HOLOCAUST. (1978) THE TV MINI-SERIES REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

holocaust meryl streep

HOLOCAUST. (1978) CREATED AND WRITTEN BY GERALD GREEN. DIRECTED BY MARVIN J. CHOMSKY.

STARRING MERYL STREEP, JAMES WOODS, MICHAEL MORIARTY, FRITZ WEAVER, ROSEMARY HARRIS, JOSEPH BOTTOMS, MARIUS GORING, TOM BELL, IAN HOLM, CYRIL SHAPS, ANTHONY HAYGARTH, SAM WANAMAKER AND DAVID WARNER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This magnificent television dramatisation of some of history’s darkest and most shameful events clocks in at a whopping four hundred and forty six minutes, or five easily digestible ninety minute blocks.

It’s the story of two fictional families in wartime Germany, the Weiss family and the Dorf family, and how they were both affected by Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, his anti-Jewish laws and his World War that laid waste to most of Europe.

The Weiss family are Jewish, and the Dorfs are not, and therein lies the reason why the lives of two such ordinary German families could have run along such divergent lines in the exact same time period, intersecting nonetheless in places during times of the most dreadful stress and terror.

Let’s get right down to business. Joseph and Berta Weiss are a typical German couple for the time, wealthy, cultured, civilised and decent people who love their children, Karl, Anna and Rudi, and want only the best for them.

When we meet them first, the Weisses are celebrating the mixed marriage (already frowned upon by the Nazis unofficially; soon to be outlawed in Germany by law) of their eldest son Karl, an artist (James Woods) to Inga Helms (Meryl Streep), a beautiful German Christian woman.

Every time Hitler and his Nazis, whom the Weisses are too genteel to call thugs and barbarians outright, lay down another anti-Jewish law, Joseph and Berta tell themselves that it won’t go on for much longer, that, after all, they’re Germans too, aren’t they, and Hitler couldn’t really mean them to be banished from their own country like lepers, could he…?

Berta’s Jewish Pops, a delightful old ex-soldier who proudly displays the Iron Cross he won for fighting for his country (Germany) in World War One, thinks that Germany isn’t stupid enough and cruel enough to treat her loyal German war veterans, regardless of their religion, like vermin. He finds out differently on the black, black night that history refers to as ‘Kristallnacht,’ or ‘The Night Of Broken Glass…’

Berta and Joseph leave it too late to flee Germany. This is partly down to Berta, a classical pianist and a gentle, peace-loving kind-hearted woman, who keeps stubbornly reiterating that she’s German, they’re all Germans, and this is their country too. Why should they up sticks and leave Germany to those jack-booted, black-suited thugs, the Nazis?

By the time her beloved husband, a doctor who’d go to any lengths to help someone in need, is deported to Poland to what eventually becomes the Warsaw Ghetto, Berta realises her mistake. They should all have read the signs and fled Germany when they had the chance…

Her son Karl has been arrested purely on the grounds of being Jewish and sent to Buchenwald, a concentration camp. Her daughter Anna has already suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the Nazis, and even Berta, her mother, doesn’t know just how terrible it is. Berta’s youngest son Rudi has run off to join the partisans, although his mother hasn’t a clue where he is or what he’s doing. She mightn’t ever even see him again.

Rudi, by the way, is a great character. No way is he going meekly like a lamb to the slaughter, as he sees his fellow Jews doing. He’s going to fight those bastard Nazis, and he’ll damn well make sure he takes as many of them down with him as we can. It’s good to have fighters like him and Uncle Sasha and Uncle Moses in a film that touches painfully on the awkward subject of Jewish apathy in the face of Nazi hostilities.

Inga is having to submit to being raped repeatedly by a Nazi in order to get her letters through to Karl in Buchenwald and, when Karl finds out what she’s had to endure to contact him, the ungrateful bastard turns against her. She even gets herself sent to Theresienstadt later on to be near him (he’s working here in their artist’s studio, believe it or not)but he still isn’t grateful for all her sacrifices. I’d leave him to rot where he is, seriously.

Erik Dorf is a handsome young lawyer and father of two who is looking for work. He joins the Nazi party because he needs a job, and also because his fanatical wife Marta is extremely ambitious for him and she thinks that ‘the Party’ is the way to go for their little family.

Erik doesn’t feel like he’s cut out to swagger about in a fancy Nazi uniform, pushing people about, but he gets used to it remarkably quickly. He quickly rises through the ranks after becoming invaluable to Reinhard Heydrich (David Warner doesn’t look much like this young blond god!), the man tasked with carrying out Hitler’s ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem.’

