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.

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.

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

THE SOUND OF MUSIC. (1965) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

sound of music

RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN’S THE SOUND OF MUSIC. (1965) DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY ROBERT WISE. BASED ON THE MEMOIRS OF MARIA VON TRAPP. MUSIC AND LYRICS BY RICHARD RODGERS (MUSIC) AND OSCAR HAMMERSTEIN THE SECOND (LYRICS).

STARRING JULIE ANDREWS, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER, RICHARD HAYDN, PEGGY WOOD AND ELEANOR PARKER.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,

Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens,

Brown paper packages tied up with strings,

These are a few of my favourite things.

………………………………………………….

When the dog bites and the bee stings

And I’m feeling sad

I simply remember my favourite things

And then I don’t feel so bad.’

The sight of a nun with a guitar gives me the willies, straight up. Reminds me of Fourth Year in secondary school when Sister Assumpta, nicknamed ‘Stumpy’ for her lack of height inches, tried to teach me to play the guitar after school. After only two lessons, I was expelled forever from these after-school jamborees for Crimes Against Music. Well, we can’t all be good at everything. Music’s loss was writing’s gain, lol.

Anyway, there’s a nun with a guitar in the multi-award-winning THE SOUND OF MUSIC, set in the last days of the 1930s. Her name is Maria, she’s wonderfully played by Julie Andrews and she’s a source of constant frustration to the other nuns in the convent. Let’s just say she’s a little, well, different.

She sings all the time, not just in church, she’s late to everything- except meals- and she’s as scatty as a dotty old professor of physics who wastes a morning looking for the spectacles that were on his head the whole time.

Furthermore, she’s always up in the hills where she was brought up, singing and twirling and twirling and singing and generally acting like she’s taken leave of her remaining senses altogether.

The kindly and extraordinarily understanding Reverend Mother of this lovely little convent in Austria is convinced that Maria is not quite ready to take her final vows as a nun. She thinks that Maria hasn’t quite made up her mind what she wants to do with her life and she thinks that the girl might benefit from a spell back out in the world outside the convent walls once more.

With this in mind, she sends Maria to the Salzburg home of one Captain Von Trapp, a widowed and much decorated sea captain who is in urgent need of a governess for his seven children. Maria will be this governess. Off she duly repairs to the Captain’s magnificent abode.

She’s immediately struck by the tall, handsome and autocratic bearing of the Captain (Christopher Plummer), but she’s less impressed by the rather cold, super-regulated way that he treats his children as if they were little sailors under his command at sea. They march instead of play, they wear uniforms instead of normal kiddy clothes and they jump to attention when the Captain blows his shrill whistle.

Where’s the love? Where’s the heart? Where’s the music, the singing and dancing and, God forbid, the fun? The Captain does love his children very much but he seems unable to show them this love. Certainly it’s hidden beneath layers and layers of strict, in fact rigid, naval-style discipline, timetables, constant drilling and whistles. Always with the whistles.

Maria sets out to bring the heart, the music and the fun back to the sad Von Trapp household. Such things have been practically banned from the household by the Captain, because they remind him of his late wife and the pain of his bereavement.

That’s all well and good for Georg (inexplicably pronounced not as George but as Gay-org with two hard ‘g’s), but it’s surely a bit unfair on his children, isn’t it? After all, they lost their mother, didn’t they? Should they lose everything else that’s good and nice and fun in life as well?

The children, ranging from sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old Liesl to five-year-old Gretl, with Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta and Marta in between, all adore Maria and are more than willing to help her to restore the fun and games to their heretofore excessively regimented lives. With Maria encouraging them, they play to their hearts’ content, they sing and dance and run and climb trees and fall in the lake and get filthy dirty and soaking wet as kids are meant to do.

The Captain, though he won’t admit it, is enchanted by Maria, by the way she dispenses with rules and silly whistles and just whole-heartedly throws herself into loving the children and being there for them in a way that previous governesses were unable to comprehend.

There’s an immediate attraction between the two adults that quite flusters Maria and flummoxes the Captain. Who knows if they’d have ever done anything about it if it hadn’t been for a fly in the ointment in the form of the marriage-minded Baroness Schraeder? Marriage-minded for herself and the Captain, that is, not for Maria and the Captain, goodness me no. This one’s purely all out for Number One. 

The Baroness is the Captain’s girlfriend at first and then his fiancée. The children and Maria are deeply unhappy at the thought of the Captain marrying the Baroness. She’s blonde, attractive, uber-sophisticated and super-rich, but she’s cold and superficial also and probably older than the Captain.

