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.

ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR: THE 1987 AND 2018 FILM VERSIONS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR: THE 1987 AND 2018 FILMS.

ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR. (1987) DIRECTED BY JACK GOLD. STARRING RUTGER HAUER, JOANNA PACULA, ALAN ARKIN AND HARTMUT BECKER.

ESCAPE FROM SOBIBOR. (2018) DIRECTED BY KONSTANTIN KHABENSKY. STARRING CHRISTOPHER LAMBERT, KONSTANTIN KHABENSKY AND FELICE JANKELL.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Both these films are based on actual events. On the fourteenth of October 1943, an uprising occurred in the Nazi extermination camp known as Sobibor, in which a core group of prisoners killed a number of SS guards and fled the camp through the main gate, along with most of the rest of the inmates.

The group of organisers and leaders consisted of Jewish prisoners who’d been in the camp for a while, led by a quiet, unassuming man called Leon Feldhendler, and Russian Jewish POWs, led by Alexander ‘Sasha’ Pechersky.

In the 2018 film, Sasha Pechersky is so quiet and unassuming himself and so realistically dirt-covered that it took me ages to figure out just which character he is. There’s no mistaking him in the 1987 film, lol.

Here he’s played by the tall, blonde handsome Rutger Hauer, and he marches confidently into the camp with his fellow POWs about halfway through the movie and immediately starts looking for a means of escape.

Sobibor was an extermination camp, one of several employed by Nazi Germany to rid themselves of the ‘undesirables’ of Europe; mostly Jews, of whom six million died in the Second World War, but also homosexuals, Roma Gypsies, political troublemakers and insurgents, and generally people considered to be ‘enemies of the Reich.’

The ‘procedure’ for ‘receiving’ prisoners at Sobibor is well laid out in both films. A train full of hungry, thirsty terrified Jews, chug-chug-chugs into Sobibor station, to be greeted by hordes of SS men with vicious dogs on leads and scores of Sonderkommando.

These last were Jewish prisoners permitted to stay alive only because they manned the crematoria and disposed of the bodies after gassing. They were the men in the ‘striped pyjamas,’ who knew full well that their days were numbered too and that, as soon as they’d outlived their usefulness to the SS, they’d be killed also. It was a nightmarish existence.

A pretence was maintained at the station, however, that all was well and there was nothing to be at all worried about. A voice on a PA system repeats words to exactly that effect on repeat. ‘Welcome to your new lives. You will be given useful work here and will be fed and warm. The separation of men and women is only temporary. Please don’t be alarmed. You will be re-united later, once we’ve assigned you your barracks.’ An orchestra comprising prisoners and stationed on the ramp plays classical music to make the new arrivals feel at home.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, because of outbreaks of typhus in the concentration camp system, the new inmates, the ones without useful trades who’ve all been safely stood to one side by now, will have to take a ‘shower’ first, before being integrated into the camp.

Well, that’s not so bad, murmured the new arrivals. Maybe things won’t be so bad here after all. The women and children and old folks say cheerio for now to the younger, stronger, healthier men and women left on the station ramp, and are chivvied along the forest path to the gas chambers and crematoria, never to return…

The 2018 film shows us the frightened, naked young women with their hair cut short being ushered into the gas chambers by young soldiers with guns. The heavy door clangs shut with a resounding finality.

The gas is switched on by the young man outside the door. A moment or two of puzzlement, bewilderment on the part of the women, and then they start vomiting, coughing, struggling to breathe. A powerful scene, but emotionally very hard to watch.

Both films show first the disbelief, then the anger, rage and desire for revenge in the young boys and older men who’ve survived the selection, when they first realise that their whole entire families have been murdered in the camp’s gas chambers, and they are now possibly the sole survivors.

Many of these young lads played an active part in the uprising, even killing SS men when they had to. ‘You’ve turned the Jews into killers,’ mutters one such boy in the 2018 film to the SS man he’s just killed. Killing would never have been in the natures of most of these men, but needs must when the devil drives…

The men and women who’ve survived the initial selection on the ramp are put to work at the trades that saved their lives, trades such as shoe-maker, leather worker, seamstress, tailor, jeweller, goldsmith and so on.

