We have selected the most interesting European film productions which address the difficult subject of crimes against humanity in the totalitarian regimes. These films will become the basis for projects carried out by students from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany.
Holocaust/Life in concentration camp In Darkness, by Agnieszka Holland From acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland, In Darkness is based on a true story. Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi occupied city in Poland, one day encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto. He hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town’s sewers beneath the bustling activity of the city above. What starts out as a straightforward and cynical business arrangement turns into something very unexpected, the unlikely alliance between Socha and the Jews as the enterprise seeps deeper into Socha’s conscience. The film is also an extraordinary story of survival as these men, women and children all try to outwit certain death during 14 months of ever increasing and intense danger.
By the Railway Track, by Andrzej Brzozowski The film presents an episode of wartime reality. An anonymous Jewish woman, along with other fellow sufferers, jumps out of the train heading to a concentration camp. During a desperate attempt to escape, she breaks her leg and helplessly lies in the snow beside the railway track. People from a nearby village gather around the woman and start deliberating over her future her further fate. In the end of the film, the woman is killed by one of the peasants.
Story About a Bad Dread, by Pavel Štingl Documentary film based on a book by Eva Erbenová, in which she remembers her experiences of the Holocaust. The story begins in Prague. Family of a Jewish girl Eva leads a normal, happy life. With the outbreak of the war, however, they become the Other. The deportations begin soon, and Eve along with her family are deported to Theresienstadt. One day, Eva’s father is taken to Auschwitz, while Eva with her mother are also taken to an extermination camp. Near the end of the war, along with other prisoners, Eve and her mother walk hundreds of kilometers in a death march. The mother dies of exhaustion, but Eve miraculously manages to escape. Finally, extremely exhausted, she reaches the town of Chod Postřekov, where she meets people who take her into hiding. Partly dramatized documentary about the fate of the child during the Holocaust, loosely based on the book ‘Tell Mama, as it were’ by Eva Erben.
The Ninth Day, by Volker Schlöndorff Henri Kremer, a Catholic priest from Luxemburg, is imprisoned in Dachau. He experiences the horrors of the camps, including the crucifixion of some of his fellow prisoners, when one day he is given an unexpected leave of nine days. He returns to his native city, where the young SS officer Gebhardt tells him that he should convince his bishop to cooperate with the Nazis. Gebhardt, himself a former candidate for the priesthood, tries to convince the priest that the role of Judas is just what God wants from him. Kremer is confronted with a hard decision: Should he betray his Church or should he return to the concentration camp?
Controversy/Inglorious stories Ida, by Paweł Pawlikowski In 1962 Poland, Ida is a young postulate who grew up in the convent orphanage and knows little of the outside world. Mother Superior informs her that she has an aunt - her mother’s sister - and that she should visit her before taking her final vows. Her aunt, Wanda, informs her that she is Jewish and is surprised that the nuns never told her of her origins. Together they set off to learn what happened to Ida’s parents during the war and where they might be buried - a trip that has a profound effect on both of them
Mechanism of totalitarian regime/ Collaborations Katyń, by Andrzej Wajda When the Soviet Union invades Poland in September 1939, Anna Aleksandrowna leaves her home in Krakow to look for her husband, the Polish captain Andrzej. She finds him together with other officers captured by the Red Army, but some minutes later he is pushed into a train, which will take all the Polish officers to a prison camp in Kozelsk in Russia. 3 April 1940 Andrzej is transported from the prison camp in Kozelsk to the Katyn Forest, where thousands of Polish officers are killed. In 1943 the Germans capture this area and find the mass graves. 13 April 1943 they start announcing the names of the identified corpses through loudspeakers in Krakow. 18 January 1945 the Red Army liberates Krakow from the Nazis. The Russians start blaming the Katyn Massacre on the Germans, proclaiming that it happened in 1941 instead of 1940. Everybody knows that this isn’t true…
The Bridge, by Bernhard Wicki A couple of days before the end of World War II, seven 16-year-old German boys from a small village are recruited for military service. The idealistic Hans Scholten, Albert Mutz, Walter Forst, Jurgen Borchert, Karl Horber, Klaus Hager and Sigi Bernhard join the army on 26 April 1945, with great expectations and enthusiasm to defend their motherland Germany in the front against the will of their parents. Their English teacher, Stern, unsuccessfully tries to convince Commander Fröhlich to refuse the enlistment of the youngsters. After one day’s training, the soldiers are summoned to the front, but the Commander of the 463rd Battalion of the 3rd Company assigns Sergeant Heilmann to stay with the rookies “protecting” a useless bridge in their village in order to spare the boys.
Liberation of the country/ Brave against the system I was nineteen, by Konrad Wolf April 1945. 19-year-old Gregor Hecker reaches the outskirts of Berlin as part of the Red Army’s scouting team. Having fled Germany with his family when he was eight, he is confronted with the dilemma of having to fight men from the very country he was born in. Through dealing with challenging situations (e.g. he is appointed commander of Bernau, talks to many disillusioned Germans, and is once and again attacked by scattered groups of German soldiers), he grows more confident that not all hope is lost for post-war Germany. Based on the diary entries of director Konrad Wolf, the episodic movie authentically portrays the protagonist’s struggle to come to terms with his own past and identity.