She knows very little about children (‘Have you ever heard of a marvellous invention called boarding school?’ she says slyly to family friend Uncle Max) but her worldly-wise eagle eyes spot immediately the mutual attraction between Gay-org and the couldn’t-be-less-sophisticated-if-she-tried Maria. I love it when the Baroness says to Maria:

‘Come on now love, we’re both women, who are ya kidding? Let us not pretend that we don’t notice it when a guy is making eyes at us.’ Or words to that effect…!

The Baroness isn’t the only fly in Gay-org and Maria’s ointment. It’s the time of Nazism and the Third Reich and Hitler has just Anschlussed Austria to Germany, much to the seeming delight of most of the Austrian populace. Well, they lined the streets of Austria cheering for Hitler’s troops and they carpeted the Nazis’ path with flowers, didn’t they?

Anyway, Gay-org is at least one Austrian who is virulently opposed to Nazism and he’s brave enough to speak his mind on the subject. When, by virtue of his status as a naval war hero and his naval expertise, he’s given an important commission in the navy of the Third Reich, he finds himself with only two hard choices.

He can accept the commission for the sake of his family’s safety, but to go along with Nazi beliefs and ideology would sicken his stomach. Or he can throw the commission back in Hitler’s (represented locally by Gauleiter Herr Zeller) face and risk bringing the wrath of the powerful Third Reich down on his own and his childrens’- and Maria’s- heads. What to do? Richer men than he, who might have thought they were safe by virtue of their position, probably fell afoul of Hitler’s terrible regime…

The scenery and the songs are to die for. The hills are alive with the sound of music indeed. I love the clever lyrics and puppetry of ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ and I cried my eyes out when Gay-org sang ‘Edelweiss,’ with the poignant last line of ‘Bless my homeland forever,’ at Uncle Max’s precious folk music festival.

The Reverend Mother is an absolute boss when she belts out ‘Climb every mountain’ in an effort to show Maria that sometimes you have to work really fucking hard for what you want, lol. You go, girl.

It’s sad when Liesl’s childhood beau Rolph has morphed into a fully-fledged-and-indoctrinated member of the Hitler Youth, and the scenes in the beautiful Abbey crypt are nail-bitingly tense.

I only saw this film properly, from beginning to end, for the first time yesterday, but it’s going on my Christmas to-watch-every-year list from now on. All together now: ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer, ray, a drop of golden sun…!’

The Von Trapp Children:

Liesl: Charmian Carr.

Friedrich: Nicholas Hammond.

Louisa: Heather Menzies.

Kurt: Duane Chase.

Brigitta: Angela Cartwright.

Marta: Debbie Turner.

Gretl: Kym Karath.

Did any of ’em grow up to have eating disorders or take their clothes off for nudie mags or porn flicks? Hang on, I’m looking ’em all up now…!

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

THE BLUE ANGEL or DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

blue angel bigger

THE BLUE ANGEL/DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PROFESSOR UNRAT’ BY HEINRICH MANN (BROTHER OF THOMAS MANN).

DIRECTED BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG. PRODUCTION COMPANY: UFA.

STARRING MARLENE DIETRICH, EMIL JANNINGS, KURT GERRON, ROSA VALETTI, HANS ALBERS AND REINHOLD BERNT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

There’s something eerily magical about this classic Weimar Germany film, even today, nearly a full ninety years after it was made by Josef Von Sternberg, who returned from America to Germany especially to direct it.

After seeing Marlene Dietrich perform in the Berliner Theater in Georg Kaiser’s cabaret ZWEI KRAWATTEN (TWO NECKTIES), Von Sternberg knew that he had found his leading lady.

Though still recognisable, she hadn’t yet grown into her famous face, if you get me, the same way you can look at a young Brigitte Bardot in MANINA or a young Joan Crawford in GRAND HOTEL and think, is that really them, they look so different when they’re young…? 

Although Von Sternberg would modestly shrug off suggestions that he ‘discovered’ Dietrich, I think it really must be said that he did. She went on to have a long and varied career after THE BLUE ANGEL, which led to a contract with Paramount Studios, served as a more than efficient springboard or launching-pad to international stardom.

Josef Von Sternberg, a dark-haired, rather sad-faced man who looked small next to some of his taller contemporaries, made a few minor changes to the story on which the film was based, PROFESSOR UNRAT (PROFESSOR GARBAGE) by Heinrich Mann, but the basic plot remains the same.

A college professor who teaches English Literature, among other things I’m sure, to the boys and young men who attend the Gymnasium, a German word for college or place of learning, meets and falls head-over-heels with a beautiful cabaret singer in a nightclub. This reckless act of impulsivity leads directly to his downfall only a short few years later.

