auschwitz last journey outside train



‘Hey, don’t feed the animals…!’

This German language film is an absolute masterpiece, utterly compelling but undoubtedly grim viewing at the same time. It’s an historically and factually accurate depiction of the dreadful journey of one of the Holocaust trains transporting Jews to Auschwitz, as seen from the viewpoints of two or three specific little families or couples.

The journey starts at home, with the inevitable tramp of booted feet on the quiet streets outside in the middle of the night. Then it’s ‘Open up, it’s the Gestapo!’ and the terrified Jews, the last few Jews left in Berlin, have only five minutes to pack their things and get downstairs to the waiting trucks and lorries.

They’re allegedly being taken to a ‘place of safety,’ because there are too many Allied bombs falling on the city. A likely story. The viewer knows that the Nazis are simply rendering Berlin ‘Juden-frei’ or ‘Jew-free’ as a ‘gift’ to Hitler for his birthday. If I may be permitted a little levity (anti-Nazi, that is, not anti-Jew!) here, what happened to the notion of giving someone a voucher and letting them pick out their own present?

At the train station, a calm voice over the tannoy tells the seven hundred Jews leaving Berlin for Auschwitz (although they don’t know that yet) not to panic. If they board the trains in a nice orderly fashion, they’ll be provided with the food and drink that will sustain them throughout the journey. This doesn’t sound so bad, the waiting crowds tell themselves.

Some children question why they’re to travel in cattle cars when they’re not cattle, they’re people, but their mothers hush them and remind them that, after all, it’s wartime. Some of the Jewish men, suspecting correctly where they’re being taken, resolve even at this stage to work together to escape the trains once they’ve boarded.

Once the doors to the train have been bolted and the Jews are ‘safely’ aboard, all pretence at politeness on the Germans’ part will cease and the Jews will realise that they’ve been duped. Though they still haven’t been told precisely where they’re going, they can guess. Now will begin the most horrific journey of their lives, and even then it’s still not as bad as their awful destination.

One hundred people crushed into one cattle car. One bucket of water for them all to share, and no food except what they’ve managed to bring themselves. Another bucket for toilet purposes. Men, women, old people, children and babies all steaming in the heat and breathing the same foul, fetid air. One tiny barred window and a locked and bolted door.

The Jews are deemed to need so little care once they’ve been securely locked inside the cattle cars that the Nazi powers have given the job of commander to a young boy of barely twenty, an Oberleutnant Crewes.

This baby-faced Nazi, however, is already full of the poison and cruelty inculcated into him by his elders, so the Jews needn’t expect any mercy from this quarter. As the train stokers say: ‘These young ones are full of this whole Aryan race shit, as if the Virgin herself had personally whispered it into their ears.’

Conditions inside the cattle car quickly become unbearable as the train trundles rather than hurtles its way through Hitler’s Germany, the countryside of his Third Reich, to Auschwitz in Poland.

There are long delays too, for example when they have to sit back and allow precedence to the trains filled with German soldiers rushing to the Front, and another time while a gallows is being built to hang a group of partisans and leave them hanging, as a grim warning to all who see them.

During these interminable delays, the cry is all for ‘Wasser, bitte!’ as the occupants of the cattle car beg for a little water to ease their raging thirst. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. They hand their valuables out the window to the train operatives in return for water and a bit of bread. They’ll lick the water up off the floor of the cattle car if they have to.

Let’s meet our main protagonists. Henry and Lea Neumann, a handsome young couple, are here with their young daughter, a remarkably clever and brave little girl called Nina, and their baby son David.

Albert Rosen and Ruth Silbermann are a young engaged couple who are so in love with each other it’s lovely to see. Ruth has a lot of character and guts and she’ll make Albert, a former jeweller, a marvellous wife, a wife he can be proud of.

Jakob and Gabrielle are an elderly couple, devoted to each other and with balls and chutzpah to spare. Jakob has been a comedian and entertainer all his life. When the Gestapo and the sinister man in the trenchcoat give him five minutes to pack his most valuable possessions, he brings his collection of jokes and the tuxedo he wears to perform in.

