The Round Up – La Rafle (2010) – Operation Spring Breeze or The Round Up of Vel d’Hiv

The French/German/Hungarian co-production, The Round Up – La Rafle, is a powerful and intense movie based on true facts. In the nights of July 16 and 17 13000 Parisian Jews were arrested in a raid in Paris and confined in the Vel d’Hiv (Winter Velodrome) or Drancy internment camp and from there to the extermination camps in Poland. Of the 13000 arrested Jews only 25 survived. Many among them, at least 4000, were children. Not one of them survived. The aim was to round-up 25000 Jews but 10000 escaped and were hidden by the people of Paris. The most shameful part was played by the police who actively contributed to make this happen. French President Jacques Chirac apologized in 1995 for the complicit role that French policemen and civil servants served in the raid.

The movie begins with original black and white footage. We hear Edith Piaf sing “Paris” while we follow Hitler on his tour through the city. That sent shivers down my spine. To think that if the Germans had won the war, Hitler would have made Paris his capital. In the pictures he looked like a guy inspecting real estate, deciding on what walls to knock down, what to keep. Horrifying. Here is an account of Hitler’s tour, written by his pet architect Speer.

After the opening we see people in a Parisian street located in Montmartre. The street scenes show that French and foreign Jews amicably lived together with non-Jewish Parisians. Many French people are friendly towards the Jewish population, but others are openly hostile and hate them. The movie focusses at first on a few Jewish families. It shows how secure they felt. They didn’t think the French government would ever give in. But it did. In exchange for privileges it promised to round-up the Jews and deport them eventually.

After the round-up we see the scenes in the Vel d’Hiv and the point of view changes. A young French nurse, Annette Monnod (Mélanie Laurent), has been sent to help alongside a Jewish doctor (Jean Reno). The doctor and a handful of French nurses are the only health care professionals for 13000 people. There is almost no food, no water, no toilets and the hygiene is abominable. Many of the children are ill. There are doctors willing to come and help but they are not let in. Operation Spring Breeze, as this round-up is called, should be kept a secret. While there are many collaborators among the French, there are many more who are hostile towards the Nazis and willing to risk their lives to save Jews.

Annette becomes very attached to the children and does everything to help them survive. She follows them to camp Beaune where they stay until they are finally deported to Auschwitz. Until the last day many think, they are sent to Poland to work. Rumours that those camps are extermination camps are only spreading very slowly.

I really loved this movie. It moved me, I found it very touching and emotional.  I would say that of all the Holocaust movies I’ve seen, this is my favourite. I liked that it focussed on a few Jewish families with different backgrounds. Some rich French Jews, others immigrants and people who fled from other countries. Those individual stories are more interesting and touching than the story of a mass of deported people. In chosing Annette, a French nurse, we see how far the “good” Parisian people went, risking life and health for others. It’s such a shameful chapter in the history of France, its important to remember that there were courageous people as well.

The only thing I didn’t like so much was the end. It should have been different but I cannot tell you why or I would spoil the movie. Considering how excellent the rest is, this is a minor fault. I added The Round-Up to my Children in War Movies List. It’s an excellent example. Other Holocaust movies can be found here: 13 Holocaust Movies You Should See.

My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind (2011)

The central theme of the Austrian movie My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind is art robbery and expropriation of Jews during WWII. It starts in 1943 with a plane crash. Two SS officers and a Jew are on board of that plane. They must be found. Especially the Jew. We don’t know why but the movie rewinds to the year 1938 and the back story will be told.

Vienna, 1938. The rich Jewish gallery owner Jakob Kaufmann just recently arrived with his family in Vienna. They have left Germany, fearing Hitler’s rise may bring difficulties. The Kaufmann’s have only one child, Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), who grew up together with Rudi (Georg Friedrich), the son of their housekeeper. For the Kaufmann’s Rudi is like a son and the two young men are close friends. At least that’s how Victor sees it. Rudi’s point of view is slightly different. He is bitter and jealous and resents all the good things the Kaufmann’s did for him. Fact is, they are rich and he is poor. Victor will be a rich heir, while he will have to work hard. On top of that Lena, the girl Rudi fancies, is in love with Victor.

When the SS give him the opportunity to lead a better life, he takes it and joins them. He doesn’t even care that the price is high. He will have to spy on his former friends and benefactors and find out where one of Michelangelo’s original drawings is hidden. The drawing which has been stolen centuries ago from the Pope, is meant for the Führer Adolf Hitler who wants to offer it to his ally Mussolini.