Professor Immanuel Rath makes his way to the nightclub, THE BLUE ANGEL, after a spate of saucy-postcard-hoarding by his students. He sees Lola Lola for the first time as a scantily-dressed image on a kinky postcard (these passed for porn back then…!) and is straightaway taken and intrigued by her. How much more taken will he be, then, with the flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional Lola Lola when he encounters her for real…?

He goes to the nightclub ostensibly to complain about its performers corrupting his young pupils. All thoughts of his moral responsibilities vanish from his mind when he meets the enchanting Lola Lola backstage in her dressing-room.

To the unmarried Professor in his forties, whom we can imagine as having led a very sheltered, bookish life up to now, Lola Lola is sexiness- and sex- incarnate. The magnificent Dietrich is very young here, but she has already learned how to use her eyes and lips to devastating effect. The poor Professor doesn’t stand a chance against such an onslaught of raw sexuality. He’s smitten from the off.

Of course, Marlene Dietrich was always about the legs. The legs, the legs, the legs. This film could also have been called ‘FRILLY KNICKERS AND STOCKING-TOPS’ because that’s what she’s dressed in for most of the movie. She elevates the taking off and putting on of stockings into an art form as she teases and tantalises Rath with a private little striptease in her cramped backstage dressing-room.

She (or maybe I should say they, both Dietrich AND Lola Lola) holds the- mostly male- audiences to the cabaret spellbound as she belts out songs like ‘FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN’ and ‘YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, YOU’RE THE SALT IN MY STEW.’ They are utterly in thrall to her sexuality and mystique, as is Rath.

When Rath proposes to Lola Lola, I’m always gobsmacked that she says yes. Rath is a portly, not very attractive school-teacher who’s probably not rolling in money. He’s a figure of fun to his students. They don’t respect him. They have nothing but contempt for him.

What on earth does Lola Lola see in him? A kind of father figure, someone who represents security and stability to her, maybe? Or maybe she just says ‘yes’ in the spirit of yeah sure baby, why not, I don’t care either way, it’s all bullshit anyway and, who knows, it might be a blast to try it for a bit…?

Either way, they get hitched, much to Rath’s delight and, four short years later, we come full circle right back to Rath’s origins and it’s not a pretty picture. The marriage has destroyed him, although I can’t give you the details.

His self-respect is non-existent, he’s a figure of fun for all now and not just for his pupils, and his reputation, such as it ever was, is in shreds. Was it worth it, Rath, Von Sternberg seems to be asking his male protagonist, was she worth it…? Would he do it again?

The dark, cramped, narrow little slanted streets surrounding the Blue Angel nightclub look like they’ve come straight out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or any other masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. There’s a fabulous town clock in the film that’s worth looking out for too, the creation of set designer Otto Hunte, and a sad and rather chillingly portentous scene involving a late parrot.

Who is Lola Lola? We know nothing of her background or origins. Is she hard and cold because she’s had to be or because she enjoys it? Is she immoral? Is she promiscuous? Does she have a heart at all?

Does she take pleasure in Rath’s downfall or, as is probably more likely, does she simply regard him as being big enough and old enough to look after himself? She’s his wife, after all, not his mother or his nursemaid, and he’s a grown man.

I don’t think she’s particularly malicious, although she’s certainly mischievous. I think she just doesn’t care, but not because she’s uncaring or heartless. She has enough to be doing looking out for herself. Whatever her motivations anyway, in Lola Lola we’ve been given a timeless creation of sheer sexiness and sensuality whose appeal doesn’t dim with the years.

Marlene Dietrich was a truly beautiful woman and an acting legend on two of the finest legs to ever grace a stage. In THE BLUE ANGEL, Josef Von Sternberg has bottled this legend and encapsulated it for us for all time. Kudos to you, Joe dear. Kudos to you.

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

BLACK FRIDAY, BLACK DRAGONS and SCARED TO DEATH: A TRIO OF BELA LUGOSI FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

bela lugosi headshot

BLACK FRIDAY, BLACK DRAGONS AND SCARED TO DEATH: A TRILOGY OF BELA LUGOSI HORROR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I love everything that the mysterious Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi ever did. If he’d advertised cat food, I would have loved those adverts as much as anything else he ever made. He and Boris Karloff, the two Lon Chaneys (father and son), Christopher Lee, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing are the Kings, the undisputed Kings, of the horror movie genre.

Everything that Bela does, every movement he makes, every word out of his mouth, is fascinating to me. I love the way he’s nearly always playing a mad scientist or a mad doctor who’s trying to take over the world with his eye power or clawed hand power, or maybe by building a monster or some kind of unholy army of the night, and it’s up to a feisty newspaper reporter and his best gal to stop him from attaining the world domination he always seems to crave, lol.