Gabrielle is his pianist. She has as much courage as the diminutive Jakob who, before this awful train journey happened, tried to persuade his beloved to emigrate to America. She refused to leave him, however, so now they’re both here.

The staunchly good-humoured old couple use their talents and entertainment skills to try to keep up morale in the stifling cattle car, in which people are already dying of dehydration and shock and everyone’s stripped down to their underwear in the intense heat.

Henry and Albert are the two men who try to engineer escape from the train of certain death. If they don’t manage it for anyone, then this train will one day pull up at Auschwitz.

There’ll be barbed wire, attack dogs, endless shouting and doing everything ‘on the run’ the way the Nazis preferred it. There’ll be the infamous ARBEIT MACHT FREI, which might just as well read ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE, as in the workhouses of old.

There’ll be ‘men to the left, women and children to the right’ and grey-faced Sonderkommandos pulling and pushing them into the correct lines before the Nazis get angry. The new arrivals might see the chimneys that are kept alight night and day and belch out smoke and a peculiar-smelling ash round the clock.

Some of the new people may have heard of these chimneys and their grisly purpose. ‘It can’t be true,’ they tell themselves as they look up, wide-eyed. ‘How can it be true? It doesn’t make any sense, the Nazis destroying their own workforce!’

If it sounds like hell to the reader, well, one can’t even imagine what it was like for the people who were brought here. The film’s ending is one you won’t forget for a long time. It’s even sadder than the little vignettes of our main protagonists’ former happier lives which are cleverly interspersed throughout the film.

I’m not one to preach but, if ever a film could represent a cogent argument against racism, then this film would have to be it. Every time I watch it, it makes me feel ashamed of my nice cushy life in one of the so-called ‘civilised’ countries. And you’ll certainly never waste a drop of water in your life again after seeing this. I guarantee it.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:






This TV movie received mostly positive reviews. I have mixed feelings about it myself. The subject matter is not to blame. The Holocaust has been fascinating movie producers and the viewing public alike for over seventy years now.

I myself could never tire of watching Holocaust movies made from different perspectives and viewpoints. Like I said, it’s an endless fascinating topic. It’s undoubtedly grim and terribly sad, but it’s enthralling too.

There’s something a little off about this particular film, though. There’s nothing wrong per se with the notion of someone (a Jewish person) going back in time to the Second World War, finding themselves right-slap-bang in the middle of the greatest wave of anti-Semitism the world has ever known. That even sounds like it might be thrilling to watch, doesn’t it?

I’m going to be a bit of a bitch now (be warned!) but I think it’s the two lead actresses who bring down the film. I’ve always hated Kirsten Dunst, so I guess I just don’t find her very believable in the role of Hannah. Hannah is a young Jewish girl living in modern times- well, the late ‘Nineties- who travels back in time during a family Passover to the time of concentration camps and Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts.

This happens solely so that the young and thoughtless Hannah can learn about just how traumatic the experience of being in a concentration camp was for her older relatives and her Aunty Eva in particular. ‘Forties Hannah and her cousin Rivkah, played by Brittany Murphy, are told by the Nazis that they’re going to be ‘resettled in the East.’

They don’t even need to pack anything because they’ll be ‘well looked after’ by the Germans when they get to this mythical destination. As we already know, ‘resettlement in the East’ merely meant transportation to a concentration camp and all that that entailed.

Unsurprisingly, Hannah and Rivkah are duly packed off to a camp that the film-makers modelled on Auschwitz or Oswiecim, one of the most infamous of the concentration camps. It was here that camp commandant Rudolf Hoess (not to be confused with Hitler’s chum Rudolf Hess, though I imagine that that happens a lot) perfected the method of mass-killing with the aid of a poisonous gas known as Zyklon B.