It is easy for Rudi to find out where the painting is as Victor trusts his friend. Not long after he showed him where it is hidden, the villa is stormed, the drawing confiscated and the Kaufmann’s sent to labour camps.

If the drawing they have confiscated had been the original, the movie would have ended here but as it is a fake, this is just the beginning. Rudi is threatened and has to try to find the original at any cost. He goes and fetches Victor in the labour camp and together they fly to Berlin. On their way their plane crashes.

What follows is more humorous than dramatic and the roles of the parties involved are reversed more than once. Hunter becomes hunted and vice versa. Every time when we think: that’s it, this is the end, something happens and the hunt and qui pro quo starts again.

I didn’t know anything about this movie but I like Moritz Bleibtreu and Marthe Keller (she plays Victor’s mother)  and I knew the producers of The Counterfeiters have produced this movie too. I expected something more tragic so was slightly puzzled at first. This isn’t a drama, it’s much more a comedy. While it isn’t hilarious, it is amusing and I enjoyed watching it, especially the end. This is surprising as from a purely psychological point of view it isn’t very believable. Rudi’s change from friend to foe is more than abrupt. And as much as I like Bleibtreu, he is rather on the chubby side and most certainly doesn’t look like someone who spent years in a labour camp.

I’m not sure how Jewish people feel about a movie like this. Is it OK for them to see their trials and tribulations – in this case expropriation and art robbery by the Nazis – told in form of a comedy? I cannot answer this question. There were a few moments at the beginning of the movie when I felt uneasy but on the other hand, using this lighthearted tone, the movie gets our full attention and it is still explicit about the horrible things that happened.

I have a hard time to put into words why I liked My Best Enemy but I really did. It’s well done, glossy, entertaining, with a nice pace and a really appealing energy. If they had told this story like all the other similar movies it would have been just one more Holocaust movie. Like this it’s a movie that will stay in your mind.

Jakob the Liar (1999)

Movies based on books are often problematic. Even more so when the book is a masterpiece. Jurek Becker’s wonderful novel Jakob der Lügner aka Jakob the Liar is a masterpiece. It’s a touching and very unique account of life in a Polish ghetto. Becker was a German writer of Polish-Jewish origin. He was a survivor of the Lodz ghetto, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. A lot of what he has experienced went into his novel. Despite telling a fictitious story, it’s a realistic account of ghetto life, never corny, free of sentimentality. I had a feeling that adopting a novel like his to the screen would be challenging.

Jakob the Liar starring Robin Williams in the role of Jacob Heym, is the second movie based on Becker’s novel. The first, called Jacob the Liar (with a c) was an Eastern German-Czechoslovakian co-production. I have only seen the American movie.

Choosing Robin Williams as main character does pretty much indicate what type of movie we can expect. Something slightly sentimental. And, yes, Jacob the Liar is quite sentimental but so is Life is beautiful aka La vita è bella. When you try to introduce humour and hope in a movie about life in a Polish ghetto or in a concentration camp, you’re bound to be sentimental as hope and humour were most certainly absent from both places. Compared to La vita è bella, Jacob the Liar is not a bad movie at all. Compared to the novel, it’s not that good but still decent. I’m not going to bore you again with my aversion to fake accents but, yes, it’s another really bad case of fake Jewish accents. Still, as I’m fond of the story of the novel, I managed to enjoy the movie.

Jakob Heym is arrested by the Gestapo on his way home one evening. It looks as if he was out after curfew. They call him into their offices and while they decide what’s going to happen to him, he gets a chance to listen to the radio in which the advance of the Russian troops is mentioned. With some imagination one could interpret this as if the war was going to end soon.

After being released Jakob tentatively tells the one or the other person what he has heard. Soon there is a rumor in the ghetto. They say that Jakob Heym managed to hide a radio and has heard that the Russians are on their way.

Radios are forbidden in the ghetto. To have one and be caught with it would mean certain death. Jakob realizes that his lie is extremely dangerous and since he is at the same time hiding an orphaned girl, he is worried and wants the others to believe that he doesn’t have a radio after all. Unfortunately nobody wants to hear the truth. The people need to believe this lie, they need to be updated with fake news. It’s the only way to prevent that more and more people commit suicide, to help them to keep going, to keep their hope alive.

I liked this story ever since I’ve read the book. It’s touching and profound and manages to say a lot about truth and hope and the power of storytelling. The movie may not be a masterpiece but it’s very watchable.  Jacob the Liar is one of those movies that is ideal if you want to introduce children to the Holocaust. Even though it shows the horror of life in the ghetto, it’s not too gruesome and the humorous parts and the ending carry a message of hope.