In BLACK DRAGONS (1942), he’s a mad medic once more, a Dr. Melcher, who pulls off possibly the most amazing feat of plastic surgery since, well, since I don’t know when. He travels to Japan to turn six members of the fiendish Black Dragon Society, all Japanese, all in cahoots with the Nazis, into six upstanding American industrialists, all through the magic of plastic surgery.

The real American industrialists will, of course, be killed, leaving the six Japanese impostors to step neatly into their lives in America. It’s the most improbable scheme ever devised and no foolin.’ Dr. Melcher, meanwhile, has to remain imprisoned in Japan so that he doesn’t give the game away.

But, in America, someone is killing off the fake industrialists one-by-one. Who could it possibly be? Nobody knows their true identities, except for Dr. Melcher and the lads back in Japan who commissioned the life-swapping plastic surgeries.

Each of the murder victims is found clutching an exquisite and obviously expensive-looking Japanese dagger, so I say look for the man who owns a Japanese dagger shop or who otherwise has access to an unlimited supply of Japanese daggers somehow.

Good thing there’s a reporter on the trail, and a young lady whom he likes called Alice, whose Uncle Bill is at the centre of the murders. The film contains the most blatant sexism I’ve ever seen in a ‘Forties movie, and ‘Forties movies are already pretty damned sexist. But just wait till you hear this little lot. It’ll make your jaw drop.

The reporter wants to keep Alice safe and away from all the commotion occasioned by the murders. He says something at one point along the lines of: ‘I wish we were married, so I could beat you up and then you’d have to stay home and you’d be nice and safe.’

There’s a lot I could say to that right now that I’m not gonna say. Just keep telling yourself, ‘that’s the way it was back then, it was the style of the times, all relationships were like that back then, fuhgeddaboutit, things have changed since then…’

BLACK FRIDAY (1940) sees Boris FRANKENSTEIN Karloff performing the almost obligatory surgery as a Dr. Ernst Sovac. This time, he’s transplanting part of the brain of a criminal called Red Cannon into the brain of his friend, Professor George Kingsley, who’s been badly injured in a car accident caused by the criminal. Fair enough, I suppose, lol. And it’s very FRANKENSTEIN-y too, isn’t it?

Anyway, though, the criminal part of his friend’s brain keeps asserting itself over the nice scholarly part of the friend’s brain. It’s like when Homer Simpson from THE SIMPSONS finally gets his longed-for hair transplant, but the thick luxurious quiff of hair has come from the show’s resident criminal and petty thug, Snake, who’s just been killed in the electric chair.

Every now and then, Snake’s thuggish personality comes out in Homer, much to the alarm of Homer’s son Bart, who’s unfortunately on Snake’s to-kill list. In BLACK FRIDAY, Red Cannon’s evil brain vies for supremacy over George Kingsley’s much more moderate one.

Dr. Sovac observes these transitions back-and-forth from evil to good and back again with interest. Red Cannon apparently stashed away a half a million bucks before he died and Dr. Sovac allows greed to get the better of him.

He wants to find that money for himself and use it to further his scientific research, no matter what the consequences for poor old George Kingsley, who’s supposed to be his oldest and closest friend. For shame, Dr. Sovac, for shame…

Bela plays a criminal called Eric Marnay in this film. He’s one of Red Cannon’s gang, even though you might have expected him to play the lead role, that of the mad scientist-doctor. He often was made to play second fiddle billing-wise to Boris Karloff, with whom he doesn’t play any scenes here.

He was included in films frequently just so that the film-makers could say, hey, lookee-here, Bela Lugosi’s in this flick! Sometimes, the roles were actually quite small and didn’t reflect his status as the man who’d played the most famous role of all time, Universal Studios’ DRACULA in 1931.

Anyway, Marnay’s desperate to get his hands on Red’s cash, and when members of Red’s gang start being mysteriously bumped off one-by-one, just like the fake Japanese industrialists in BLACK DRAGONS, Marnay is initially complacent. More dosh for me, is what he’s obviously thinking. But his time will come too, and maybe sooner than he thinks…

SCARED TO DEATH (1947) is the strangest little film I’ve ever seen. It looks a great deal older than it is and it’s filmed in something called ‘natural colour,’ so it has the distinction of being Bela’s one-and-only colour film.

It’s based on a play called MURDER ON THE OPERATING TABLE by Frank Orsino, and at times the film actually looks like a play, but a kind of scrappy one where everyone keeps chiming up at the wrong time and nothing makes a lick of sense.