Other prisoners will be put to work sorting the belongings of the dead Jews. The Germans were notoriously greedy and the stuff they stole from their captives would fill, and probably have filled, several museums of remembrance.

They even took the women’s hair and stuffed mattresses and pillows with it, and one of the worst jobs of the Sonderkommando was to pull the gold teeth from the mouths of the dead with pliers. The gold was melted down, often to make trinkets for the SS. How greedy, how petty, how unnatural was that?

Even the bones that remained after cremation were used as fertiliser, to enrich the fields and crops of the Reich. How clever they must have thought themselves, these Nazis: there’s not a bit of the Jew that can’t be put to work for the Fuhrer!

Rutger Hauer as Sasha is by far the most dominant, most charismatic and most handsome (lol) character in the 1987 film. I cried when he tells Joanna Pacula (GORKY PARK, 1983), who plays his ‘pretend’ girlfriend Luka, that he can’t be with her the way she wants because he has a wife and child back home in Russia whom he loves very much.

She can’t stop loving him, though, naturally (in all fairness, you’d need a heart of stone not to love him), and the film tells us that the shirt she gives him to wear for good luck on the day of the uprising is today displayed in a war museum somewhere.

Hartmut Becker is excellent, too, in the 1987 film as the sadistic Nazi Gustav Wagner, whose cruelty to the inmates was legendary. He came up with some really nasty ways to make the inmates as a whole pay for the actions of a few escapees, and I think we can be fairly confident that, when he was found dead with a knife in his chest in Sao Paulo in 1980, it wasn’t his own hand who’d inflicted the death blow, as his solicitor tried to maintain…

Highlights in the 2018 film include the first killing of an SS man on the day of the uprising. Can a man’s face really end up looking like that? Not usually outside of horror movies…!

Also, there’s Christopher Lambert (HIGHLANDER, GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES) as war criminal Karl Frenzel rather inappropriately telling a roomful of captive Jews that he was once in love with a beautiful Jewish girl but his father put paid to the romance. Our hearts aren’t exactly bleeding for you, Frenzel, you lunatic, you.

Also, possibly the most disturbing scene in the newer film is the one in which the blind-drunk SS hold a bacchanal in front of the Jews, who’ve been kneeling on the appel-platz since roll-call, starving and exhausted.

Trigger happy, shooting indiscriminately, whipping inmates for fun, harnessing inmates to carts and racing them, boozing till they puke, Hitler’s precious SS show themselves up in this disgusting orgy of out-of-control violence to be what they really are, a loutish, drunken raggle-taggle bunch of thugs and bullies, with neither dignity nor decency.

I prefer the 1987 film because it’s got more heart, more warmth and more Rutger Hauer, but both films are well worth a watch. I’m dedicating this review to my mate Caroline, who adores Rutger Hauer, and I want to wish a happy Christmas and a happy, healthy (hopefully COVID-free!) and peaceful New Year to Caroline, Gary and all my lovely loyal readers.

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.

SOPHIE’S CHOICE: THE BOOK. (1979) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SOPHIE’S CHOICE: A NOVEL BY WILLIAM STYRON. (1979) PUBLISHED BY RANDOM HOUSE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

It took me several weeks to read this epic doorstop of a novel, 684 pages of densely-written prose with only a few chapter breaks to break up the denseness. I’d seen the 1982 movie SOPHIE’S CHOICE, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline, of which I only remembered the bits set in Auschwitz, so a lot of the book was completely new to me.

It tells the story of Stingo, a young white male and wanna-be writer from the American Deep South, who is looking back on his life, in particular the year 1947 in which he wrote his first novel, and who in turn tells the reader the story of the titular Sophie. Sophie is a beautiful Polish Catholic woman who’s spent time in Auschwitz concentration camp during the war and has the tattoo on her arm to prove it.

