Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Sad to say, but at times the atrocities of the twentieth century seem to recede into a bad set of memories until one forces himself to be jarred awake and reminded yet again at how near the Nazi and Stalin eras truly are to the present. My grandfathers may have recently passed away, but both fought in World War II. One fought in the Battle of the Bulge across the killing fields of Belgium, while another helped liberate concentration camps after the war's end. Both men were around, and able to tell these tales, until just a few years ago. But when we let these eras lapse into "history", as they inevitably must, they lose so much of their power to shock us into being better humans and to prevent them from happening again. That's what makes me come back over and over to World War II evil in both books and films. It's a way to reclaim my own humanity from the grotesque crimes committed only 70 years ago, and to try and make sense of how people so much like myself were able to commit and/or tolerate them happening in their midst.

"A FILM UNFINISHED" is not a particularly easy documentary film to watch, but it is a unique and extremely interesting slice of WWII history to learn from. In 1942, the Nazis were only months away from carrying out the final solution in the Warsaw ghetto, where they'd housed thousands of Polish Jews as they determined just when and where they'd kill them. The Germans staged a series of preposterous scenes of "wonderful Jewish life" in the ghetto before the cameras, juxtaposed with much more true scenes of starvation, deprivation, child death and dozens of dead bodies in the streets. The Nazi propagandists would force Jews at gunpoint to dance, to sing, to throw lavish fake parties on sets full of fine china and piles of food, all as a means to say, "Look. Look at these rich selfish Jews who don't care about the suffering in their midst". This was to be a means of showing the German people and the world that the Nazis were treating the walled-off Jews well, but that the Jews could not even treat their own people half as well.

It's pretty barbarous stuff. The Nazis never finished the film before killing virtually everyone in the ghetto. They unwittingly showed far more "real" ghetto life than they'd planned. The starving faces and bodies are heartbreaking. The pain on the faces of the children will make you pause the DVD or stream and have a cold, hard think about things. There are images of the dead pulled from the streets, and dumped naked into pits. This documentary - "A Film Unfinished" - dissects with sparing voiceover what the Nazis were trying to show, what was really happening, and what it all meant. The reels were found in East Germany almost by happenstance during the 1980s, and director Yael Hersonski does an amazing job piecing it all together, almost like a sleuth who has a devastating counter-argument to prove. She succeeds exceedingly well - not that she wouldn't, of course. The lies, egomania and contradictions at the heart of National Socialism were easily refuted even then, albeit at the cost of more than 10 million lives.