George Zucco, who’s played Moriarty twice in the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce SHERLOCK HOLMES movies, portrays a Dr. Van Ee, whose daughter-in-law Laura has somehow died of fright and the flashbacks are going to try to explain how.

Dr. Van Ee’s son Ward has been trying to get an unwilling Laura to divorce him and Dr. Van Ee has been treating Laura for mental illness. As she’s a reluctant patient, you can see that a lot of suspicion should really attach to both Van Ees for her sudden death-by-fright. They both want her out of the picture, after all.

Bela plays a visiting cousin of Dr. Van Ee’s called Professor Leonide. Resplendant in a red-lined black cloak (just like Dracula’s!) and wide-brimmed black hat, he apparently used to be a stage magician in Europe. He’s accompanied by a little malignant dwarf called Indigo and, together, they present a source of terror for Laura, the wife of Ward Van Ee. What’s the deal with that, we wonder?

A floating green mask appears to be the main source of horror for the beleaguered Laura, however. Who’s behind these ghostly apparitions, and what does it mean for the three Van Ees, locked together in a ghastly dance of death and mutual dislike?

The plot is further complicated by the intrusion of a nasty newspaperman, desperate for a story, who is absolutely horrible to his ditzy blonde girlfriend. From what I’ve seen of these ‘Forties relationships, I shouldn’t be at all surprised if the ditziness turned out to be caused by repeated blows to the head from her tyrannical newspaperman boyfriend…!

Anyway, Bela is marvellous in all three films, no matter how small or bizarre the roles he plays. I love him in anything he does. He was the best Dracula ever filmed- as well as one of the first- and he’s credited with turning Bram Stoker’s creation into the handsome, suave, sexy, domineering lust-object later perfected by Christopher Lee in the HAMMER HORROR films. Good old Bela. May he never be forgotten.

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

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

HITLER: THE RISE AND FALL. (2016) A DOCUMENTARY REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

hitler rise and fall

HITLER: THE RISE AND FALL: THE MAN BEHIND THE MONSTER. (2016) A DOCUMENTARY BY STAN GRIFFIN. NARRATED BY CHRISTIEN ANHOLT. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

It took me two nights to watch all two-hundred-and-seventy-eight minutes of this gripping documentary, which amounted to three episodes a night at forty-five minutes each. This was surprisingly manageable, especially as it was the weekend and I was bloody well due a little me-time, lol.

Anyway, the documentary does exactly what it says on the tin, charting Adolf Hitler’s life and- ahem- life’s work from his relatively humble beginnings to his meteoric rise to become ruler of Germany and the Nazi Party, before, well, you know. The war and stuff. All the stuff he did. You know what I mean. We’re not supposed to mention it…

Various Professors of History and assorted academics who’ve nearly all written books on Hitler sit around chatting to camera about what they’ve learned about Hitler over the years and, coupled with the little dramatisations and recreations with actors and actresses going on in the background, it all actually makes for rather thrilling viewing. Here for your delectation is my own interpretation of the facts as presented by HITLER: THE RISE AND FALL. A sort of ‘HITLER FOR DUMMIES,’ if you will.

Hitler was born in 1889 in Austria-Hungary to a civil servant father who brutalised him physically and whom Hitler despised utterly, and a mother who worshipped him but understandably couldn’t protect him from his father’s wrath.

When Alois Hitler- the Dad- passed away in 1903, I doubt if Hitler shed many tears, unlike at the death of his mother four years later, which devastated him. It was the first major blow of his life. Probably the next one was when he was rejected for Art School in Vienna.

Apparently he wasn’t good at drawing people, but wasn’t bad at all at sketching buildings. In fact, he had a lifelong obsession with architecture and was always dreaming up ideas for fabulous buildings and town centres in his mind.

During his last days in the Bunker, while Berlin burned around him and the Russians were within shelling distance of the Reich Chancellery, instead of making plans to save himself and his entourage or to broker a peace deal with the Allies, Hitler fiddled endlessly with a scale model of a town plan of Linz in Austria, which he planned to turn into a cultural capital ‘after the war.’ I wonder when was the exact moment at which he finally realised that there would be no ‘after the war’ for him and his Party…?

Anyway, his special talent was really for public speaking. Boy, could he talk. He could- and did- talk for Germany. After World War One, in which he rather startlingly won an Iron Cross for ‘bravery’ (I always think of him as a bit cowardly, actually), he turned to politics. His early days in the Nazi Party saw him cutting his oratorial teeth on the speeches he made to admiring Party members.

He started to develop his anti-Semitic views around this time and was a real asset to the Nazi Party, which by the way he didn’t ‘found’ but he did join it very early on, when it was still in its infancy.