Sophie Scholl – the final days, by Marc Rothemund The Final Days is the true story of Germany’s most famous anti-Nazi heroine brought to life. Sophie Scholl is the fearless activist of the underground student resistance group, The White Rose. Using historical records of her incarceration, the film re-creates the last six days of Sophie Scholl’s life: a journey from arrest to interrogation, trial and sentence in 1943 Munich. Unwavering in her convictions and loyalty to her comrades, her cross-examination by the Gestapo quickly escalates into a searing test of wills as Scholl delivers a passionate call to freedom and personal responsibility that is both haunting and timeless.
Who is the hero
The Story of Irena Sendler, by Andrzej Wolf 95-year-old Irena Sendler tells the true story of a secret network of Polish women who rescued thousands of Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto and hid them until the end of the war. In 1943 the Gestapo captured Sendler, tortured her and sentenced her to death, but she refused to divulge anything about the women or the hidden children. She escaped on the day she was to be executed when the Polish Resistance bribed a German guard. All of the 2500 children rescued by her conspiracy survived the war and many were re-united with their Jewish families. But for decades, they could not tell their stories. The new Communist regime in Poland silenced former members of the Polish Resistance and most of Sendler’s liaisons were persecuted or exiled. Over 65 years later they can finally speak about their wartime work as the once hidden Jewish children return to Warsaw to re-unite with their Polish protectors.
Nebe nad Evropou, by Helena Třeštíková Frantisek Perina, Jan Wiener and Francis Fajtl were among the many Czech pilots who, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia began, managed to get to England in order to join the Royal Air Force service that fought against the Nazis. After World War II they returned to Czechoslovakia as heroes. With the Communists having come to power, the pilots were falsely accused of treason and had to undergo sham trial. Helena Třeštíková’s documentary uses archival materials and memoirs of Czech pilots and their wives.
Everyday life during WWII/ Life in ghetto Fotoamator, by Dariusz Jabłoński In 1987, in a Viennese antique shop, some four hundred color slides were discovered inside the Lódź Ghetto, where Jewish men, women and children were held and put to work while Nazis determined their fate—if you will, a productive halfway concentration camp. The first voice we hear in Fotoamator (literally, Amateur Photographer), Dariusz Jablonski’s probing documentary, belongs to one of the 877 survivors from the 230,000 Lódź Jews, to which, during the course of the war, 25,000 others were added. This is Dr. Arnold Mostowicz, whom we actually see, who immediately informs us that the photographs do not show the truth. Rather, they compose a documentary record skewered by the outlook of their amateur photographer, the Ghetto’s chief Nazi accountant, Walter Genewein, an Austrian from whose written records an actor reads. Genewein explains that the purpose of the photos is to demonstrate the Nazis’ ‘achievement’ in civilizing subhuman Jews.
Warsaw Uprising, by Jan Komasa The movie is the world’s first feature film made entirely from documentary material. A script was written by Joanna Pawluskiewicz, Jan Oldakowski and Piotr Sliwinski. The score was made by Bartosz Chajdecki, one of the most talented composers of young generation, already with impressive credits. The Museum of Warsaw Uprising produced the film, which had emotional and very enthusiastic reception from audiences in Polish movie theatres. The film tells the story of the Warsaw Rising of 1944 through the eyes of two young reporters, cameramen for the Bureau of Information and Propaganda of the Home Army and direct witnesses of insurgent fighting. Their mission: documenting the Rising by shooting newsreels for the “Palladium” cinema. Looking for the right shots, they go deeper and deeper – literally and figuratively – into the heart of the Rising, which turns out to be horrific. Aware of participating in something indescribable, in a world following the apocalypse, they also became aware of their role: documenting the apocalypse and trying to preserve the rolls of film at any cost…
The City of Ruins, by Damian Nenow (animation) Among the iconographic materials that we recovered and that became the basis for creating 3D models of specific Warsaw tenement houses by the graphic artists at Platige Image there were post-war aerial photos published in various books and magazines, post-war photos taken by photographs standing in front of the destroyed buildings as well as pre-war photos depicting Warsaw.
The Pianist, by Roman Polanski The true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman who, in the 1930s, was known as the most accomplished piano player in all of Poland, if not Europe. At the outbreak of the World War II, however, Szpilman becomes subject to the antiJewish laws imposed by the conquering Germans. By the start of the 1940s, Szpilman has seen his world go from piano concert halls to the Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw and then must suffer the tragedy of his family deported to a German concentration camps, while Szpilman is conscripted into a forced German Labor Compound. At last deciding to escape, Szpilman goes into hiding as a Jewish refugee where he is witness to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19, 1943 - May 16, 1943) and the Warsaw Uprising (1 August to 2 October 1944).
