Included in the DVD are director's notes. Before the Second World War, more than 1.5 million Jewish children were living in Europe. By the end of the Holocaust, less than one in ten had survived. Secret Lives tells the em... more »otional stories of a small number of those who were saved by non-Jews in extraordinary acts of bravery and kindness. These men and women of uncommon decency did everything from bringing Jewish children into their families to securing hiding places in closets, attics, or hastily dug bunkers. Directed by Academy Award® winner and former hidden child Aviva Slesin, this captivating documentary reveals what happened between the children and their rescuers and shows how this experience forever changed their lives.« less
"Saw this film for the first time last night and was overwhelmed by the stories told within. This is a new and different perspective of the awful time in our history of World War II and Hitler's rampage to rid the world of jews. The stories of these saved children was well told and brought tears to my eyes. I myself immigrated as a 2 year old with my parents from Holland in 1940 just before the Nazi onslaught so this movie was particularily poignant for me."
Holocaust's Hidden Children & Rescuers--Processing The Emoti
Encompassed Runner | Florida, USA | 11/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"SECRET LIVES directed by Academy Award winning Aviva Slesin, examines the emotional connection between the Jews that were hidden from the Nazis as children and their nonJewish rescuers, who risked harm, and in Poland the death penalty, to hide the children. The rescuers interviewed in this documentary acted out of basic goodness, unlike some who hid children for profit, conversion, or abuse. The film records testimonies of reunited survivors and rescuers sharing memories and emotions--notably not just from during the war, but also from after the war when most rescuers had to give up the children since the Jewish community was against adoption of the children by nonJewish parents, even if the birth parents had been killed. Intensifying the separation of the rescuers and children were the physical Iron Curtain barrier and the emotional barrier of blocking out the experience as a way to cope with trauma.
Of the twelve or so stories in the movie, most impressive were not the stories of risktaking to hide the children (sorry, but can't imagine not hiding the children), but the individualized ways each person resolved, or is still trying to resolve, lingering issues such as loss, religious identiy, and abandonment (though well-intentioned, most children experienced double abandonment, by birth parents and then by rescuer parents). Also striking is the bitterness of one rescuer's daughter who still resents the attention that was given the hidden child--disturbing since she's expressing this with the full historical light of the horrors of the Holocaust. Then there is the joy of Michael and his rescuer Johanna, who glow of a love connection that no separation could quench. In contrast, others exuded more mixed emotions, love tainted by much anguish. Also profoundly moving are the unseen heroes, the birth parents who gave up their children knowing they might never see them again--for ex, Fred's father whose instructions on keeping quiet helped save Fred who lived hidden in a small, wardrobe closet obeying his father's instructions not to cough or sneeze. It's this kind of detail that makes the film fascinating. Oh, one more interesting example--one rescuer, only a child (teen) herself, reminisces that the two children she hid actually saved HER life, since had she not taken them, she would have been at greater risk due to more active involvement in the resistance.
For those interested in the Holocaust or in the human condition, anthropology, in addition to the films on the camps and Holocaust proper, consider this lesser known documentary for a look at another aspect of the suffering and resistance, and a reminder of the good side of humans."
The courage to care
Anyechka | Rensselaer, NY United States | 03/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although the vast majority of people living under Nazi-occupied Europe were either active collaborators or standing by silently and letting these things happen instead of protesting, a small group did have the courage to care and to make a stand. These were ordinary people who did extraordinary things, who didn't think of themselves as heroes but rather as people who just did what any humane compassionate human being would have done under such circumstances. Though some rescuers took children in with ulterior motives (money, converting them, wanting a child to be a laborer or servant, being abusive), most of them were like the people profiled in this film and did it because to do anything else would have been inconceivable.