There’s a disturbing image for you anyway, the Nazi Party as a chubby baby complete with rattle and bonnet being wheeled round the park in an antique stroller by a uniformed Nanny. ‘Take me once round the park, Smithers, I’m feeling fussy…!’

The failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 came next, in which Hitler and his pals, including General Ludendorff from WW1, sought to stage a coup that would ultimately challenge the government in Berlin. Hitler was sentenced to five years in prison for his part in the Putsch but served only one, getting out early for, ‘of all things, good behaviour…!’

During his time in Landsberg Prison, Hitler dictated his autobiography, MEIN KAMPF, to his adoring deputy Rudolf Hess. I said dictated, not dedicated, lol. I don’t know if the book ever had the benefit of proper editing but most historians agree that it’s a major snooze.

He waffles a lot in it about his ideas on race and suchlike. They’re not at all what you’d call liberal. Some form of ethnic cleansing is implied. It’s seemingly badly written and a crashing bore, but essential reading, the experts claim, if you want to understand where he got his nutty ideas from or the ‘reasoning’ behind them. I did take it out of the library once, but the endless blocks of dry-as-dust, unbroken-up text made me return it soon after, unread.

After Hitler’s early release from prison, he began work on rebuilding the Nazi Party, which had stood by him throughout his, by all accounts, reasonably cushy incarceration. (There were flowers on the table in that prison cell, ffs…!) It was the Great Depression of 1929 that proved to be the key to Hitler’s later success.

With America demanding back the money they’d loaned Germany to get back on her feet after the punitive terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany was in trouble financially and ripe for some political agitation from Hitler and the Nazi Party.

A stable, healthy German economy was no use to Hitler. But the recession that followed the Crash of ’29 was the perfect environment for the Nazis to flourish, and flourish they did, by promising the German people the only two things they cared about at this time, ‘ARBEIT UND BROT,’ or ‘WORK AND BREAD.’ They even delivered on their promises sometimes.

The elections of 1932 saw Hitler coming second only to Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), the elderly President of Germany, who died a mere two years later. Hitler was now becoming established as a political force to be reckoned with.

1933 was even better for Hitler, the funny little man with the toothbrush moustache, poor table manners and queer sense of sartorial style (the top hat and dog whip, seriously?).

He became Chancellor of Germany and, with the aforementioned death of the old President Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler made himself President as well as Chancellor and fixed things so that he couldn’t be removed from office. Dictatorship, anyone?

A lot of stuff happened between 1933 and the start of World War Two that we’ll try to get through quickly. Punitive laws were enforced against the Jews, coming to an explosive head- but by no means ending- on Kristallnacht or The Night Of Broken Glass (November 1938)during which Jewish shops were trashed and their synagogues burned.

In the Irish Jewish Museum here in Dublin, just as a matter of interest, they have on display a piece of a religious scroll saved from a burning synagogue on this terrible night. Hitler was apparently annoyed by the damage to some of Germany’s lovely old buildings during Kristallnacht. Oh dear. How careless of those naughty marauders to damage the buildings.

The Nazi Party brushed Germany’s racial ‘issues’ under the carpet for the duration of the 1936 Olympic Games, which were held in Berlin. Film-maker Leni Riefenstahl, who also incidentally filmed the Olympics, made a movie called TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, about one of the gigantic Nuremberg rallies, that captured all the terrifying glamour and spectacle so beloved of the Nazis. Hitler is represented as a god in this film, literally descending from the clouds in his little aeroplane, the first leader of a country to ever use air travel to his benefit.

During this period also, from 1933 to 1939, ‘enemies’ of the Nazi Party (like the chap who protested that his livelihood had been torn down to make way for lavish extensions to the Berghof, Hitler’s fabulous mountain retreat) were being sent to concentration camps, which already existed. Inmates taken there were supposed to undergo a sort of ‘re-nazification.’ Like the ‘re-Neducation’ in that TREEHOUSE OF HORROR episode of THE SIMPSONS but, like, a million times less fun, obviously.

The dreaded camps were not yet the killing machines some of them ended up being later on when the ‘Final Solution,’ the extermination of the Jews, was properly underway. For now, they were mostly for communists and people who opposed the Nazi ideology. There were eyes and ears everywhere. It was a dangerous time to speak out against the Fuhrer or his Nazi Party.

Hitler became obsessed during this time with the idea of ‘Lebensraum,’ or living space, for the German people. He built up and re-armed the Army that had suffered restrictions as a result of the Versailles Treaty, a humiliating document that had basically ground Germany into the dirt, as Hitler saw it, for having caused World War One.

