Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During WWII

"Good"

Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During WWII Review


For more than half a century, movies, books and the media have dealt with every imaginable aspect of World War II and the holocaust in exhaustive detail. This documentary doesn't embrace a new theme, but expands on how some Jewish children managed to survive through the protection of compassionate non-Jews. It's an extension of Into the Arms of Strangers and The Diary of Anne Frank, the latter of which has symbolized the bravery involved in the hiding of the condemned.

As one survivor in Secret Lives laconically puts it, "Anne Frank died; we didn't," indicating that the once hidden children (now in their 50s and 60s) telling their stories in these interviews differ from that young victim only in their better fortunes. The other side of the equation, the people who put their lives at risk to make the rescues possible, are given equal attention. Director Aviva Slesin, herself a hidden child who escaped Nazi brutality, brings together the families and survivors who have since reunited, sometimes after decades of no contact or communication.

Two primary questions are provoked. How does a change in one's birthright and identity during the first 2 to 5 years affect a person's adult life? And, is there any correlation between the types of people who would so place themselves and family at mortal risk to save a child? Just for the attempt to provide testimony toward an understanding of these questions, this documentary is worthwhile.

Whether the individuals who recount their experience admit to the effect it had on their lives or not, it's evident that such traumas don't get erased but continue to play a major role in determining personalities and values -- for better or worse. The idea that, once freed, they can forget the past, is discounted in one way or another by all. We learn from their accounts and manner of expression how influential first years are for all of us.

As for what distinguishes a person who acts against prevailing community attitudes and unrelieved propaganda, somehow seeing the right path as one that could mean certain death, there appears to be no consistency. The rescuing families include the rich and poor, male and female, German, Polish, Austrian. The only point of commonality is that they weren't Jewish. It appears, from their interviews, that there was never even a period of reflection over the risks or hardships -- for a variety of reasons, it was simply something they wanted to do. They were under the domination of the Third Reich but they were anything but Nazis.

Interestingly, the reunions in later years between rescuers and the children they came to think of as part of their family are awkward, tentative, joyous and revealing, provoking discussions of love, fairness and memory. The emotions these long delayed reconciliations generate are evident and sharable.

This deeply-felt labor of love, inspired by the director's own 50-year reunion with her own rescuers, gives us an opportunity to have these experiences expressed in great detail and individuality. It's a history lesson, but, even more, a study in the possibilities of human behavior in the midst of unmerciful annihilation -- suggesting new meaning to the term, "family." Its presentation in a movie theatre despite its straightforward documentary format, however, is baffling and, perhaps, ill-advised. It only forestalls its proper discovery by a wide, appreciative audience on a PBS channel.



Secret Lives: Hidden Children and Their Rescuers During WWII

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 13th January 2002

Distributed by: Cinema Guild

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Fresh: 33 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 8.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Aviva Slesin

Producer: Aviva Slesin

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