The documentary focuses on hidden children in Holland, Poland, Belgium, and France, and gives us the perspectives of the hidden children (now elderly), their rescuers, and the children of the rescuers. Though some children, such as Fred, had to be literally hidden, there were other children, such as Moana and Irène (Rachel), who lived in the open as the pretended children or guests of their host families. Many families grew extremely attached to their foster children, and the feeling was usually very mutual. In some cases, such as with Erica and Alice, who were two weeks old and three years old, respectively, when they were taken into protective houses, these were their real parents, the only parents they could remember, the only parents they had ever really known. By the end of the war, they were usually considered as real members of the family, and it was always sad when they had to be taken back to their surviving relatives or into orphanages or DP camps. It does make sense, wanting them to be returned to their own people (even if they were being placed with surviving relatives who weren't their parents and who didn't know them that well) after so many Jewish children had already been murdered and so many families had been inalterably split up, but it also seems unfair that they should have to leave the only home they'd ever known and have to start life all over again, oftentimes in less than ideal circumstances. It wasn't often that a family were granted the right to keep and legally adopt their children, as happened with Irène/Rachel. Although it wasn't always so wonderful with the rescuing families; Hetty, one of Moana's foster sisters, remains rather bitter and upset about how her childhood was so fraught with secrecy and lies, feeling her mother cared more about the children she rescued than about her own daughters, even though she also loved Moana like a sister. Though such an attitude does seem rather surprising, to say the least, given what she surely must have found out in the decades since about the Shoah, it must have been a big burden for a child to have to bear, having to sneak and lie and live with the eternal fear of getting caught and punished. In many cases, the children didn't see their rescuing families after the liberation for decades, either because they lost touch after being placed with relatives or in orphanages, lived too far apart, or couldn't just casually write to or visit people stuck behind the Iron Curtain. The footage of some of the reunions is very emotional and powerful. In addition to the rescuers, one also can't help but admire the heroism of the birth parents. Even for those relative few who knew that the Nazis were lying to them about what was going to happen to them, it was still very very very hard to make the decision to separate from one's child, sometimes forever, and give him or her over to strangers.
As of the beginning of 2007, 21,758 people have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. (All of the people who participated in the rescue of Danish Jewry requested that they be listed as a single group and not individually.) Even considering those who haven't yet been nominated and those who will probably never be known, that's still a drop in the bucket considering how many people lived in Europe at the time. And yet this small minority of people had the courage to make a difference, to save the lives of children they didn't know, to just be good people and to do the right thing. And not only do these now-grown children owe their lives to these people who risked their lives to do the moral thing, but so do their children, grandchildren, and all of the generations in their line yet to be. As the oft-quoted line from the Talmud says, "Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though s/he had destroyed the world entire; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though s/he had saved the world entire.""
A touching and personal portrait of unsung heroes.
Michael Stack | North Chelmsford, MA USA | 12/31/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Secret Lives" is the story of Jewish children throughout Europe who were hidden from the Nazis, embedded into Christian families. Through the first 45 minutes or so, Aviva Slesin (a hidden child herself, though her own story is barely mentioned) weaves together archival footage, photographs and interviews with both the hidden and the hiders into a rather moving narrative. It is a testament to Slesin's work that I felt nothing less than a rush of affection for all these brave men and women who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to save children, sometimes strangers. If left me to wonder, as Ed van Thijn, a hidden child and former mayor of Amsterdam does in the movie, would I have had the courage to have done this myself? How many documentaries really make you reflect inward in such a fashion?
The last half hour or so of the piece is dedicated to a completely untouched issue-- the impact on the lives of these children upon reintegrating into their families and in many cases, their religions. Here the piece turns a bit, a number of confusing emotions dominate the landscape, things I couldn't begin to understand.
It's hard to describe what viewing this film was like-- it could be stunningly touching, horrifying, uplifting, magical. A really broad base of thoughts have come to mind, not the least of which is that this should be shown in high schools across the country. As someone who just turned 30, in retrospect it seems my education did a disservice by dehumanizing World War II, painting it in bright colors and statistics. "Secret Lives" does a fine job, by exploring a handful of people who are still alive to talk about the experience, of painting a significantly more human picture than textbooks and documentaries have, at least for me, done. More importantly, I think it really presents a cross-section of just how confusing the times must have been-- one minute, you stare in horror at the atrocities man can commit, another, you stare in awe at just how much compassion man can commit.
I'd be remiss in discussing this movie without making mention of the soundtrack, John Zorn's Filmworks XI - 2002 Volume One Secret Lives (Featuring the Masada String Trio). It was actually the sensitive nature of Zorn's score, touching and powerful without ever being reduced to schmaltz, that led me to this film. Against the celluloid, Zorn's score expertly moves the narrative along and provides emotional support throughout.
For anyone interested in learning more about not so much the history of World War II and the Holocaust but the human experience of the horrors and the stunning selflessness that manifested as a result, "Secret Lives" is a film worth investigation. Highly recommended."
tearra thomas | ohio,usa | 10/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"this movie gives a gilmpse at the heroism and courage that these people portrayed in the film showed.not for a moment,or an hour,but for years.these families truly loved these children, and their humanity is quite stark against the actions or inactions of many of their countrymen."