The reparations Germany had to pay after WW1 were brutally punitive. Hitler metaphorically tore up this hated treaty every time he marched his newly re-armed forces into a different country in yet another stunning land grab, and the people of Germany loved him for it.

He’d united Austria with Nazi Germany without the firing of a single shot. The Austrians welcomed Hitler and his cohorts with open arms and floral tributes. He was like a king when he rode in his car through the flower-strewn streets. It was one of his greatest moments.

Then came his acquisition of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, Neville Chamberlain and ‘Peace In Our Time,’ and then the ill-fated invasion of Poland which led to Britain and France declaring war on Germany, much to Hitler’s surprise. What do these assholes care about Poland, he was probably thinking, but care they did. It was jolly well a matter of principle, old boy. The war was very much a go…

France fell fairly quickly to the well-oiled Nazi machine. Nazi steamroller, more like. Britain, of course, held out staunchly to the end because Britons never, never, never shall be slaves, of course. Hitler unleashed the full force of the odious, fatly smiling Goering’s Luftwaffe on them but to no avail. Britain was not for turning…

Hitler spent much of the war teaching his beloved Alsatian dog Blondi to do tricks. He also enjoyed eating cake- Hitler, that is, not Blondi, although who knows, maybe the doggie did too- and so he consumed quite a lot of the stuff up in the gorgeous little Teahouse that formed part of his mountainside hideaway in the Berghof, where his long-term mistress Eva Braun resided.

Hitler should have been as fat as a fool, with all the cakes the film-makers show him putting away in this documentary. I got quite peckish for cake, actually, while watching this film, and so a packet of Jaffa cakes may or may not have been sacrificed to the common good on one of the nights…

Dr. Theodore Morell, Hitler’s doctor, gets a mention here as the doctor who put the Fuhrer on a cocktail of drugs to treat his various ailments, real or imagined. Hitler was something of a hypochondriac, but the drugs he was given probably far exceeded his need and would have almost certainly contributed to how divorced from reality he was by the end of the war.

America entered the war in 1941 after the Japanese shockingly attacked Pearl Harbour. Hitler is seen in the documentary film as not taking this news seriously enough. It was a disaster for him, however.

The Americans were mightily pissed off and would stay in the war until the bitter end, until they, in fact, were the victors along with Britain and Hitler’s most hated enemy, Russia. The threat of Bolshevism was as bad, to him, as the threat represented by the Jews.

Hitler’s invasion of Russia was an unmitigated disaster also, resulting in the deaths of millions of Russian soldiers and civilians and German soldiers. Fighting a war of that scale on two fronts was too much for one man, a man who by now wasn’t even living in the real world.

The Holocaust, the wholesale murder of the Jews of Europe in concentration camps, was in full swing by now, with Auschwitz in Poland at the ‘dead’ centre of the operation. The more catastrophic Hitler’s war became for Germany, the more the killing was speeded up, the killing he actually termed ‘humane’ because it was done by gassing rather than other, messier means.

Everyone wants to hear about the Bunker, of course, the ‘good stuff,’ lol, when Hitler moved battalions that no longer really existed around the map from one place to another during the daily situation reports that became more and more fraught. The war was lost. The jig was up. Hitler was pretty much the last person to take this admittedly unpalatable fact on board.

In his last couple of days, he marries Eva Braun, dictates his last Will and Testament to his secretary Traudl Junge and shoots himself while Eva bites down on a cyanide capsule on the couch beside him.

Nearby, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister and long-time toady Joseph Goebbels prepares to follow his Fuhrer even unto death, along with his wife Magda and their six children. Thus, with a gunshot and the hasty burning of two bodies in the Reichchancellery garden, endeth the Third Reich. There’s talk of a Fourth sequel but I don’t know, I think the franchise is pretty much played out, lol.

There’s some really fantastic footage of the players in this iconic real-life drama in HITLER: THE RISE AND FALL. I’d never seen a lot of the footage before and it was gob-smackingly clear and exciting to view.

The historians are pretty good too, my favourites being the super-enthusiastic Emma Craigie, author of HITLER’S LAST DAY: MINUTE BY MINUTE, which I’ve read and enjoyed, and also a chap by the name of Professor Richard Overy. Watch this if you’re a history fan. It’s top-notch stuff.

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

THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE DOLL (2018) and WEREWOLVES OF THE THIRD REICH (2017): TWO NAZI HORROR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

Werewolves-of-the-Third-Reich2-1

THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE DOLL (2018) AND WEREWOLVES OF THE THIRD REICH (2017): A DOUBLE BILL OF TRULY WOEFUL NAZI HORROR FILMS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I received both of these films as a birthday present recently and I had great craic watching them, despite the fact that they’re both awful, lol. THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE DOLL is apparently the third film in a trilogy, so somewhere out there, knocking around merrily as if they haven’t got a care in the world, are the two other films that spawned this unholy hell-child.

