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Cinematic Holocaust

Marty Schroeder | Thursday, November 9, 2006

Beginning today, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (DPAC) will host the film series, “Through the Eyes of Children: A Holocaust Film Series.” The series examines perhaps the most tragic event of the 20th century through the eyes of those affected the most: the children who had to hide from – and, in some cases, confront – the horrors of the Nazi “final solution.”

The films selected depict children who were “plucked from their homes and stripped of their childhoods, the children had witnessed the murder of parents, siblings, and relatives,” reads a release from the film, television and theatre department, which is hosting the event. “They faced starvation, illness and brutal labor, until they were consigned to the gas chambers.”

An exploration of the guiltless in a period of history fraught with guilt, crime and shame, this series will be an emotional and analytical event. How the lives of the children were changed and how modern audiences view their situations will be two of the multiple issues presented during this series. The films slated for screening include:

Fateless (2005)

Directed by Lajos Koltai, this recent film uses black and white, sepia and color film to explore the differing moods and situations of György Köves, the 14-year-old son of a Budapest merchant. Based on the novel by Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz, it tells the story of a youth who comes of age in Buchenwald learning how to maintain dignity in the face of complete hatred and oppression while dealing with his own growing hated. “Fateless” is a tapestry of the human emotions present in the children forced into the concentration camps.

Everything is Illuminated (2005)

Starring Elijah Wood and directed by Liev Schreiber, “Everything is Illuminated” is different from the other films in the series in that it does not take place during the Holocaust. Wood plays Jonathan Safran Foer, a Jewish American who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who helped his grandfather flee Europe during World War II.

Part comedy, albeit more drama, this film paints a somewhat fantastical world based in the teenage mind of Foer. However, some critics claim this only strengthens the emotional impact. Based on the eponymous novel, this film is not quite as ambitious as its source material but still succeeds in its own right.

Come and See (1985)

Directed by Elim Klimov, “Come and See” is, according to its press material, “a brutal condemnation of war.” When a 12- year-old enlists in the Russian resistance to the Nazi invasion, his initial beliefs of battlefield glory and fighting for his homeland soon become images of horror and terror when his family is slain and the reality of war sets in. While countless films have been made from the U.S. standpoint, exploring World War II from the Russian viewpoint is not something American audiences are used to seeing. A film from the perspective of the Eastern Front, which betrays the images of heroism and glory commonly associated with World War II films, is a perspective worth seeing.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Goodbye Children) (1987)

At a French boarding school in Vichy France, two boys become friends – one Catholic, the other Jewish. Based on the childhood experiences of director Louis Malle, this microcosm of stories about Christians hiding and giving new identities to Jews during World War II is as moving as it is exploratory of the relationship between the two religions. While the Vatican is often condemned for its inaction, many Christians tried – successfully or unsuccessfully – to hide Jews from the Gestapo. As the Catholic boy befriends his Jewish classmate, the Catholic comes to realize what it means to be Jewish during this period of history.

Into the Arms of Strangers (2000)

The only documentary in the film series, “Into the Arms of Strangers” explores the story of 10,000 Jewish children rescued from Germany, Austria and then-Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Holocaust. Directed by Mark Jonathan Harris and narrated by Judi Dench, it promises to give a more historical view of World War II and its impact on Jews, specifically Jewish children. The “kindertransport” which saved these children was a type of underground railroad bringing Jewish children from their home country to Great Britain where they lived through the duration of the war. It uses archival footage and interviews to tell the stories of the thousands saved.

Europa, Europa (1990)

“Europa, Europa” is based on the life of Solomon Perel, a Jew who hid his religious identity by joining the Hitler Youth to save his life. The film is based on Perel’s autobiography and directed by Agnieszka Holland. Also written by Holland, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Adapted Screenplay. Most of the film takes place on the Eastern front, so the German/Russian interplay, ignored in American cinema, plays an important role. This film also focuses on the Jewish situation after the war and the Jews’ mass migration to the British Mandate, which would become Israel in 1948.

“Through the Eyes of Children” will be an important film series for the study of the Holocaust at Notre Dame. It brings in narrative film from Europeans only one or two generations removed from the horrors that plagued the European continent less than 70 years ago. Perhaps most importantly, it includes perspectives from American Jews with all-too-fresh memories of the time period.

Exploring the Holocaust across national, religious and generational divides, the series reminds us lessons learned from the Holocaust are ones that should not be soon forgotten.