Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 07/12/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This disc consists of five short films about the Shoah, narrated by survivors living in various countries. The idea behind this collection was to make films in nations that have never really heard of or been taught about the Shoah, where such tales of horror are not familiar or well-known the way they are in a place like America or Canada. (It was also surprising to see that the people in four of the films obviously went back to their homelands, even after all they'd been through there and how in many places the townspeople were willing accomplices for the Germans.) Side one of the disc contains 'Some Who Survived,' 'Eyes of the Holocaust,' and 'Children from the Abyss.' Side two contains 'I Remember' and 'Hell on Earth.'
'Some Who Survived' ('Algunos Que Vivieron') was originally released in Argentina, though it contains interviews from survivors now living in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. This is interesting because we ordinarily hear about survivors who moved to America, Canada, Israel, and sometimes Australia and England, but not so much about survivors who began new lives in South America, even though quite a few of them did move there. I also enjoyed the fact that it was in Spanish, a language I haven't really had much of a chance to hear or make much use of in awhile despite the fact that I studied it for 7 years. The survivors in this film all came from Eastern Europe, though they weren't all from the same place, which gives this film a bit more variety in its approach. In the other films, the survivors being interviewed were all from the same nations. This film is also of interest because towards the end it goes into the anti-Semitic terrorist acts committed in Argentina in recent decades, and the fact that many Nazis fled to South America, proving that hatred hasn't died yet and that many perpetrators evaded justice.
'Eyes of the Holocaust' ('A Holocaust Szemei') concerns the Shoah in Hungary, and is based around a young girl who has taken refuge from a heavy rain by going into a building where she finds a book with the abovementioned title. She sits down on a staircase and reads the book by candlelight. The book is kind of a dictionary/encyclopedia of the Shoah, with key words, events, and dates, and after she starts reading each selected entry aloud, we cut to the testimony of the survivors talking about the emotions and experiences behind them, making them more than just routine definitions and explanations in a book.
'Children from the Abyss' ('Dyeti iz Bezdna') is about the survivors from the former Soviet Union, and is narrated by the director Pavel Chukhrai in between the interviews with the survivors, who were children at the time of these events. The situation in the former Soviet Union was many times quite different from that in a place like Hungary or Poland, because a lot of these people never even made it to the camps. Many times entire villages were shot down into mass graves, such as in Babiy Yar. Very rarely did someone manage to run away, to be spared by one of the executioners (German or Soviet), or to crawl out of the pit of bodies and make it to safety when the coast was clear. The director explains that some of the pictures and films do not feature the children who are now elderly survivors, since many times they had no families or pictures to go home to afterwards, but that it shouldn't matter, since they represent all of the children, both the miraculous few who survived and the countless more who were murdered. Those who managed to escape into the part of the Soviet Union beyond Nazi control often had a better chance of survival, but for those who remained in the part of the country invaded by the Germans or who didn't flee in time, their odds of survival were much much lower.
'I Remember' ('Pamietam') was directed by the legendary Andrzej Wajda, and employs a different technique than the other films. It's shot entirely in black and white and contains no historical film footage or still pictures from the past. Unlike the other films, here only four survivors are interviewed. We periodically cut between their testimonies and images of a group of young people on the March of the Living. This strategy could be considered very effective in that it forces the viewer to pay attention to the testimonies and not be distracted by other images, but it can also seem a bit dull at times because it's not backed up by accompanying footage or pictures that bring to life what these four men are talking about. It's also interesting to note how for the most part, these men relate their stories in a steady manner, quite keeping their emotions under control instead of, like a number of the other survivors do, sometimes having to temporarily stop because they were overwhelmed by the memories and broke down.
'Hell on Earth' ('Peklo na Zemi') is from the Czech Republic, where the majority of people were taken to Terezin (Theresienstadt) before being deported to Poland. There are some pretty horrifying images here (not to say that the other films don't have stark and shocking pictures and film footage). The images of dead emaciated corpses and the living-dead here are perhaps so shocking and horrifying because some of them are in color, and we're so used to seeing and thinking about these events in black and white. Color just brings them to life in a shocking and vivid way, makes the horror even more real and undeniable. Some of the survivors were children at the time, and some of them were teenagers or young adults. They all have compelling stories to tell, even in spite of their different backgrounds and ages.
