73 years after Auschwitz, we learn that 7,000 Jews survived in the heart of the beast: Berlin
Every day, new information surfaces about the Holocaust. Just when we think we’ve absorbed all the painful facts and perspectives, a surprising fact emerges that demands our attention. “The Invisibles,”a German film screened in both Germany and Israel, exemplifies this past and present revelation — suitably released on January 25, two days before International Holocaust Remembrance day, January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Part documentary, part cinematic re-creation, “The Invisibles” interviews four Jews who hid from the Nazis in plain sight in Berlin, the fortress of Nazism.
According to best estimates, about 7,000 Jews slated for extermination remained in the Nazi capital.
While the numbers in no way compare with the fate of German Jews who were routinely turned in by “fellow” citizens — and transported to their deaths — the narrative documents an implausible reality: not every German was a monster, an accomplice, a pretender to ignorance of the “Final Solution.”
Director and co-screenwriter Claus Räfle tracked down and interviewed 20 Jews who managed to survive in Berlin. Only Hanni Levy, Ruth Gumpel, Cioma Schönhaus and Eugen Friede were selected to appear in the documentary.
Their accounts are similar. They hid in abandoned buildings or were protected by righteous Germans.
Cioma Schönhaus forged hundreds of passports and then used one of them for himself — to cross the border into neutral Switzerland.
Eugen Friede joined the Jewish resistance, handing out leaflets and hunting Jewish traitors and informants cooperating with the Nazis. Being a Jew in the belly of Nazism did not preclude heroism.
Director Claus Räfle’s grandfather was an enthusiastic Nazi. “He was one of those Germans who thought the Nazi movement was one of the best things to happen in Germany.” That was then. But after the war, says his grandson, “I remember when I was 13 or 14, I asked him if he was in the army. He just didn’t want to talk about it.”
Given his nationality and family’s past, Räfle hesitated before screening “The Invisibles” last April in Israel. But the Israeli reception was positive. The reaction in Germany, however, was splintered, sort of like Claus Räfle’s grandfather’s brain. While the majority of Germans deemed the documentary a success, neo-Nazis jammed social media with hate. Hanni Levy received death threats after appearing on a French TV show.
Public response to “The Invisibles” is a telling symbol of people’s overall regard for the Holocaust. The usual suspects will deny and rage and denounce and flail and slip into every imaginable euphemism. Survivors, their families and the Jewish world will suffer — then cringe or condemn or applaud or weep.
But like a tape-looped nightmare, during the Holocaust itself there was no choice — or at least so it seems until we watch a documentary in which it’s clear that some of those lucky enough to have had a choice made the right — supremely courageous — choice; often, alas, at the expense of their lives. Yes, the intrepid Jew and righteous gentile are also part of the Holocaust.
The point today, as we mark the liberation of Auschwitz 74 years ago, is that we too face choices. On which side will we land?
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News