I must say, the specially constructed camp looks every bit as grim, bleak and mucky as I’ve read that Auschwitz actually was in real life. The Nazi guards and officers are a bit hammy and stereotypical with their ‘Ve haf vays of making you tock…!’ accents but I find them watchable nonetheless. The camp dormitories are realistic too, realistically horrible and miserable, that is.

I have a real problem with Brittany Murphy, though I’ve no wish to speak ill of the… Well, you know. Her acting is wooden and when she pronounces ‘the Nazis’ as ‘the Nozzies’ in her fairly dodgy Polish accent, I was just completely turned off. Her saintly smiles whenever she’s praising Hannah for keeping everyone’s spirits up with her ‘stories’ just made me want to slap her in the kisser with a wet kipper, haha.

These ‘stories’ of Hannah’s, by the way, are along the lines of: ‘I’ve come from the future, a wonderful place where we eat a marvellous food called pizza, which is basically a thin breaded base covered in tomato sauce and melted cheese…!’

That pizza story annoyed me no end. I just found it to be completely out of place, inappropriate to the subject matter and even downright silly. Telling the starving, terrified inmates of Auschwitz that you’ve come from the so-called future and want to regale them with tales of the great grub you can get there, well, it just seems wrong and silly, even if you are just trying to keep up their morale. It totally grated (Grated? Cheese? See what I did there?) on my expectations of what story-telling elements a good Holocaust movie should contain.

There are some effective and unbearably sad scenes in the film too, however. Namely, the fate of the would-be escapees, Hannah’s final scenes in the camp and what happens when the camp commandant discovers that one of the dormitories has a new little occupant. So the film’s not all bad.

The title, incidentally, refers to the obligations incumbent upon the camp commandant to ‘keep the pace with the numbers.’ That is to say, the numbers of people he was supposed to kill in any given period. It doesn’t really bear thinking about, does it…?

Anyway, don’t let my lack of fondness for the two lead actresses put you off. The film is mostly still watchable, but it can be a little silly at times. Silliness and levity have no place in a Holocaust film. Or am I just a humourless git? Who knows…? That could be it exactly, haha.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:





I must confess that, at the time of writing this review, I haven’t read the novel on which this film is based, but I bloody love the film. It’s the story of a Polish immigrant, the titular Sophie, who in 1947 is living in a boarding-house in Brooklyn with her emotionally unstable lover Nathan.

Into this mix- and their boarding-house- comes a young writer from the Deep South with the utterly improbable name of Stingo. Sophie mistakenly calls him ‘Stinko’ at one point. I think that’s what I’ll call him too. I didn’t dislike his character as such but I considered him to be way too involved in Sophie and Nathan’s relationship. All up in their business, you might say.

True, I know it’s the flamboyant couple in the upstairs apartment who invite Stinko into their lives in the first place, but as a third wheel he’s only asking for trouble. It seems like Sophie and Nathan are the kind of people who constantly need an audience for their passionate shenanigans, their break-ups and make-ups and even their sex.

They’re possibly not a terribly likeable couple. Sophie is needy and craves attention, which is hardly surprising considering what she’s been through, but her overly-affectionate behaviour towards Stinko gives him totally the wrong idea and, before you can say ‘gooseberry,’ he’s head-over-heels in love with her and hanging on her every word.

I suppose that that’s hardly surprising either, given that Stinko is only twenty-two and an impressionable virgin and Sophie is a beautiful woman of the world with a fabulously sexy Polish accent and a dreadful sadness behind her smile.

I’ve never been that big a fan of Meryl Streep’s, oddly enough, but she totally deserved the Best Actress Oscar she won for her role as Sophie. The film was nominated for four other Academy Awards as well, and Streep’s characterization of the tragic Sophie was voted the third best movie performance of all time by PREMIERE MAGAZINE. Hot damn, I wish I knew who made the Top Two…!

I’m not forgetting the character of Nathan, Sophie’s lover, by the way. Played by Kevin Kline, another actor whom I’ve never really cared for, he’s an emotionally abusive headwrecker of a boyfriend with actual serious mental problems.