Erik’s involvement in ‘Kristallnacht’ earns him a promotion. Before too much time has elapsed, he’s Major Dorf, with a sort of travelling commission as part of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate. His job seems to be speeding up the killing process and making the camps more efficient as death factories.

We see him assisting Rudolf Höss, the Commandant of Auschwitz, with the introduction of Zyklon B, the pesticide used to gas millions of Jews. We see him attending a demonstration of the gas in action (‘Fantastic, utterly fantastic! It’s like a scene from Dante’s Inferno.’), against real people, and we can tell he hasn’t the stomach for it. Is this because he feels that what he’s doing is inherently wrong, or because he’s simply squeamish?

From time to time, we get the impression that Erik Dorf knows he’s going to hell for what he and his precious ‘Party’ have done, and yet there are other times when he can stand and impassively watch an atrocity taking place without batting an eyelid, such as when he’s a witness to the murder of 30,000 Jews at Babi Yar in the Ukraine in 1941. He’s fascinated at the way in which they passively go to their deaths, but I guess we’d all be the same if a bunch of guys were pointing machine-guns at us.

He constantly parrots the Nazi and SS mantra, that he’s only following orders, orders from above, orders from the highest office in the land. Does he really believe that it’s okay to murder women and children though, just on the basis that he’s ‘following orders?’ Does he really believe that blindly following orders justifies the massacres he constantly oversees?

Sometimes it looks like there’s a flicker of remorse behind his dead fish eyes but then, at other times, he’s a blank, a robot, an automaton. He’s the most important character in the show, in my opinion, because he helps us to see the logic, if you can call it that, behind the actions of the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

And, no matter what Dorf tries to make out after it’s all over, he’s a perpetrator. Even his wife, who makes her husband join the Nazi Party so she won’t have to stand in line at the butchers’ for the best cuts of meat any more, is a perpetrator. She makes Erik turn away Dr. Weiss when he comes to them for help when Karl has been arrested and incarcerated in Buchenwald. Goddammit, she’s nearly as much of a perpetrator as he is.

The mini-series does an excellent job of portraying the different situations that arose during the time of the Holocaust. We see the concentration camps, the Sonderkommando (the work details of Jewish prisoners who attended the gassings and afterwards burned the bodies in the crematoria) and the actual killing machinery. We see the Warsaw ghetto and the brave men who tried to defend it at the end. (Uncle Moses, you ROCK, and so does that old Rabbi who’s with you at the end!!!)

We see the Jewish Council (or Judenrat), of which Dr. Joseph Weiss is a member, having to select six thousand people a day to go on the dreaded transportations out of the ghetto to the death camps. We actually see the Jews on these transportations being bullshitted by the Nazis regarding this so-called ‘resettlement in the East.’ It’s not so bad, it’s only a work camp, and families can stay together, see? A wonderful new life awaits everyone in the East, now all aboard…

We see the Jews chosen by the Nazis to ‘police’ the ghettos, and we know how they too end up. ‘Don’t worry, Dr. Weiss, it’ll be my turn soon enough…’ We see the smuggling of food that went on in the ghetto even though the Nazis forbade it, but without the smugglers, even more people would have died in the gutters of starvation, a horrible slow death that no-one deserves.

We see the liquidation of the ghettos and how it was achieved, albeit with much bloodshed on both sides. We also see the Nazis’ T4 Euthanasia Programme (of the sick, the old and the disabled) in action, even though we might feel better for never having seen it at all.

We see Rudi taking part in the Sobibor concentration camp uprising and escape in October 1943, and his brother Karl being tortured by the Nazis over paintings he does in Theresienstadt that accurately represent the various desperate situations in the concentration camps, instead of the nice happy paintings commissioned by the Nazis.

We see how Theresienstadt in Prague was used as the ‘model’ concentration camp, trotted out whenever the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC) wanted to send a few inspectors in. ‘Oh, we didn’t see any signs of any maltreatment,’ they invariably said when they’d completed their inspections there.

Well, d’uh! That’s what the Nazis wanted them to think. They went to a lot of trouble, with their fake coffee shops and their fake post office and their fake bank and their fake happy healthy prisoners, to make sure that the ICRC thought just what they wanted them to think.

The Jews are getting on grand here, the ICRC always said after a visit. They never seemed to question the right of the Nazis to imprison the Jews in the first place, but never mind. As long as they never saw any signs of maltreatment when they inspected the camps, well, I guess that’s all right then…

Tom Bell is utterly odious here as Adolf Eichmann, the number-cruncher of the entire Holocaust, and Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins to you!) almost unrecognisable as Himmler, the third point of the ‘Final Solution’ triumvirate that had Eichmann and Heydrich as the other two points.

The assassination of Heydrich takes place off-screen, ditto the murder of a German bureaucrat/diplomat called Ernst Vom Rath by the Jewish Herschel Grynszpan, that prompted the shattering events of ‘Kristallnacht.’ 

Two one-off members of the cast of ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em,’ starring Michael Crawford as the hapless Frank Spencer, can be seen in HOLOCAUST in small but important roles. See if you can guess which two…!

The whole mini-series is pretty much faultless. James Woods as Karl Weiss is a terrible husband- frankly Inga would be better off with that fat Nazi (a ‘fatzi?’) Heinz Mueller- but other than that I’ve no complaints. Top-notch viewing, recommended viewing in fact for students of the Holocaust. It certainly proves the point that, for bad men to triumph, all it takes is for good folks to do nothing…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. 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, women’s 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE. (1984) A CHILLING NAZI VISION REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

wannsee reinhard

THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE. (1984) BASED ON TRUE EVENTS. WRITTEN BY PAUL MOMMERTZ. DIRECTED BY HEINZ SCHIRK. STARRING DIETRICH MATTAUSCH AND GERD BÖCKMANN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is one of the best, if the absolute grimmest, of all the Nazi films I’ve ever seen. It’s as good as DOWNFALL (DER UNTERGANG), the gripping story of Hitler’s last days in the bunker under the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, while the Russian army were less than a few miles away and their bombs and explosions shook every building in Berlin to its foundations.

It’s so realistic, THE WANNSEE CONFERENCE, that every time I watch it I feel like I’m watching a piece of found footage, that this is what actually happened, that this is exactly what happened when some of the Nazis’ top personnel got together at this luxurious villa in Wannsee in Berlin to discuss the finer details of what came to be known as ‘The Final Solution’ to the so-called ‘Jewish Question.’

Only one copy of the ‘minutes’ of the meeting survived the war, and it is from this that the dialogue is derived. The dialogue is of necessity fictionalised, but it comes from an extremely true place, as it were.

The purpose of the meeting was threefold: to thrash out the details of the Final Solution; to ensure the co-operation of the various Nazi government departments, who were represented at the meeting, in the carrying out of the Final Solution; and, finally, to decide who or what constituted a Jew, and therefore should be included in the Final Solution.

The meeting, which had been delayed a bit by America’s entry into the war after Pearl Harbour happened in December 1941, took place at the beautiful private villa in Berlin at the behest of the Reichsfuhrer-SS, otherwise known as Heinrich Himmler, one of Hitler’s ‘bestest’ men.

It was Hitler’s wish that the German Reich and all her occupied territories should be made ‘Juden-frei’ or ‘free of Jews,’ and Hitler’s wish was ‘Heini’s’ command. Hitler rarely troubled himself with the finer details of any of his policies, unless it was for the grandiose pie-in-the-sky model cities and buildings he intended to create after the war, which of course never happened. There was no ‘after the war’ for Hitler.

But the worse things became for Germany in the war, the more he immersed himself in these blueprints for mad projects that would never get done. It was obviously his chosen form of escapism, something in which he could retreat when the going got tough.

The onerous tasks pertaining to the Final Solution were left to his top men, who in turn sub-delegated the job to underlings and so on and so on until the job was done. Hitler and Himmler both envisioned a kind of ‘combing’ movement that ‘swept’ Europe ‘clean’ of Jews from left to right and vice versa, the way you’d go through a child’s hair with a fine-tooth comb during an epidemic of what we used to call ‘unwelcome visitors.’

Himmler delegated the job of making Germany and her occupied territories ‘Juden-frei’ to his pet toady, Reinhard Heydrich, tall, blonde, perfectly ‘Aryan’-looking and so cold he’d make the icy winds that blew around the glacier that proved the Titanic’s downfall feel like a gentle Caribbean breeze. The actor who portrays him here is so like I imagine the real Heydrich to be that it’s actually scary. No, scratch that. It’s terrifying.

The Nazis invited to this conference sit around a long polished table in their highly decorated uniforms, gorging themselves on delicious finger food, fine cigars and fancy cognacs while they hammer out the details of the Final Solution. As the star-struck secretaries in the reception areas outside the conference rooms put it, ‘there’s a lot of top brass here today.’

Hitler gets ‘heiled’ more times than you can shake a stick at. Facts and figures are thrown around while the various personnel report to Heydrich how ‘Juden-frei’ the areas under their personal responsibility have become or are hoped/intended to become in the near future.

Maps of occupied Europe are displayed to the room, with little coffins on them indicating the places where large numbers of Jews have already been killed. It’s shocking to the viewer, these little coffins, but the attendees don’t even bat an eyelid. The coffins are only used to represent Jews, after all, and not real people.

No-one wants to be found wanting in the presence of ‘Heini’s’ little pet, Reinhard Heydrich, regarded by many historians as one of the main architects of the Holocaust. Hitler dubbed Heydrich ‘the man with the iron heart.’ In other words, he has a swinging brick where the command central of his emotions and feelings is meant to be.

It is openly admitted here amongst these men, maybe for the first time, that the Jews whom they intend to send to ‘labour camps in the East’ are in fact destined for the dreaded ‘special treatment’ or ‘sonderbehandlung’ in the occupied areas of Poland known as ‘the General Government.’

No words stronger than this ‘sonderbehandlung’ will ever be put down on paper for fear that they might incriminate themselves, but here, amongst themselves, it is safe to admit such things out loud, even in the presence of the female secretary who’s taking the minutes and the waiters who serve them with their cognacs and canapés. Those cocky gits. The top brass, I mean, not the waiters.

The process of getting the Jews to the ‘labour camps in the East’ is discussed step-by-step with cold practicality. ‘Israel’ and ‘Sarah,’ their derogatory names for the male and female Jew, will obediently sign over their property to the Reich and hand the keys of their dwelling(s) over to the designated Nazi officials.

Then, carrying one suitcase and the paltry sum of no more than fifty marks- which will all be stolen from them at their destination anyway- they will board a train (most likely a cattle train) to ‘the East’ in a quiet and orderly fashion.

The destination will be one or other of the various concentration camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor, Mauthausen, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Belzec) and, at the end of the road, they’ll find the gas chambers and crematoria waiting silently for them.

Gas? Some of the men around the table, one in particular, pale a little at the mention of the gas. Either they didn’t know about it prior to today, or it just slightly offends their delicate, fastidious sensibilities to be hearing such nitty-gritty details.

Some people, the so-called ‘mental defectives’ and the disabled mostly, have already been put to death by means of travelling vans into which they would be piled and then killed by exhaust pipe, in much the same way that a person would commit suicide by sitting in their car with the exhaust running.

People grew to know in time that these vans heralded death for some. This is one way of doing it. But the downside of this method is that you can only kill a handful of people at a time. It’s slow and cumbersome, too slow and cumbersome.

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz whose post-war memoirs provide us with one of our most valuable documents of World War Two, gets a mention here then. He apparently ‘swears by Zyklon B,’ the pellets of insecticide that have been proven capable of murdering large numbers of people at a time.

The Jews are ushered into an ‘undressing room,’ where they are told to remember where they put their stuff for afterwards. This lulls them into a false sense of security, making them think that there will be an ‘afterwards.’

Once they are locked securely into the gas chambers, an SS man- it was always an SS man- will nip up sharpish onto the roof of the building and drop the pellets of Zyklon B in through an opening.

It could take several minutes for the gas to take full effect and the hundreds- or thousands- of people inside the room to die. There could be shouting and screaming for several minutes after the doors are locked. Victims could be observed through a peephole in the door.

Then the Sonderkommando, the concentration camp prisoners tasked with doing this horrible, horrible job that the SS themselves didn’t want, enter the room with gas-masks on to cart the bodies off to the nearby crematorium for burning.

The sights that would await them when those doors were opened were truly terrible. With blood, faeces and urine dripping from every orifice and their heads sometimes twisted on backwards with the pain and fear of what they’d undergone, the corpses were shocking to behold. Some members of the Sonderkommando might have to take pliers and remove the gold teeth from the mouths of corpses, surely the job straight from the jaws of hell itself.

Every so often, the members of the Sonderkommando would be themselves murdered and replaced by other prisoners. They were never left alive for long. The SS didn’t want people who knew so many of their grisly secrets to be walking around free, free to tell everyone they met about what they’d witnessed and experienced in the death camps.

At the conference, a lot of time is spent debating the ‘half-Jews’ and ‘quarter-Jews,’ and how exactly you determine whether someone is one or the other and how you then treat them. Previously, Jews married to Aryans or who had been married to Aryans but were now widowed had been exempt from ‘Sonderbehandlung,’ but now there’s talk of a clean sweep, of cutting all the ‘bacteria’ out of the diseased organism for good, for the good of the organism. This analogy from the plant world comes courtesy of one Adolf Hitler, by the way. Have you read MEIN KAMPF yet? Great cure for insomnia.

It’s a bit like a privileged gentleman’s club, this conference. Whenever any Nazi official proposes something particularly bloodthirsty for the Jews, most of the others rattle and bang the table with their fists and make approving, ‘hear, hear’- type noises, while swilling their pricey cognacs and smoking their fat cigars.

‘Why should our chaps die at the front while Israel and Sarah swan off to a holiday resort?’ one official says of the concentration camps. Well, Israel and Sarah will soon know the real meaning of work, the Nazis say, as the plan for any able-bodied Jews is forced labour and for them to be worked literally to death.

Another man is worried about whether he will lose his Jews- his free labour, he means- to the camps, as he needs them for his armaments factories. Why import and pay foreign workers, he says, when you can get the Jews for nothing? He’s delighted to hear that he can hold onto his slaves, at least for now.

The main player here, even more than Heydrich himself, who shamelessly chats up the pretty secretary (What’s WRONG with her, by the way? Has she no womanly feelings of compassion for the victims of genocide under discussion, or is she only interested in landing herself a man, preferably a high-ranking Nazi officer?) in front of everyone present and who expects a ripple of sycophantic laughter every time he cracks a little joke, is probably Adolf Eichmann. He’s the ‘numbers’ man and Heydrich’s so-called ‘Jew specialist’ or ‘Jew expert.’

He’s the un-extraordinary ‘petty bureacrat’ or pen-pusher about whom German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt made her remarks referring to ‘the banality of evil.’ This was while Eichmann was on trial for war crimes in Israel in 1961, after being snatched from Buenos Aires by the Israeli group Mossad. He’d been hiding in South America since the war, having escaped from Europe via the ‘ratlines’ used by escaping Nazis for that exact purpose.

‘I was only a tiny cog in the Nazi killing machine,’ was his catch-cry during his trial, after which he was hanged for his crimes. This was how he liked to minimise his actions but we know that he attended this milestone conference. We know that he was one of the main Nazis responsible for organising the Jews onto those cattle trains that would take them to those mythical ‘labour camps in the East.’

A monster doesn’t always have to look like a monster, and be actually caught in the act of grinding children’s bones to make his bread, to have been responsible for the atrocities with which he’s charged. Eichmann is certainly a case in point for this particular argument.

He’s the Nazi who infamously said that when he died, he’d jump into the pit of hell with glee, happy in the knowledge that he had put six million Jews down there with him. Here, he’s certainly a fussy little bureaucrat, kissing Heydrich’s butt and pulling figures out of his sleeves and demonstrating his intimate knowledge of ‘The Jewish Question.’

I just want to bring one more conference attendee to your attention. There’s a portly, jowly official called Dr. (he has a degree in law) Rudolf Lange present, a young enough Nazi who was largely responsible for Latvia’s Holocaust. He’s another one who likes to get a laugh for his actions.

He falls asleep at one point, probably rendered dozey by all the cognac he downs at the meeting, and glories in the laugh this generates amongst his colleagues. To fall asleep while the details of the deaths of millions of people are being worked out seems irreverent, to say the least.

He’s brought his beloved German shepherd dog Hasso along to the conference with him because Hasso ‘needs a vacation.’ The inference here is that the dog is treated better than the Jews under discussion at the conference. He’s a great dog also, apparently, for ‘sniffing out Jews’ from their hiding places ‘in the latrines’ or ‘up chimneys.’ The film ends with Lange throwing a ball or a stick for the dog.

The whole film is an exercise in ‘show, not tell.’ The meeting unfolds in real time and a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the viewer is assumed. No character sits down and says to his colleagues: ‘Now, folks, as we all know, this is World War Two and Germany is about to start losing the war in a big way,’ and so on.

The discussion is all highly practical, to the point and cold and calculating, and Heydrich advises the report-givers to ‘be brief’ as his time is valuable and his cool blonde Aryan presence is required elsewhere.

The pragmatic and bureaucratic way in which the subject is gone over is frightening. If Eichmann typified for Hannah Arendt ‘the banality of evil,’ then surely this conference taken as a whole is an example of the pettifogging, bureaucratic mind-numbing and also terrifying minutiae of evil. Could this type of thing ever happen again? Well, all it takes is for good men to do nothing…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

AUSCHWITZ: THE LAST JOURNEY. (2006) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

auschwitz last journey outside train

AUSCHWITZ: THE LAST JOURNEY (DER LETZTE ZUG). (2006) DIRECTED BY JOSEPH VILSMAIER AND DANA VAVROVA. STARRING GEDEON BURKHARD, LALE YAVAS, LENA BEYERLING, SIBEL KEKILLI, ROMAN ROTH AND LUDWIG BLOCHBERGER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘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.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

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