All in all, these films are highly recommended. They represent a wide range of experiences and were made to bring these stories to people who don't really know anything about the Shoah, and the linguistic variety was also an added bonus to someone who loves languages and has studied three of the five represented and is interested in the other two. These aren't exactly the types of films you watch on a rainy day or to kill time, but they are important moving historical documents that should be seen by anyone who cares about remembering the past and preventing such things from happening ever again. It's easy to refuse to watch such images and to hear such testimonies because of how shocking, disturbing, unsettling, and heartbreaking it is, but sometimes one has no choice but to hear and see such things, to honestly face the past, to be shocked and jolted out of complacency. Who could ever forget such words and images, and who wouldn't be angry and compelled enough to want to work to ensure that it never happens again?"
5 poignant documentaries that deal with the Holocaust
z hayes | TX | 01/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Broken Silence" is an amazing production, consisting of five films about the Holocaust, as told by those who experienced its' horrors, and who came from different parts of Europe during WW II. Side I consists of "Some Who Survived", "Eyes of the Holocaust", and "Children from the Abyss". Side II contains "I Remember" and "Hell on Earth".
"Some Who Survived" was a unique documentary to me as it focuses on Jewish survivors who chose to make their homes in South America [Argentina, Chile, Uruguay] after the war. They speak in fluent Spanish throughout [and some even mention the fact that when they first arrived in Sth America after the war, they had a new language to learn] and I was quite amazed that these survivors, despite the atrocities they had suffered, came to South America, which was known for taking in Nazi war criminals and harboring them, such a Josef Mengele [the Auschwitz doctor of death] and Adolf Eichmann. But what ultimately stands out is the searing testimony by these survivors, who saw their families being ripped from them, family members being sent to their deaths etc.
The theme of loss and grief and at times, vengeance is seen in the other documentaries as well.
In "Eyes of the Holocaust", we learn of the Hungarian Jews extermination in the Holocaust. The frame for the documentary is a young girl who finds a book containing key terms defining the Holocaust such as 'deportation' and so on. As she reads these definitions, we are then shown the testimonies of actual survivors.
Though all the documentaries were unique in their own way [quite a feat considering they were all based on the Holocaust], the most poignant to me was "Children from the Abyss" which tells the stories of the Russian Holocaust survivors. What was really disturbing to me was watching the actual footage of massacres of innocent women, children and other civilians and the gruesome photographs. It was really hard to watch these atrocities, which were further reiterated by the actual testimonies of survivors, including those who had survived the infamous Babi Yar massacre [where thousands of Jews were machine-gunned/shot and dumped into pits, one group on top of another, some being still alive when they fell into the pits]. This was before the Nazis 'refined' their killing process and prior to the use of gassing and construction of death camps like Auschwitz.
"I Remember" was shot in a rather unique way. It only focuses on the testimonies of survivors, is shot is B&W, and alternating between the survivor trstimonies are shots of young Jewish people in the present who are participating in the "March of the Living". Though I liked the interview part of the documentary, I felt the frequent moving back and forth was rather distracting and even annoying after a while.
In "Hell on Earth", which is filmed in the Czech language, Czech Jewish Holocaust survivors give us their testimonies, many focusing on their camp experiences, especially in Terezin [Theresienstadt in German]. Ironically, despite being portrayed as the model camp by the German [who had actually put on a 'show' for the International Red Cross during WW II], this camp was actually in a deplorable condition, with its inmates living in starvation and suffering myriad illnesses and diseases. This particular documentary is also brutally graphic in its depiction of victims, showing film reels and photographs of mounds of corpses, walking skeletons, emaciated inmates etc. Mere words alone fail to convey the horrors portrayed here.
All in all, this DVD is highly recommended for education on the Holocaust."
Evil and the mercy of God
Quilmiense | USA/Spain | 04/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"5 episodes, 5 documentaries from 5 countries where the Jews were persecuted and killed during the Holocaust. All episodes are absorbing. The directors let their protagonists/survivors tell their stories. Nobody but the survivors star here. The images are crude, the stories are told first hand.
Of course one would have asked them tens of questions while watching them. To me it's just priceless to be able to see and listen to these people tell their miraculous stories of survival, sorrowful stories of loss. A privilege. These documentaries are not only about Jewish history. They are a testimony to the extreme cruelty and evil that humans can infringe on others. Those who don't believe in a good God will have to think twice, because Satan is real indeed."