| Secret Lives: Hidden Children and
Their Rescuers During World War II
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I had dealings with
Aviva Slesin, the filmmaker of this movie, when she was researching her Oscar-winning
documentary on the Algonquin Round Table and I was then in the employ of the
Department of Special Collections at Boston University (now known as the Howard
Gotlieb Archival Research Center).
I have heard some very erudite individuals make disparaging comments
about what they view as the cottage industry of Holocaust-themed films that
have been made in the last decade or so, and I remained appalled at their
comments. Some may feel that the topic has been covered completely in films
ranging from Claude Lanzmann's monumental SHOAH to Steven Spielberg's
adaptation of SCHINDLER'S LIST. Yet we live in a world where anti-Semitism
persists (and in some countries like France appears to be on the rise). We have
neo-Nazis here in the USA and Holocaust deniers writing books and declaiming
that the deaths of millions has been exaggerated. Many survivors of the Holocaust
are elderly and with each passing year, fewer and fewer are able to offer testimony
to the atrocities and horrors they witnessed. And clearly there are still stories
to uncover and bring to light.
Academy Award winning filmmaker Aviva Slesin (THE TEN YEAR LUNCH:
THE WIT AND WISDOM OF THE ALGONQUIN ROUND TABLE) has tackled a little
known subject in her documentary SECRET LIVES: HIDDEN CHILDREN AND
THEIR RESCUERS DURING WWII (which later aired on Cinemax's "Real Life"
after playing the festival circuit and in selected cities). Prior to the outbreak
of World War II, there were some 1.5 million children dwelling in Europe. By
1945, fewer than one in 10 were still alive. Some of those who did survive the
Nazi's extermination policy did so were sent to other countries (as documented
in the award-wining INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS: STORIES FROM THE
KINDERTRANSPORT) while others were sheltered by non-Jewish families. It
is the latter that are the subject of Slesin's affecting film.
Although Slesin herself was a "hidden child" (she was smuggled out of
Lithuania in a suitcase at the age of nine months), she does not use her life as
a centerpiece for the film. Instead, Slesin includes interviews with children and
those who protected them. But the director does not sugarcoat the facts: she
makes clear that some children were mistreated and that there were rescuers
who were motivated by profit. There were also many who chose to protect the
endangered children for purely humanitarian reasons. Most of those included in
the interviews in the film treated the Jewish children as their own.
It was only after the war that the pain and suffering for both rescuers and
the children began. Those youngsters who had family members who survived the
Holocaust were wrenched from loving homes and returned to virtual strangers.
Others were removed because of a movement to aid the children in reclaiming
their Jewish identity. The after effects remained part of the lives of both rescuers
and the children.
Using a mix of both archival footage and interviews (including some
reunions), Slesin has crafted a moving and powerful document. Just as Roman
Polanski mined his own childhood experiences in the superb THE PIANIST,
Slesin used her background as a hidden child to illuminate this little known
facet of the Holocaust.
Running time: 75 minutes
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.