Based on a real doll, a doll that exists in real life and is said to be possessed of supernatural powers, it’s by far the worst film of my two birthday gifts. It’s a film of two halves. The first half actually promises to be good, believe it or not.

An obviously abused wife is fleeing from her sadistic husband in Nazi Germany. She’s bringing with her an old book said to possess the power to grant life to inanimate objects. Hitler has sent some of his most high-ranking Nazis to retrieve the book at all costs.

What does Hitler want it for anyway, the cheeky beggar? If he was hoping to use it to revive his floppy pecker, well, I don’t think the book performs actual freakin’ miracles, lol. From what I’ve read, he wasn’t exactly a sensation in the bedroom. Eva Braun must have died a very frustrated woman. Good job there were so many hot Nazis around…

Anyway, the abused wife, Eva von Hammersmark, is charming and feisty and the film might have been a bit better if it had concentrated more on Eva and her nasty hubby Joseph. However, we lose Eva at the end of the first half of the film when her car is hijacked by another nasty piece of work (she certainly seems to attract that type!) and she and her abductor end up at the isolated farmhouse of a very strange man indeed…

The second half of the film doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with the first, and it’s virtually incomprehensible to boot. The ancient German toymaker responsible for creating Robert the Doll is aboard a train for some reason, fighting off Nazis with the help of his ventriloquist’s dummy, Robert. I think they’re all fighting for possession of the mystical book but don’t quote me on that. They could be doing anything at all, this bit’s such a mess.

WEREWOLVES OF THE THIRD REICH has garnered a number of truly stinking reviews, but I liked it much better than THE REVENGE OF ROBERT THE STUPID WOODEN DOLL WHO LOOKS LIKE THE EVIL DUMMY FROM THE GOOSEBUMPS BOOKS.

 A group of four painfully American soldiers escape from the Nazis while they’re being carted off to military prison in Germany in World War Two. They wander deep into rural Germany, Hitler’s Third Reich, and end up stumbling upon something rather out of the ordinary.

It’s an SS medical experiment camp run by the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele and his, um, wife, Ilse Koch. She’s a big show-off cow who’s very anxious for the four (yes, four, maybe it was all they could afford, lol) prisoners at the camp to know her terrifying nickname, the Bitch of Buchenwald…

Here at the camp, Mengele, played by an actor who could easily double as Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s personal toady and Minister for Propaganda, is taking time out from experimenting on twins and making his infamous ‘selections’ on the arrivals ramp at Auschwitz.

He’s engaged on a top-secret mission for the Fuhrer, played by a man who looks like Scottish actor Robert Carlyle with ‘a perfectly square bit of black dirt’ painted onto him between his schnozz and his kisser. Mengele is perfecting a method that will turn regular Nazis into werewolf Nazis, so they’ll be just as vicious and bloodthirsty but just not quite as blonde, lol.

The Nazi chosen to go first in this terrifying experiment is the handsome young fella who’s been giving the horny, frustrated Ilse Koch the ride while Mengele’s been occupied trying to turn straw into gold, I mean Nazis into werewolves. Yes, Ilse is a passionate woman who needs to be loved and she’s been playing hide-the-salami with the film’s one good-looking Nazi, the clever girl.

Mengele has found out about his wife’s unwise infidelity and he’s deliberately chosen her lover for the furry face and scratchy fingernails out of spite and jealousy. And the lover can’t even refuse to do it because it’s for Hitler, haha, for Hitler and the Third Reich and you know how fanatical these guys were about doing stuff for Hitler and his precious Reich, lol.

Can Ilse save her sexy blonde lover from a fate pretty much worse than death? (Is being a werewolf worse than being a Nazi? I can’t even tell…!) Can ‘the Fabulous Four’ (those ‘Murican soldiers I mentioned earlier) manage to break into the camp and foil Mengele’s dastardly plan to win the war for Hitler with his unholy army of savage werewolf soldiers?

If you still actually care at this point, you might enjoy the fun ending and the promise of more films to come. Oh, and the end of the ROBERT THE DOLL movie promises, well, another ROBERT THE DOLL movie sometime in the future too, God help us all.

Maybe by then they’ll have a few more Nazi uniforms to go round and they might even have had time to iron out the plotholes in their concept. Who am I kidding? Even the mystical book couldn’t reanimate these turkeys, but I still enjoyed them- well, WEREWOLVES, anyway- and they’re only meant to be a bit of fun. Don’t y’all go taking ’em seriously now…

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

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

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