Stingo (a nickname carried over from his school days) moves into a boarding house in Brooklyn run by a Jewish lady, Yetta Zimmerman, with the intention of ‘working on a novel,’ which he actually does do, in between sticking his nose into the lives of the other boarders, most of whom are Jewish like their landlady.

Culturally shell-shocked by the move from his quiet home in the Deep South to the noisy, more cosmopolitan Brooklyn, Stingo becomes fascinated by and obsessed with his upstairs neighbours in the boarding house.

His first experience of them is when he hears them fucking like rabbits (very vocal rabbits, lol) in the bedroom overhead, and he first meets them for real when they are slap-bang in the middle of one of their many fights. They take to Stingo immediately and quickly become his closest friends, and the people about whom he cares most in all the world.

Who are these people, and why do they exert such a strange and strong influence over Stingo? Nathan Landau is a handsome, dazzlingly charismatic research scientist at Pfizer, one of the companies involved today in creating the vaccine for COVID-19, the virus that all but shut down the world in 2020.

Nathan is brilliantly intelligent, and he and Stingo clash on the subject of slavery in the Deep South almost straightaway. Stingo is extremely sensitive on this subject. Not surprisingly, as the money that allows him to live independently today came from the sale of a slave.

Still, he can’t stay mad at Nathan for long. He shows Nathan his Work in Progress and is thrilled beyond belief when Nathan says he likes it and that Stingo is the best young writer writing in America today. Stingo makes a hero of the older man, even though deep down he has a strong feeling that Nathan is fatally flawed. He just doesn’t know how fatally…

Sophie is the one who really interests the virginal, twenty-two-or-three-year-old Stingo. She is beautiful, blonde, from Poland, with a sexy accent which, even when she mixes up her English words terribly, just endears her to him even more.

Sophie adores classical music, as does Nathan, and she works as a secretary to a chiropractor, a job which Nathan reviles and dismisses as being merely ‘assistant to a quack.’ But for Sophie, it’s just a living, and she needs it.

Sophie and Nathan together are a toxic combination. Nathan is seriously mentally ill and a drug-abuser to boot, although Stingo doesn’t realise this at first. It takes the intervention of Larry, Nathan’s elder brother, to fill Stingo in on the grisly details.

When he’s in one of his ‘moods,’ Nathan is manic, physically violent and grossly verbally abusive. He takes his moods out on Sophie, who has a deeply masochistic streak in her and puts up with everything Nathan throws at her. Literally. It’s not a healthy relaionship.

Part of her masochism certainly derives from her strong feelings of being a ‘bad’ person who’s done ‘bad’ things for which she deserves to be punished. In this instance, Nathan is the one dishing out all the punishment, and Sophie takes it all and almost wears her bruises as some kind of badge of honour, which is deeply disturbing to read about.

Although we writers are constantly being told to show in our writing, rather than tell, William Styron breaks this long-held rule by having Stingo relate Sophie’s personal story back to us, without us having been privy to any of the conversations they have together. He’s telling us something that Sophie told him, in other words, once the events of which she spoke were long since past. It’s a bit weird, but we have several hundred pages in which to get used to it!

Thus, we learn from Stingo that Sophie, whom I’d always assumed was Jewish because she’d been in Auschwitz, is not Jewish at all but a Polish Catholic who’d lived in a ghetto with her two children, Jan and Eva, during the war. She’d had friends and acquaintances who were in the Polish Resistance, but she took no part in it herself as she was afraid for herself and her children.

Sentenced to Auschwitz for the petty crime of meat-smuggling, Sophie’s skills as a stenographer-typist and her superb knowledge of the German language saw her being brought to live and work in the Commandant’s villa for a time.

The Commandant in question was war criminal Rudolf Hoess, whose two stints as the Commandant of Auschwitz saw him perfecting the use of pesticide Zyklon B in the furtherance of Himmler- and Hitler’s- vision for the so-called Final Solution of the Jewish Question.’