He ridicules Stinko’s writing- ‘your poor dead mother!’- and he’s constantly accusing ‘the little Polack whore’ of infidelity. He thinks she’s at it with Stinko, though you can hardly blame him, given the enthusiasm with which Stinko leaped head-first into the highly destructive emotional triangle that bodes trouble for each of its three points from the moment it’s created.

For the things Nathan says alone, Sophie should leave him, but of course she doesn’t. She’s up to her tonsils in this toxic relationship. Nathan was slick enough when he wooed her but, once they were established as a couple, his true colours as a nasty piece of work probably came quickly enough to light. Sophie spends half her life waiting for him to come home from drink-and-drug-fuelled benders and his verbal abuse of her is disgusting to witness.

Nathan, a Jew, has a bee in his bonnet about Sophie’s having been in a concentration camp and survived the horrific ordeal. It’s almost as if he resents her for having survived when literally millions of others didn’t. She survived, yes, but at what personal cost to herself? If Nathan even knew the half of it, maybe he’d shut the hell up and give the lady a break.

The two concentration camp flashbacks are my favourite scenes in the movie. Rudolf Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz when Sophie was incarcerated there, is portrayed as both a slobbering sexual predator and a morally weak chinless wonder who doesn’t keep his promise to a desperate woman in his care and in his power. The scenes concerning Sophie’s titular ‘choice’ are painful and harrowing. You won’t sleep easy after watching them, I promise you.

The phrase ‘Sophie’s Choice’ has kind of passed into popular culture and language as signifying a difficult choice between two equally unpleasant alternatives. I tend to use it at home a lot (in an affectionate way, I might add!) when it comes to deciding between pizza toppings or choice of desserts, haha. Not that you should ever have to choose between desserts, if you get me…!

The ending of the film is unexpected and shocking but, in all seriousness, how else could it all have ended up? This would be a good film to watch late at night over Christmas when the kids’ new toys are already broken and everyone’s tired of seeing repeats of ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’ or ‘THE SNOWMAN,’ haha. Settle down with the remains of the selection boxes and seasonal TAYTO packs and get lost in a great story. Sorted…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at:





I don’t even know where to begin praising this magnificent blockbuster of a film, made by the King of Blockbusters himself, Steven Spielberg. A mere eighteen years before, as a fledgling director, he’d put his name to a little film about a big fish that became the blockbuster to end all blockbusters and made him pretty much the hottest directorial property of his day.

In SCHINDLER’S LIST, he proves without a doubt that there’s no subject he can’t handle, no matter how grim or distressing. The film won a whopping seven out of the twelve Academy Awards for which it was nominated and, in 2004, was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress. This means that the film is considered ‘historically, socially and aesthetically significant,’ which anyone who’s seen it will agree that it is.

Apparently, Mr. Spielberg approached this historical epic as a documentary and, having spent a few years conducting my own little researches into this dark period, I would have to categorically state that there’s nothing in the film that comes across as exaggerated, historically inaccurate or just downright wrong, out-of-place or even silly.

Mr. Spielberg did his research with care. This is a spot-on re-telling of what happened to many of the Polish Jews in World War Two, handled with sensitivity but with no desire to gloss over the worst parts.

The three-hour-long story is told in black-and-white, the only splash of colour being the red coat of a little curly-haired blonde girl who ends up in a concentration camp. The subject matter is more than just grim or distressing, the words I used earlier.

It’s somehow much more than that, because it’s all true and it actually happened. Six million Jews were murdered in World War Two, an almost incomprehensible number. Of those who survived, a thousand or so owed their lives to a man called Oscar Schindler…

My fellow countryman Liam Neeson is superb in the role of the titular Schindler, a womanizing German businessman who saves hundreds of Polish Jews from death in the concentration camps by employing them in his enamelware factory in Krakow.

Young or old, male or female, married or single, he takes them on and, in bestowing upon them the status of ‘essential workers’ for the German war effort, thereby keeps them from the gas chambers.