The Summer Solstice, by Michal Rogalski 1943. Polish province. The war has been going on for 4 years. After the Battle of Stalingrad younger and younger Germans are mobilized to join the army. This is how Guido, a sensitive, 17-year-old boy from Hamburg comes to Poland. He is desperately trying to find an asylum to protect himself from the harsh, brutal reality of the war and the coarse, vulgar world of the older gendarmes. Hiding in the forgotten attic, he listens to the forbidden jazz music and lives in his dreams. At the same time, his peer Romek works on a railway in order to help up his mother after the death of the father. As a driver’s assistant, he sees the belongings requisitioned from Jews deported to death camps every day. Unaware of their tragic fate, he is indifferent to the events. When the opportunity arises, he tries to get some of the things – often useless, such as an old gramophone – from the German gendarmes. He is not a natural soldier. He’s much more into girls, especially Franka, a daughter of a wealthy farmer. The same village girl catches the eye of Guido. Romek meets a fugitive, Jewish girl Bunia, whom he tries to chase away in the fear of consequences. Bunia doesn’t listen tough, knowing she will not survive on her own. With time, they form a bond. Guido, lost and confused, starts a relationship with Franka. By the sounds of forbidden jazz music the make love in the attic. Their hideout is discovered by the commandant. Guido has to choose whether to save himself or help Franka.
Films vs. facts
Warsaw’ 44, by Jan Komasa 1944, occupied Warsaw. 18-year-old Stefan works to support his mother and his younger brother. The Home Army command decides to attack the weakened Germans withdrawing to the West. Stefan wants to fight the enemy with his friends and his loved one by his side. The first days of the uprising are joyous, the enemy retreats. But their happiness doesn’t last long. The German army enters Warsaw, the uprising is doomed…
Jakob the Liar, by Frank Beyer A Jewish ghetto in the east of Europe, 1944. By coincidence, Jakob Heym eavesdrops on a German radio broadcast announcing the Soviet Army is making slow but steady progress towards central Europe. In order to keep his companion in misfortune, Mischa, from risking his life for a few potatoes, he tells him what he heard and announces that he is in possession of a radio - in the ghetto a crime punishable by death. It doesn’t take long for word of Jakob’s secret to spread suddenly, there is new hope and something to live for - and so Jakob finds himself in the uncomforting position of having to come up with more and more stories.
Human rights in WWII/ Discrimination/Minorities Papusza, by Joanna Kos-Krauze, Krzysztof Krauze The rise and fall of the most distinguished Polish-Roma poetess Bronislawa Wajs, widely known as Papusza, and her relationship with her discoverer, writer Jerzy Ficowski
Eroica, by Andrzej Munk Two sketches covering episodes from the World War II. In the first novel, Scherzo alla Polacca, a shrewd son, trying to preserve his skin, ultimately becomes a hero and finds a reason for fighting. He initially tries to avoid underground training to avoid the Warsaw uprising. His drunkenness, disregard for safety and cowardice when sober stated with humorous effect come out as something sane in the world gone mad. His will to survive is more acceptable than any desire for heroic death. The second novel, Ostinato Lugubre, details a hopeless attempt at escape from a prison camp by a man who can no longer stand the confinement and idiocy of the professional soldiers trying to keep up the military pretenses in prison. Nevertheless, his escape boosts the morale of his fellow prisoners, while the ‘escapee’ lies hidden from Germans and comrades alike.
Rosa, by Wojciech Smarzowski In the summer of 1945, Tadeusz, a former soldier who lost everything in the war, arrives in Mazury region in Poland. The man comes to a house owned by Róża, the widow of a German soldier. Tadeusz learns the dramatic story of the woman’s life – she was brutally raped by soldiers and forced into prostitution by the Soviets. Rose is treated with contempt by new settlers in Mazury, who look upon her as a German. An emotional tie flourishes between the soldier and Róża.
Oh, the black bird, by BĹ™etislav RychlĂk The tragic fate of Bohemia and Moravia told by the testimony of Roma who survived the World War II. At the outbreak of the war, 6,500 Roma inhabited the territory of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia. By 1945, only a few hundred survived. The film tells the story of the forgotten Holocaust of Roma people, based on the testimony of the survivors. They visit the area of a former concentration camps in Lety and Hodonin, where Gestapo selected those who were to be deported to the extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, where a major part of the Bohemian and Moravian Roma people died. A professor, accomplished ethnographer recalls his encounter with a Roma woman, who lost her entire family in Auschwitz.
Run boy run, by Pepe Danquart Srulik, an 8-year-old boy, flees from the Warsaw ghetto in 1942. He desperately wants to survive, at first alone in the forest, and then as a Christian orphan named Jurek on a Polish farm. Throughout his ordeal, his Jewish identity is in danger of being lost. The story is based on the bestseller by Uri Orlev.
The idea behind our project is to use films which teenagers find comprehensible and attractive in order to talk about the history in their own language. Films are a starting points for a discussion about the past as well as for creative interpretations of the history. Teams of young people taking part in workshops, which will enable them to critically watch, analyze and interpret films. They can compare the film stories to other historical sources, analyze the various contexts and take part in a discussion.
Editors: Agata Janeczek MaĹ‚gorzata Leszko Graphic designer Agata Janeczek CC-BY-SA-NC
Published on Jan 27, 2016
In Inspired by the memory programme We have selected the most interesting European film productions which address the difficult subject of c...