The Auschwitz scenes were my favourite in the whole novel, and the ones I’d been eagerly awaiting. It is here, at the infamous labour and extermination camp, that Sophie is forced to make the titular choice. Obviously, I wouldn’t ruin it for you with spoilers, but it’s a hell of a ‘choice’ all right, and not a choice at all, really. Whichever side you choose, you lose.

A final word about the sex. Le Sexe. Rumpy-pumpy. Nookie. Hide the Salami. Make no mistake about it, SOPHIE’S CHOICE is a filthy book in that sense. It’s told from the point of view of a twenty-something- year-old virgin who’s always trying to lose his virginity, after all, and is full of his sexual fantasies and longings and his many offerings at the sticky altar of Onanism.

And Sophie herself (please excuse my slut-shaming) is an absolute trollop. I had worked this out for myself, by the way, long before the scene where she bathes her face in a certain man’s ejaculate, declaring spunk to be ‘good for the complexion,’ if you please. The hussy. I didn’t know where to look, honestly.

The book is hard work in places (Stingo sure goes in for the most long-winded of introspections!) but overall worth the effort. Styron, I believe, made Sophie a Polish Catholic rather than a Jew because he wanted to move away from the notion that the Holocaust, and Auschwitz, only affected Jews and no-one else. The book was apparently quite controversial from this point of view, back in the day.

It won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1980, pipping several other worthy contenders to the post. It’d be a great book to read over Christmas, or when you have a decent block of time to yourself. I’m off now to dig out the movie again. Happy viewing!

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.

SHOAH. (1985) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SHOAH. (1985) DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY CLAUDE LANZMANN.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

The word ‘Shoah’ means ‘Holocaust.’ SHOAH is French film drector Claude Lanzmann’s masterpiece. I’m sure he did other things in his life besides making SHOAH, but, even if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter a jot, because SHOAH is so utterly magnificent.

It’s a film in the form of a series of four documentaries, each about two to two-and-a-half hours in length, each containing multi-lingual footage of Jewish Holocaust survivors, Polish witnesses and bystanders and even German perpetrators, by now scattered all over the globe, and the intense, in-depth, wonderfully telling conversations he held with them.

The film took a long time to make (perfection takes time), and was a labour of love by a man who clearly felt a terrible sadness and anger for the hellish injustices the Jews of Europe were forced to endure from 1933-1945.

It’s such a long piece of work that one review could never do it full justice. I’m nervous about attempting it at all, in fact. What I’ve decided to do is to take you through a few paragraphs regarding the speakers who affected me the most, starting with Simon Srebnik, a man with a beautiful singing voice who was made to sing for the SS during his time in the concentration camp known as Chelmno.

The villagers of Chelmno gather round him now, fascinated, saying that they clearly remember his sublime singing. It remains unsaid that they never attempted to rescue him from the clutches of the Nazis, even though he was just a child at the time and should have stirred any parental instincts lodging in the bosoms of the people of the town.

In Treblinka, another concentration camp town (this camp was one of the most feared), villagers would make the throat-slitting sign at the Jews as they chugged by in the cattle trains. We only wanted to warn them, we weren’t jeering at them, they maintain now, but it’s hard to believe.

Claude Lanzmann was brave enough to flip the coin over and speak to some of the perpetrators. Former SS man assigned to Treblinka, Franz Suchomel, ancient and infirm at the time of filming, chats away happily about his time in the camp, informing us knowledgeably that the naked young women forced to ‘queue’ for the gas chamber often voided their bowels in terror while they waited. Because that happens, you know, he adds anecdotally. Oh, we don’t doubt it for a second, Herr Suchomel.

Joseph Oberhauser, a former SS man stationed at Belzec, and now a successful bar owner, refuses to engage with Lanzmann at all with regard to his Nazi past. ‘I have my reasons,’ he confides in a whisper across the counter of his very own bar. Don’t worry your head about it, Herr Oberhauser. We can imagine.

