Polanski’s The Pianist (2002)

Of all the Holocaust movies I have seen so far The Pianist is my favourite. It doesn’t concentrate on life in the camps but, based on a true account, it depicts the survival story of a famous Polish Jewish pianist and focuses on life in the Warsaw ghetto.

The movie begins before the Jews of Warsaw are sent to the ghetto. The situation for them gets worse daily. They are forbidden to enter certain restaurants, to sit on park benches, to keep their money or their shops. They receive far less food than the other Poles. They already struggle hard before they are all compressed into a confined area in the Warsaw ghetto. Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) who was a successful musician before the war, sees himself degraded, like so many others. Together with his parents, his brother and sisters they move from their nice roomy apartment into an old shabby one-bedroom place in the ghetto. To make a living they sell their books or smuggle stuff. They refuse to join the Polish police even though one of their friends has joined them and would help them to be accepted as well. Both brothers are of high moral integrity and nothing would make them betray their convictions.

When the day arrives and the people of the ghetto are sent to Treblinka, Wladyslaw escapes and remains on his own in the empty ghetto. If it wasn’t for the help of some courageous Poles he would be dead within a week or two. Either because they would have caught him or because he would have starved.

What follows until the end of the war is an unspeakable ordeal. He has to change his hiding place often, he watches the uprising from a window on the German side and when Warsaw is finally bombed he goes on living in the ruins until the day he is found by a German officer. This part is the best in the movie. It balances the image of the evil German. The officer Wladyslaw meets (played by Thomas Kretschmann) is not only fond of music but war-weary to the extreme. He clearly fought for a cause he didn’t believe in.

Another tragic element in this movie is how hope is crushed. When the Allies declare war on Germany, the Poles and Polish Jews are happy and think that the worst is over when in fact the worst was still to come.

I couldn’t think of a better choice for the pianist than Adrien Brody. He is excellent in this movie. If you haven’t seen The Pianist, I’d say it is high time.

Which Holocaust movies do you like?

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Uprising (2001) TV Movie on the Rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943

Uprising is a made for TV movie based on the true account of the rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. A group of young and very determined Jewish people managed to do what some of the biggest armies weren’t capable of doing, namely fighting back the Nazi’s for a few weeks. It’s not a flawless production, some of the dialogue is  a bit “What-the-Heck”, including the fact that all the actors talk with a heavy accent, but apart from that I found it very interesting. The actors are mostly good and it focuses on a few historical facts I hadn’t known too much about and that I found very interesting. I can only hope it’s accurate. At least it felt so.

The movie begins with the Germans entering Poland and Warsaw and forcing all the Jews to live in the ghetto. They endure famine, illness, daily abuse. The conditions in the ghetto are harrowing. The most controversial role is played by Donald Sutherland as Adam Czerniakow, head of the Jewish council. He thought that by collaborating with the Germans he could save the Jews from being deported. When he realized his error and the daily transports to Treblinka started, he committed suicide.

The rebellion is led by Mordeachai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria), Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer),  Kazik Rotem (Stephen Moyer) Tosia Altman (Leelee Sobieski) and Mira Fruchner (Radha Mitchell). The danger to smuggle out information from the ghetto to the Polish side and weapons back in, is shown in great detail. Those people were incredibly courageous. Still they had to fight at lot of internal opposition. The Jewish Council didn’t want to support them as nobody wanted to believe that the camps were extermination camps. When they finally coudln’t doubt this anymore and Czerniakow had committed suicide, more and more people joined them. At first they planned little terror attacks until the Nazi’s seent tanks to erase them.  The Nazi leader Stroop is played by Jon Voight, accompanied by filmmaker Dr.Hippler (Cary Elwes), who was responsible for propaganda. In Goebbel’s name he films The Eternal Jew – Der Ewige Jude, a horrible piece of shit that should help make Germans hate the Jews, as – according to Goebbels  – they were not sufficiently anti-Semitic.

The movie can’t be compared to The Pianist, that’s for sure, but it’s well worth watching and quite informative too. David Schwimmer is surprisingly good in this and so are most of the other actors. Many, I’m sure,  will be delighted to see Stephen Moyer in his pre True Blood days.

It’s often been said that it was hard to understand that the Jews didn’t fight back. This movie shows why they didn’t or couldn’t and what happened when they did and how incredibly difficult it was to organize a rebellion. Most of these young people didn’t make it but some did. Their story is a testimony of how courageous people can be.