Sunday, February 07, 2010

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)

UK/USA, 122 minutes, documentary
Director/writer: Mark Jonathan Harris
Photography: Don Lenzer
Narrator: Judi Dench

I generally try to give all things World War II a wide berth, in the spirit of Godwin's Law first and foremost, but also because, truth time, Tom Brokaw's tiresome "Greatest Generation" business gets on my nerves (if its advocates think it was so great back then, why are they so opposed to returning the tax structure of the time, the shared sacrifice that contributed so much to making it work? But now I'm already getting sidetracked). I do appreciate everything accomplished then, the sheer scope and scale of it all, but I've heard about it all my life. All you people born after 1960, how excited are you to hear some more about JFK and/or the freedom marches and/or the Beatles? Thought so. But just when you think there's nothing new to be said about something, along comes something like this to prove you (me) wrong and encourage you (me) to STFU. This one is actually further complicated for me by the very element that makes it work—namely, the children, the presence of which, as with adorable aminals, can so often be used for cheap manipulation. But there's little of that here, and in fact this stark, simple, straightforwardly told account of the rescue of thousands of Jewish children does indeed in the end provide new insights into the unique horrors of the time, the enormous cruelties and the tremendous courage that rose to them. In the face of Hitler's increasing oppression of the Jewish citizens of Central Europe and their subsequent forced relocations (to death camps, as we now know), foster families in the UK in the late '30s opened their homes to children for the duration of the intolerable conditions. The stories of getting these kids out of harm's way and into the UK offer nice doses of intrigue and excitement, but the core of this film is rightly its focus on the agony and the courage of the parents forced to this extremity, giving up their children to save them. Some of the stories are shocking, and all of them are wrenching.

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