Martha Michelsohn, the wife of a Nazi school-teacher in Chelmno and a very cold fish indeed, recalls how seeing and hearing the Jews’ agony as they were rounded up every day and taken to Chelmno ‘got on her nerves’ after a while. Well, that’s enough to get on anyone’s nerves. We do, of course, sympathise, Frau Michelsohn.

The Polish people of Grabow are filmed saying they knew that the town’s Jews would be killed at Chelmno. Some of them live now in houses forcibly vacated by the Jews, and yet they struggle to remember the names of the folks whose houses they’ve taken. And nowhere do they mention any steps taken by the townspeople to try to prevent their Jewish neighbours from being hauled off to the camps.

Some of the women of Grabow go a step further and say that the Jewish women of their town were lazy and vain and didn’t bother to work in case it ruined their beauty. They were even glad that the ‘Jewesses’ were taken away by the Nazis to the concentration camps, because they’d been competing with the local women for the affections of the Polish men…

In an extremely emotive interview, the Jewish barber Abraham Bomba cuts the hair of a client in his salon while recalling how he was forced to cut the hair of the Jewish women in Treblinka. They cowered in the barber’s chair, naked and terrified, on the very last leg of their journey to the gas chamber, while Abraham tried to relax them and make them feel like they were just getting a nice new haircut before moving into the camp properly.

Rudolf Vrba, handsome, well-dressed, confident, obviously doing well for himself, tells Claude Lanzmann how he and a friend escaped from Auschwitz in April of 1944, after spending the war trying to organise some kind of Resistance effort.

Historian Raul Hilberg, a very learned and likeable man, reads from the diary of Adam Czerniakow, a tragic figure. Once the President of the ‘Jewish Council’ in the Warsaw Ghetto, he committed suicide when he realised that the thousands of Jews the Nazis were forcing him to round up for ‘deportation and resettlement in the East’ were, in fact, being put on a train to the nearest concentration camp and extermination.

The diary, a remarkable document, gives us a clear picture of life in the ghetto. Starvation, typhus, overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, corpses piling up in the street and the constant terror of the Nazi ’round-ups,’ in which pretty much anyone, regardless of age, sex, class or status, could be told to present themselves at the train station first thing in the morning for the infamous ‘deportation and resettlement in the East,’ after which they were rarely, if ever, seen again.

I did not at all like or trust Franz Grassler, a Nazi administrator mentioned in the diary, whose job it was to liaise with the Jewish ghetto officials. He plays down his ‘junior’ role in the Nazi machine, telling Lanzmann that he (the director) is ‘hugely over-estimating’ Grassler’s power or importance in the administration.

Grassler hardly ever visited the ghetto anyway, he claims, because he was afraid of catching the typhus that was rife there, and he didn’t know that the Jews were being systematically murdered either, honest he didn’t.

There’s a beautiful shot of Adam Czerniakow’s headstone in the snow. Some of the images, even of former concentration camps, crematoria and cemeteries, are breath-takingly gorgeous to look at, even though we know full well the evil that was done there.

The stone buildings of Auschwitz in the rain, a graveyard carpeted with a blanket of snow, the burning evening sun exploding in a ball of light over a train station that once conveyed the Jews to their death in the gas chambers. The images are as good as, if not better than, what you’ll see in some art galleries. The cinematography is astoundingly brilliant in every single shot.

Claude Lanzmann is an extraordinarily clever interviewer. He gives all the ‘baddies,’ as we may be forgiven for calling them, all the rope they need to hang themselves. ‘So, you really can’t remember the names of the Jews whose house you’re living in, hahaha, isn’t that hilarious?’

Lulled into a false sense of security, the villagers laugh merrily along with him, while admitting without a trace of shame or guilt that, no, they can’t remember the names at all, or, was it, wait now, were they, by any chance, the So-and-So’s…?

They don’t seem to have a clue how bad they come out looking in all of this. For evil to succeed, all it takes is for good men to stand by and do nothing. Well, they didn’t do nothing, exactly. I mean, they watched, didn’t they? That’s doing something. Isn’t it…?

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.

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

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