13 Holocaust Movies You Should See

I recently saw a list on which there were 100 Holocaust movies you need to watch. The number seemed slightly excessive. Maybe they counted each and every WWII movie in which there were Jewish people. No idea. I wouldn’t call a movie a Holocaust movie unless it focusses on Jewish life during WWII, either in ghettos, concentration camps or, like in Defiance as a Resistance group or on the run. Everything else is just a WWII movie.  I just watched Jakob the Liar which I will review soon and that gave me the idea to make a list of the 13 Holocaust movies I consider to be the best. My favourite of the movies below is The Round Up – La Rafle. If you think I missed one that is extremely good and should be added, let me know.

Holocaust (1978, TV mini-series US) The story of a Jewish family and their struggle to survive in Nazi Germany.

Sophie’s Choice (1982, UK/US) The horrible story of a Polish mother who has to make a terrible choice that will scar her for life.

Triumph of the Spirit (1989, US) The true story of box champion Salamo Arouch who survives Auschwitz. See my review

Schindler’s List (1993, US) The true story of the courageous man Schindler who saved a great number of Jews.

La vita è bella – Life is Beautiful (1997, Italy) An family of Italian Jews is deported to a concentration camp where the father pretends it’s all a game. See my review

Jakob the Liar (1999, US) Jakob Heym pretends to have a radio in the ghetto and makes up stories about the war going to end very soon. See my review

Anne Frank – The Whole Story (2001, TV mini-series US/ Czech Republic) The whole story of Anne Frank including her stay at the concentration camp.

The Grey Zone (2001, US) Story of Jews who work in the crematoria of Auschwitz.

The Pianist (2002, FR/PL/GE/UK) The true story of a Polish pianist who hid in the Warsaw ghetto.  See my review

Ghetto (2006, Germany/Lithuania) A sadistic Nazi commander rules over a ghetto in Lithuania.

Die Fälscher – The Counterfeiters (2007, AU/GE) True story of a famous Jewish counterfeiter who gets caught by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp where he should help forge foreign currency. See my review

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008, UK/US) Uncanny story of a boy who befriends a Jewish boy in a concentration camp not knowing that his father is in charge of that camp or what the camp is. See my review

The Round Up – La Rafle (2010, FR/GE/HU) In the night of July 16 1942, 13000 Parisian Jewsare arrested and confined in the Vel d’Hiv before being sent to Drancy and later exterminated in Auschwitz. True story. See my review

Have you seen them? Did you like them?

Defiance (2008) The Bielski Partisans

After having moaned about the accent situation in Defiance (which you can read here) it’s now time to get to the review and I must say, all in all, I didn’t think the movie was all that bad. And we have to bear in mind that it’s based on a true story, the story of the Bielski partisans or Bielski brothers.

After having found that their parents had been killed by the Nazi’s who systematically exterminated Polish Jews, the four Bieski brothers flee to Belorussia and hide in the woods. The two older brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig) and Zus (Liev Schreiber) have both lost their wives and children as well. While hiding in the forest they are joined by a group of Jews and decide to stay together and try to survive in the forest. After a while, more people seek refuge in the woods and the Bielkis take them up. Tuvia in particular brings back people from every food searching expedition which creates huge tensions between the brothers. It is clear that Tuvia is the leader and this is another source of tension as their leading style is different.

After a few weeks or months the camp in the forest is almost a little village, there are now hundreds of people who need to be fed, who need shelter and protection as the Germans swarm these woods. On the other hand there is strength in the number as they have people with all sorts of professions among them. Nurses, carpenters, teachers. After a few more months the tension between the brothers escalates and Zus leaves the group and joins Russian partisans. This is initially ideal for the group as this means additional and armed protection.

The movie shows how they struggle. The winter is particularly hard for them, many fall ill. It’s incredibly difficult to find food for so many people and they are surrounded by enemies. They have to fight quite often and there are combat situations as well. There are also a few love stories that will lead to relationships that last a life time. We also see them execute different missions, like saving people from the ghetto before they are sent to the camps.

I found the movie interesting and fascinating because it is a true story. In the end the Bielski brothers saved at least 1500 people. That’s quite amazing. I’m quite fond of Daniel Craig and thought he was a good choice for Tuvia.

While I wouldn’t say this is a must-see movie, it’s not bad at all and when you are not familiar with the story, it’s quite interesting. In any case what these brothers achieved is amazing.

Here is a photo of the real partisans

If you want to read about them here are a few articles The Bielski Partisans and Tuvia Bielski and a wikipedia article Bielski partisans.