Ben Kingsley does a terrific job too as Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s quiet, self-effacing Jewish accountant who expertly runs Schindler’s business for him.

Schindler’s modus operandi is as follows. He doesn’t operate openly as a messianic philanthropic type. Rather, he shys away from the very suggestion. He claims he’s only out to make money for himself but we the viewers know differently, even though there’s no doubt that he does like the finer things in life.

He’s a member of the Nazi Party himself and does a splendid job of ingratiating himself with senior Nazi officials and greasing the right palms so that, when he needs a favour for his workers, such as keeping them out of Auschwitz on the pretext that he needs their ‘essential’ work skills for his factory, they’ll give him a dig-out, as we say here in Ireland.

As brilliant as Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley are in their roles, my favourite character here is Ralph Fiennes as the nasty Nazi officer and concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth. He’s so devastatingly handsome in his uniform that I couldn’t help fancying him, even though I know it’s wrong to fancy even good-looking Nazis, haha.

He’s as cruel and ruthless as you might expect a concentration camp commandant to be, but he has a lot of characteristics of the spoilt petulant child about him too.

We first see him bitching about the cold when he’s being taken on a tour of the ghetto into which thousands of Polish Jews were forced to move, leaving their homes and lots of their belongings to people who had no claim on them.

When the concentration camp he’s in charge of is ready to be occupied by the Jews from the ghetto, Goeth treats the ‘liquidation’ of the ghetto as a tiresome inconvenience to himself.

‘I wish this fucking night were over…!’

The clearing-out of the overcrowded ghetto is done so well that it actually looks real. Thousands of people routed from their temporary homes and packed into transports bound for the camps. Families split up, husbands and wives separated and no personal belongings to be taken.

The instantaneous liquidation of the old and the sick in their beds. The rhythmic tramp of the jackboots on the stairs, the sudden burst of machine-gun fire and the hiders in their most obscure of hiding-places are discovered and executed. Steven Spielberg one hundred million percent deserved his Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. These scenes are masterfully done.

The shower scene at Auschwitz has been described as ‘the most terrifying scene ever filmed.’ I wonder what Alfred Hitchcock, the director of that other shower scene, would have to say about this notion…!

The scene I personally find the most frightening is the one in which the transport of Schindler’s female workers accidentally ends up in Auschwitz instead of in Schindler’s home town, which is where all the male workers have already safely arrived.

The train stops at Auschwitz in the dead of night. The women are terrorised by the guards shouting, the attack dogs barking, the glaring lights shining in their faces and, over everything, a thick layer of ash falls like snow. It’s coming from a giant chimney nearby that’s blazing away even in the middle of the night.

The women are used to having to queue up to give their names and show their papers to Nazi officials whenever they are sent anywhere new. Their confusion, a confusion that gives way slowly to horror, is perfectly summed up when one of the women says:

‘Where are the list-makers? Where are the tables?’

There are no list-makers and no tables with list-consulting officials sitting at them here in Auschwitz, no queuing to show your papers to someone. This is truly end-game…

There are so many brilliant scenes in this film, including the infamous ‘shooting from the balcony’ one that was hilariously parodied in FAMILY GUY, but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you about any more of them, except to say that sometimes a short scene of only a few seconds can be extremely powerful. I’m thinking particularly of the one where the Jewish man has his side-curls ridiculed and cut off by a group of Nazi soldiers.

The whole idea of Nazi debauchery and high living while concentration camp inmates exist in fear of their lives is handled very well here and Steven Spielberg’s depiction of this terrible era feels accurate and insightful.

Though that little film about the big fish we mentioned earlier will always be my favourite film of this particular director’s, SCHINDLER’S LIST comes a close second. After the dinosaur film, of course, and the one about the extra-terrestrial and the other one about the close encounter with an alien spaceship…!

After all of these, it’s my favourite film of his and, if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should watch it now. Those of us who’ve seen it should rewatch it. Lest we forget that ‘whoever saves one life, saves the world entire…’


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

You can contact Sandra at: