COLETTE, OR PRISONERS OF AUSCHWITZ. (2013) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

COLETTE, OR PRISONER OF AUSCHWITZ. (2013) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘A GIRL FROM ANTWERP’ BY ARNOLD LUSTIG. DIRECTED BY MILAN CIESLAR. STARRING CLEMENCE THIOLY, JIRI MADL AND ERIC BOUWER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is an excellent, well-acted and well-scripted Holocaust movie, based on the concentration camp experiences of Arnost Lustig, the Czech Jewish author. It’s the story of two lovers, Colette and Vili, who meet in Auschwitz, one of the Third Reich’s most hellish places of detention in World War Two.

Three of the main actors seemed to be to be dead ringers for existing celebrities. Colette, the main girl, is the image of Winona Ryder when ze Nazis cut her hair. The miniscule Vili ‘Half-Pint’ Feld looks like Ross Kemp, aka Grant Mitchell from EASTENDERS, and one of the lady kapos is a doppelganger for Cate LORD OF THE RINGS Blanchett. It didn’t affect my enjoyment of the fim or anything, it’s just funny to have so many of the actors look like other more famous mainstream actors, lol.

Anyway, Auschwitz as you may know was part labour camp and part extermination centre for any Jews, Roma gypsies, homosexuals and other so-called ‘sexual deviants’ and ‘enemies of the Reich’ unfortunate enough to come within the Nazis’ remit, as it were.

As well as the work done for German industrialists and notorious Jew-haters IG Farben (they hated Jews but used thousands of Jewish concentration camp inmates as slave labour during the war), Auschwitz also generated its own work in relation to the gassings of the millions of prisoners that went on there, and this is where Vili and Colette, a beautiful Belgian Jew, come in.

New arrivals to the camp ‘selected’ for extermination had to be herded together naked into the ‘shower rooms’ for ‘bath and inhalation,’ and their clothes, belongings and even hair ‘processed’ by other prisoners, who would be allowed to live as long as they were useful to the Nazis and had this essential function to fulfil.

Vili worked at sorting out the belongings (we know that rooms and rooms were filled from floor to ceiling with spectacles, shoes and photographs of loved ones amongst other things stolen from those wrongly condemned to death) of the ill-fated Jews, running here, there and everywhere across the camp with blankets filled with material goods.

Sometimes the prisoners might find food amongst the belongings of the dead, bread, chocolate bars and jars of preserves, and this would help keep them alive for a little longer. Working with the possessions of dead Jews was a privileged position compared to some you could be allotted in the camp (latrine detail was to be avoided at all costs, along with rock-breaking in the quarries), because you never knew what goodies you could find.

A piece of jewellery you could secrete away somewhere safe, and then use it as a bribe for one of the kapos to keep you alive for one more day. Everyone in Auschwitz, staff and prisoners alike, was on the make and on the fiddle, and underhanded deals like this were practically the lifeblood of the camp.

(Remember in the movie Schindler’s List, where Schindler offers diamonds to Rudolf Hoess, the Auschwitz camp commandant, in exchange for some of Schindler’s workers, who were accidentally put on the wrong train and sent to Auschwitz instead of somewhere slightly better? He takes ’em, too!)

On the other hand, to be caught with such contraband on your person was a killing offence. The Germans were fanatical about prisoners not being allowed to ‘steal from the Reich,’ even though the Nazis themselves stole so much from the Jews in their clutches. The irony, huh?

Colette is put to work going through the Jews’ clothing, searching it for jewellery, money and other belongings. They used razors and sharp knives to slit the seams of the garments, because people sometimes secreted their valuables in their seams.

She even comes across her own handbag in the process, which contains her only photo of her family, her mother, her father, her two sisters and the family dog. She tries to keep the photograph, but the kapo (supervisor) is watching her so she has to relinquish it, add it reluctantly to the pile.

The main thing about Colette in the film is that she catches the eye (and more than just his eye!) of one of the SS men in the camp. Weissacker is young and blond and arrogant, and he has a real thing for Colette.

As a person, he’s immature and acts like a spoilt child. He sees something he likes, he has to have it. If he breaks it, well, too bad. He’ll chuck it on the scrapheap and find something new to play with.

Weissacker has rough, selfish sex with Colette while calling her horrible names (‘Swallow my Aryan load, you filthy Jewish whore, you know you want it,’ that kind of nice loving pillow talk), and their union has a not-altogether-surprising result, a result that ultimately turns out to be quite significant in the love story of Colette and Vili later on.

The whole narrative is book-ended by the story of a Jewish author in the ‘Seventies who has spent years desperately trying to find Colette, the woman he loved with all his heart and soul in Auschwitz.

They even got to make love a few times, thanks to their bribing of one of the kapos. (Colette has such appeal for the staff of Auschwitz that she even has to give oral sex to a female kapo in exchange for connubial visits with the pint-sized Vili. Sex was a commodity, as much as food or diamonds, and could be used very successfully as such if you used it well.)

I love the gigantic Fritz, played by Andrej Hryc, who gets to have it away with the Cate Blanchett-lookalike kapo. Clearly she likes a nice big powerful older man too when it comes to nookie, lol, the same as myself. Overall, a great film, although the subject matter is of necessity grim. Perfect viewing for the last few dwindling hours of 2020. Happy New Year, everyone.

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

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA: A MEMOIR OF AUSCHWITZ. (1978) A BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

isabella book

FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA: A MEMOIR OF AUSCHWITZ BY ISABELLA LEITNER. (1978) THIS NEW EDITION PUBLISHED BY OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.

BOOK REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a gorgeous little book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, if anyone can ever be said to have ‘enjoyed’ a book about the Holocaust and the tragic events contained therein. I read it in one sitting on the day I purchased it. The book itself had a lovely velvety feel to it, a texture I can never quite resist in a book. I buy some books just because I love the shape, the feel or the smell of them. I’m totally a book nut, lol.

It’s quite short, this FRAGMENTS OF ISABELLA, just a manageable one-hundred-and-twenty-seven pages in total and, in fact, it was named on publication as an AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION BEST BOOK FOR YOUNG ADULTS.

I didn’t realise as I was reading it that it might be a book for Young Adults. I read it for what it is, a very moving, simply written but devastatingly telling account of Isabella Leitner’s- and her family’s- experience of the Holocaust.

Isabella (Leitner was her married name) was a beautiful young Jewish-Hungarian woman who was deported from the ghetto to Auschwitz on the morning of her twenty-third birthday. A cruelty indeed on the part of Fate- and the Nazis- but then, Isabella herself would probably say that every day is someone’s birthday and that all deportations were cruel. And of course she’d be right on both counts.

It’s so sad when she talks about how the non-Jewish population of Kisvarda, the small town in Hungary where she lived with her family, more or less stood by and let these deportations happen. They didn’t just let them happen, they actually stood there and watched them happen, some of them with smiles on their faces that seemed to a shell-shocked Isabella to mean:

‘Well, goodbye, dirty Jews, we’re glad to have our country back to ourselves again.’ In the end, Isabella said that she wanted to leave these small-minded, petty cowardly people behind her, whatever horrors the future held in store for her and her family.

This future was terrible indeed. Isabella and her mother, Teresa, and her four sisters Chicha, Cipi, Rachel and little Potyo, along with her brother Philip, were crammed together into one of the notorious cattle wagons for the journey to Auschwitz, the dead centre of the Nazis’ concentration camp killing machine.

Their father had gone abroad to seek safe passage and immigration papers for his family to come and join him in America or Israel, wherever he was, but I’m not sure if Isabella ever heard from him again after that. Their mother, Teresa, died in the jam-packed, almost airless cattle wagons, as did many others.

The old, the sick, babies, nursing mothers and the very young were, of course, particularly vulnerable to the appalling conditions. People were piled in on top of one another with nothing to eat or drink except what they’d managed to bring along themselves as per the Nazis’ instructions. There was only one bucket for sanitation purposes and the stench of urine and excrement would quickly become unbearable, as you can imagine.

The death of their cultured, kind-hearted book-loving mother was a terrible blow to Isabella and her sisters. Ditto, the death of their little sister Potyo not long after. Life was hard enough to bear without these two deaths to cope with as well.

Their arrival at the camp was the same nightmare experienced by all the others who passed through the dreaded gates of Auschwitz, over which were inscribed the words: ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI,’ or WORK SETS YOU FREE. Not always the case at Auschwitz.

The sisters endured together the horrible shock of having their heads shaved immediately on arrival, as well as the shaving off of their pubic and armpit hair to prevent the spread of lice, a constant worry in the camp. Isabella describes herself and her sisters at this moment in time as ‘four naked-headed monsters,’ but they were not the monsters. They weren’t even close.

Isabella and her sisters made a pact to each stay alive. No matter what the awful camp threw at them, they would stick together and STAY ALIVE. Thus, whenever one of them felt like giving up and throwing in the towel, the sisters would all rally round and practically will that person to keep going, keep going, keep going, no matter what, to stay alive.

Isabella’s brother Philip, who would have been in the mens’ section of the camp, urged his sisters to stay alive also so that the Nazis could be ‘paid back’ for their crimes against humanity. Also, Philip said, it was so that they could tell the whole world what had happened there at Auschwitz, and that was obviously something that really resonated with Isabella.

And the awful camp had plenty in its horrible arsenal to throw at them. For example, the infamous ‘selections,’ at which Dr. Josef Mengele himself indicated with his right thumb or his left thumb who was to live and who was to die in the gas chambers.

Infectious diseases like typhus and TB. Irma Grese, the notorious SS woman, blonde and beautiful but with a heart of stone. Poor, rotten food. Limited washing and toileting facilities. The endless roll-call or ‘Appell’ at which you could be standing in line for four or more hours while the guards called out everyones’ names.

If there was a mistake or a miscount in the Appell, the guards would start again while the starving prisoners either froze in the snow or wilted under the sun. And always, always, always, the constant shouts of ‘Raus! Raus! Raus!’ meaning ‘Get out!’ or ‘Schnell! Schnell! Schnell!,’ meaning to hurry up. The Nazis always did everything on the run.

Isabella’s book was written in 1978, thirty-three years after Liberation. It’s a sad book, but it’s a book that ultimately contains a dazzling message of hope. PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY says of it that: ‘Her (Isabella’s) slim volume is a celebration of the strength of the human spirit as it passes through fire.’

The things that Isabella and her sisters go through will strike a chord with any Holocaust survivors who read the book. She’s got her own way of putting things though, a unique voice that tells her dreadful story simply, in a way that’s easy to read and digest. It’s not like one of those massive Holocaust tomes that you could use as a door-stop if you needed to, but then it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes less really is more.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS. 

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-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

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