi Germany. When the Germans occupied her native city of Moravska Ostrava (Czechoslovakia) in 1939, the family lost not only their – non-kosher – sausage factory, but had to go into hiding with false papers. In April 1942 the rest of the family was deported to Auschwitz, whilst Ruth married her boyfriend and stayed behind in hiding. In Auschwitz, the genders were separated, but Ruth’s mother did not want to leave her husband, and was shot dead in front of him. Ruth’ sister Edith was also killed. And Ruth too was caught eventually, and via Terezin reached Auschwitz, where she found out she was pregnant. She miraculously survived the selection process, other inmates hiding her from Mengele. When he found out, he was furious, especially as Ruth’s friend Berta, also near term, also got away. But Mengele was vengeful: after the birth of her baby-girl, he had Ruth’ breasts bound, so that she could not suckle her offspring. Mengele wanted to find out how long a baby could survive without being fed. After nine days, an imprisoned Jewish doctor, Maza Steinberg, told Ruth that she had sworn the Hippocratic oath to save human lives – and since the baby was dying, it was her duty to save Ruth. She got hold of some morphine, and Ruth injected her baby with a lethal dose. The next day Mengele appeared and was somehow disappointed: “You are really lucky, I had planned to deport you and the child with the next transport”. Via Hamburg and Ravensbruck, she ended up back in the CSSR, totally broken, even after ‘liberation’ She was put into a sanatorium, where she finally found the will to go on living. Later in Israel, she met Dr. Steinberg with her two sons, the women stayed in contact for the rest of their lives.


Born in Galicia, Ada Lichtman then moved with her family to a village near Krakow. When the Germans invaded in 1939, they gathered the Jewish men, and shot all 134 in a nearby wood. Polish people made life hell for Ida and the other survivors, they looted their flats while the Germans looked on . Ida was captured and housed in an aerodrome where hunger and disease whittled down their numbers. Her fiancée had been shot along with the other weaker Jews, who were hit over the head with rocks. Deported to Sobibor, she soon met Gustav Franz Wagner, SS Oberscharfuhrer. Discovering Ada was a kindergarten teacher’, he said “Then you might be able to keep house for me”. The SS in Sobibor thought it amusing to christian one of the houses “The Merry Flee”, making it sound like an operetta title. In reality the whole camp was filthy. The SS enjoyed stripping all the newly-arrived prisoners, and made the oldest men dance with the youngest girls. Later, when they were drunk (ie. often), they raped the women. Ada never wanted to believe that Sobibor was a death camp but she survived, along with her husband. The Nazis made Ada mend the murdered children’s dolls so they could give them to their own kids to play with. When a convoy with Dutch prisoners arrived, they had to fill out postcards, telling their relatives that everything was fine. They would be gassed, before their postcards arrived home. Wagner, who was called ‘Wolf’, relished performing the executions. After the successful uprising in October 1943, the prisoners scattered around the area. But Sobibor was never re-opened.


This is the titular name for the Lodz Ghetto, where Paula Biren would end up as a member of the Jewish Police. She was seventeen when the Germans invaded, and had helped to dig ditches to stop German tanks. Paula listened to Hitler’s radio reports so she was aware of what would happen to the Jews After the invasion, Polish people would beat up Jews. In October 1939 the Germans started to build the Jewish Ghetto, in the poorest quarter of the city. 200 000 Jews would end up there overseen by Germans and the (Jewish) Judenrat, led by Mordechai Rumkowski, who turned the ghetto into a slave labour camp on behalf of the Germans: 45 000 Jews died of starvation and disease. He and his closest colleges were all deported to Auschwitz. After they lost their flat, Paula’s family moved into the ghetto, it “felt like going to prison”. The Judenrat had once been a Jewish welfare organisation, but now it was a parody of the Jewish state. In 1942 the first transports went to the death camps in Auschwitz and Chelmno. Paula and her family started a vegetable garden, and hopes were high. But she was soon commandeered to join the Jewish Police, initially working in the office, but later on her night patrols. Beggars and ‘loiterers’ were given a warning, and they would be deported to the death camps. Paula managed to hide but her family was deported to Auschwitz and killed. When the ghetto was finally liquidated in August  1944, Rumkowski made a list of people who would go to a special camp.  Nobody believed him any more. “I was finally put on a train to Terezin, which was not a death camp – if I’d stayed put, I would have been killed like my family”. After liberation, the Polish people in Lodz told her to leave –pogroms started up again. Living in the USA, Paula refuses to answer Lanzmann when he asks if she thought Rumkowski was guilty. “I leave this to others”.


Paula Morton had just has lost her husband, also a survivor of Hungarian death camps, when Lanzmann interviewed her in her home in Tel-Aviv. She grew up in Cluj ( also know as Klausenburg) a Romanian/Hungarian city of over 15000 Jews lived. Hungary had send 60 000 Jews to the front in WWII, to fight alongside Germans and Italians in Russia. The Jews had no rifles or other weapons, they were used as slave labour. Only 5000 survived; Paula’s brother was one of the victims. Until 1944 Jews were left alone, then the deportations started. Paula is rather scathing about her fellow Jews: “I kew if Hungarian Jews are asked to come at 12.00 for their execution, they would all appear on time”. Paula and her husband, a lawyer, had been in the Zionist Youth organisation in Hungary, and later got to know Zionist leaders like Dr. Fischer, Dr. Kastner and Hillel Danzig. These three had ties to the SS, and particularly to Eichmann. They agreed that 1684 Jews would be exchanged for huge sums of money (the SS always put the price up, and even when the Jews arrived in Switzerland, huge sums changed hands.). An estimated 500000 RM was being shelled out by the Zionist organisation. Paula and her husband were deported to the Kistarcsa transit camp near Budapest. Between the 10th and 30th June 1944 all Jews from the camp were deported to Auschwitz, just the 1684, mostly Zionist and/or wealthy remained. The group was supposed to travel to Auspitz (!), but the Hungarian authorities wanted them to go to Auschwitz. Kastner intervened along Eichmann, and the transport left Hungary. But before the convoy reached the Swiss border, two families had to leave, and because they were not Hungarian, they were deported to a death camp. Paula is obviously guilty about her survival, but she claims to Lanzmann that her husband was a fatalist and felt no guilt at all. She told him, “it was beyond a personal choice. What people forget is that the Nazi terror produced the situation. They alone decided in the end, who lived and who died. Some will say, if you can save one thousand and let 10 000 die, do it. Others will say, all should die”. Dr. Kastner was later killed in 1957 Israel after being found guilty of collaborating with the Nazis. A later court cleared him posthumously.AS


Amazon (Blu-ray) (DVD)

Zavvi (Blu-ray) (DVD)


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia