Review: ‘The Commandant’s Shadow,’ starring Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Maya Lasker-Wallfisch, Kai Höss and Hans Jurgen Höss

May 24, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Maya Lasker-Wallfisch, Kai Höss and Hans Jurgen Höss in “The Commandant’s Shadow” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Commandant’s Shadow” (2024)

Directed by Daniela Völker

Some language in German and Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Europe and in the United States, the documentary film “The Commandant’s Shadow” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few Asians and biracial people) in a movie about two families whose ancestors were on opposite sides of the Holocaust.

Culture Clash: One family consists of descendants of notorious Nazi leader Rudolf Höss (commandant of the Auschwitz death camp), while the other family consists of descendants of Auschwitz survivors.

Culture Audience: “The Commandant’s Shadow” will appeal primarily to people interested in very unusual documentary about the Holocaust and its aftermath.

Maya Lasker-Wallfish, Kai Höss and Hans Jurgen Höss in “The Commandant’s Shadow” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Heartbreaking and inspirational, “The Commandant’s Shadow” documentary shows how two families, whose ancestors were on opposite sides of the Holocaust, confront and try to heal from these painful legacies. In many ways, “The Commandant’s Shadow” could be considered the real-life sequel of the Oscar-winning 2023 drama “The Zone of Interest,” which presented a disturbing view of the Holocaust from the perspective of Auschwitz death camp commandant Rudolf Höss as a Nazi family man. When he was transferred from Germany to Auschwitz, Poland, he was tasked with overseeing what would end up being the death camp that murdered the most Jewish people (an estimated 1.1 million) during the Holocaust. The Auschwitz death camp was located a fence away from the Höss household.

Directed by Daniela Völker, “The Commandant’s Shadow” gives an unflinching and fascinating look at some of Rudolf Höss’ descendants and some of the Jewish people directly affected by the Auschwitz death camp. The documentary also shows what happens when these descendants meet in person for the first time. “The Commandant’s Shadow” focuses on four of these descendants, whose in-person meeting is shown near the end of the documentary.

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (who turned 98 years old when this documentary was filmed) is a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned at Auschwitz from December 1943 to October 1944, when the Auschwitz death camp was liberated by British military forces. Originally from Germany, she was a cellist who taken by Nazis to Auschwitz, and she was chosen to be in the Auschwitz death camp orchestra. Anita (whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust) says in the documentary that her musical skills are the main reason why she was kept alive. After she was rescued from Auschwitz, she relocated to England, where she and her husband raised their family in the London area.

Dr. Maya Lasker-Wallfisch is Anita’s psychotherapist daughter, who has written memoirs about being a second-generation child of a Holocaust survivor. It was Maya’s idea to initiate contact with surviving members of Rudolf Höss’ family. During the filming of the documentary in 2020, Maya moved from her birth country of England to Germany, even though she didn’t know how to speak German at the time. Currently living in the German capital city of Berlin, Maya says in the documentary that she was compelled to move to Germany because she felt she would have been born in Germany if her family’s life had not been disrupted by the Holocaust.

Hans Jurgen Höss is Rudolf Höss’ youngest child, who currently lives in Poland. In the documentary, he says that in his childhood, before he knew the terrible truth of what his father did, he thought of his father as a prison boss. Hans describes having an idyllic childhood where he could see the Auschwitz death camp from his home, but he claims that he never saw or smelled any of the smoke from the Auschwitz death camp’s ovens and gas chambers where Jewish people were murdered.

Kai Höss, who lives in Germany, is the Christian pastor son of Hans Jurgen Höss. Kai and Maya were the first two members of these families to meet each other and were instrumental in getting their widowed parents to meet each other. Kai is more vocal than Hans in condemning the atrocities committed by Rudolf Höss. Kai believes his father Hans has blocked out a lot of childhood memories that would be too painful to remember. For example, Kai finds it unlikely that Hans never saw smoke or smelled the odor from the burning bodies of Jewish people because the Auschwitz death camp was so near to the Höss household.

A great deal of the documentary includes discussions of how each person has processed what the Holocaust did to their families. Anita admits that she wasn’t an affectionate or attentive parent when Maya was a child because of the lingering trauma of the Holocaust and because Anita was often too busy working as a professional cellist. Anita says that the Holocaust was something that people didn’t really ask her about, and she didn’t talk to her family members about her Holocaust experience until about 50 years after it happened.

Anita comments in the documentary: “I’m the wrong mother for my daughter. I’m very basic. Trauma? Forget it. Get on with life.” Still, when asked about antisemitism, Anita says that it will never really go away and that it’s absolutely possible for the Holocaust to happen again.

Maya says that she and her mother Anita have opposite personalities, especially when it comes to dealing with past trauma and showing emotions. Maya states about her unhappy childhood: “Nobody in those days understood the impact of the Holocaust on the second generation.” In the documentary, Maya gets choked up with tears when she looks at childhood photos of herself and remembers how sad she was as a child but didn’t understand why until she learned more about her family’s Holocaust history.

Hans claims not to remember much (or he doesn’t want to say on camera) about how his father Rudolph Höss’ shameful legacy affected him. In the documentary, Hans says he never knew that his father had a memoir book. This book was written when Rudolph Höss was in prison for his Nazi war crimes. The title of that book won’t be mentioned in this review, but the documentary shows Hans reading the book for the first time. (Excerpts from the book are read as voiceover narration by actor Klemens Koehring.)

Hans says about the book: “I wish I’d never read it. It’s horrendous.” Even after getting more details about the genocide committed by Rudolph Höss, his son Hans remains conflicted. Hans condemns the actions of his father but says that he will always remember his father as being a good parent. Later in the documentary, Hans is seen visiting the grave of his mother Hedwig, who is mentioned a few times. Hans remembers her as a loving parent too.

Kai never knew his grandfather Rudolph Höss (who was executed by hanging in 1947), so it’s easier for Kai than Hans to give criticism about the horrible things that Rudolph Höss did. Kai has an interracial marriage and interracial kids, and he welcomes all races to his congregation. He seems to actually live the opposite of the hate-filled ideology of the Nazis.

Kai talks a lot about tolerance and forgiveness in the documentary, although he understands how many people could never forgive those who were direct causes of the Holocaust. Kai, who has read Rudolph Höss’ memoir, says that his impression of Rudolph from the memoir is Rudolph was someone who was “a clinical observer” to the Nazis’ murderous hate and had a “coldness to his soul.”

One of the more memorable parts of the documentary is when Hans has a reunion with his beloved older sister Püppi, whom he hadn’t seen in about 45 years. The reunion took place at the home of Püppi, who lives in the East Coat of the United States. In the documentary, she is the Höss family member who is the most in denial about the horrors caused by Rudolph Höss and other Nazis during the Holocaust. Püppi says that Rudolph Höss was a “good person” who “got into a situation he couldn’t get out of,” and she doesn’t really want to acknowledge the murders that her father oversaw. Püppi is an example of someone who downplays the horrors of the Holocaust and the role that her father had in this atrocious genocide.

“The Commandant’s Shadow” includes archival photos of the Höss household in Auschwitz that were recreated in the production design for “The Zone of Interest.” There is also some archival footage of Rudolph Höss during the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch shares poignant memories of her family, including her sisters Marianna and Renata, their attorney father and their violinist mother. Anita says that her father stubbornly refused to move from Germany, even after indications that the Nazis were persecuting Jewish people.

Fortunately, “The Commandant’s Shadow” doesn’t make the mistake of overstuffing the documentary with the usual talking-head commentators for history-based documentaries (such as academics or politicians) and keeps the story very intimate by centering it on these two families. The musical score by Gabriel Chwojnik and the film editing by Claire Guillon are also effective in conveying the moods for the documentary. By the time Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Maya Lasker-Wallfisch, Kai Höss and Hans Jurgen Höss are shown together in a group meeting, it’s a “full circle” moment that proves that although families can be affected by traumatic damage, the damage doesn’t have to exist in constant hate and can leave room for much-needed healing.

Warner Bros. Pictures and Fathom Events will release “The Commandant’s Shadow” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on May 29 and May 30, 2024, and June 7 to June 13, 2024. HBO and Max will premiere the movie on July 18, 2024.

Review: ‘Three Minutes—A Lengthening,’ starring Glenn Kurtz and Maurice Chandler

August 31, 2022

by Carla Hay

Residents of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938 in “Three Minutes — A Lengthening” (Photo courtesy of Family Affair Films/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Super LTD)

“Three Minutes — A Lengthening”

Directed by Bianca Stigter

Some language in Polish with subtitles

Culture Representation: In the documentary film “Three Minutes—A Lengthening,” an all-white group of people (some who are American, some who are European) talk about a 1938 three-minute film of residents of Nasielsk, Poland, a city that was devastated by the Holocaust and other Nazi oppression.

Culture Clash: Most of the city’s Jewish residents were either murdered or displaced because of the Holocaust.

Culture Audience: “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in personal and intimate stories about the Holocaust and Polish history.

Residents of Nasielsk, Poland in 1938 in “Three Minutes — A Lengthening” (Photo courtesy of Family Affair Films/U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum/Super LTD)

The documentary “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” has a three-minute, amateur silent film as its centerpiece, but this non-fiction movie is an effective story of the long-lasting and devastating effects of the Holocaust. The three-minute film was taken in 1938, and it shows less than two dozen residents of Nasielsk, Poland, which had a population of about 7,000 people at the time. Of those 7,000 residents, about 3,000 were Jewish people. By the end of World War II in 1945, most of the Jewish people of Nasielsk would be murdered or displaced because of the Holocaust.

Directed by Bianca Stigter and narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” begins by showing the three-minute film, which is a montage of people gathered outside. Most of the people in the three-minute film are aware of the camera and seem to be fascinated by it, since hand-held film cameras were considered a new invention at the time. It’s a “slice of life” film that shows everyday people going about their lives and reacting to being filmed. It’s even more poignant knowing that the people in the movie had no idea about the death and destruction that would come with the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939.

The person who recorded the film was David Kurtz, a Polish native (born in 1988) who immigrated to the United States, where he lived in Brooklyn, New York. At the time, Kurtz was on a European vacation with his wife and three friends named Mr. and Mrs Louis Melina and S.E. Diamond, who Louis Melina’s older sister. Poland was an unexpected detour on this trip. Kurtz took his film camera with him, not knowing at the time that these would be the last photographic images of many of the Nasielsk residents before the Holocaust.

Decades later, David’s grandson Glenn Kurtz found the footage and donated it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Glenn is the main commentator of “Three Minutes—A Lengthening,” who tells his stories about his quest to find anyone from the film who was still alive or anyone who had more information about the people in the three-minute film. “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” also includes commentary from Maurice Chandler, who was in the three-minute film when he was a 13-year-old boy.

Everyone commenting in “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” is heard only in voiceover. Other interviewees include Andrzej Lubieniecki (who lived from 1919 to 2017), a former resident of Nasielsk; Evelyn Chandler Rosen (Maurice Chandler’s daughter); Marcy Rosen (Maurice Chandler’s granddaughter); author Zdzisław Suwiński; and author Katarzyna Kacprzak. Marcy Rosen was the one who contacted Glenn Kurtz to inform him that her grandfather Maurice was in the three-minute film.

“Three Minutes—A Lengthening” starts off with lighthearted stories that give an analysis of what people were wearing and how it signified which type of Jewish clique they were in at the time. For example, boys who wore newsboy caps were supposed to be in a different clique than boys who wore black hats with short brims. But the stories gets darker and brutal when it’s described what eventually happened when Adolf Hitler’s Nazis invaded Nasielsk. These are Holocaust stories that have been told before, but they are no less impactful in a 72-minute movie like “Three Minutes—A Lengthening.”

Super LTD released “Three Minutes—A Lengthening” in select U.S. cinemas on August 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Dara of Jasenovac,’ starring Biljana Čekić

February 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Biljana Čekić in “Dara of Jasenovac” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

“Dara of Jasenovac”

Directed by Predrag Antonijević

Serbian and Croatian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place Croatia during World War II, the dramatic film “Dara of Jasenovac” features an all-white cast of characters portraying concentration camp prisoners and their oppressors.

Culture Clash: Ethnic Serbs, Jews and Roma people were imprisoned, tortured and killed by Croatians who were sympathetic to Nazi beliefs.

Culture Audience: “Dara of Jasenovac” will appeal primarily to people interested in a dramatic portrayal about the dark side of Croatian history, and viewers should expect to see many depressing and violent scenes.

Marko Pipić, Anja Stanić and Igor Djordjević in “Dara of Jasenovac” (Photo courtesy of 101 Studios)

Just say the words “concentration camp movie,” and you can figure out what’s in the film, so sensitive viewers should be warned. The dramatic film “Dara of Jasenovac” is well-acted and thoughtfully constructed, but the movie’s disturbing onslaught of violence (including heartbreaking depictions of children being murdered) will make this film very difficult to watch for many people. The movie has fictional characters but is inspired by real-life experiences of ethnic Serbs, Jews and Roma people who were imprisoned in Croatian concentration camps built by Croatia’s then-fascist Ustase government during the 1940s/World War II era. The most notorious Croatian concentration camp was called Jasenovac.

Directed by Predrag Antonijević and written by Natasa Drakulić, “Dara of Jasenovac” tells the story of a 10-year-old Serbian girl named Dara Ilić (played by Biljana Čekić) and her family’s tortuous saga of being separated and imprisoned in concentration camps in Croatia. Her father Mile Ilić (played by Zlatan Vidović) has been sent to the Donja Gradina Concentration Camp. A few kilometers away at Jasenovac are the rest of his immediate family: Dara, who is very introverted; her 12-year-old brother Jovo (played by Marko Pipić); her 1-year-old brother Budo, nicknamed Bude (played by triplets Luka, Jakov and Simon Saranović); and their mother Nada (played by Anja Stanić Ilić), who faces constant threats to have any or all of her children taken away from her.

Most of the movie depicts the violence, starvation and other traumas that this family and other people experience in the concentration camps. Although the movie has Dara’s name in the title, the story is often seen from the perspective of the adult prisoners. Dara endures immense tragedies, but she’s probably one of the most stoic characters you’ll ever see in a concentration camp movie, because she rarely cries or screams in terror, even when certain people she’s close to are murdered in front of her.

The torturers and murderers in this story are men and women who share in the Nazi belief of exterminating those who are not Christian or those who are considered ethnically “inferior.” Their leader in this story is Vjekoslav “Maks” Luburić (played by Marko Janketić), who is feared the most by the prisoners. His underlings, who are also very cruel and sadistic, include his second-in-command Ljabo Miloš (played by Bogdan Bogdanović) and Maks’ sister Nada Sakić (played by Alisa Radaković). And the movie doesn’t gloss over factual history that some nuns and other members of the clergy were complicit in helping people who operated concentration camps.

Mile befriends another prisoner named Jaša (played by Bojan ZiroviIlić), whose wife, four sons and one daughter were all murdered when they stayed behind in Sarajevo. As prisoners on work duty, Mile and Jaša are often tasked with dumping bodies of concentration camp victims in ditches or throwing murdered corpses into a river. It results in some harrowing scenes that further intensify the atrocities of what people witnessed in real life.

Meanwhile, Mile’s wife Nada has no idea where he is and asks another Jasenovac prisoner named Anđelko (played by Marko Pavlovski) if he’s seen her husband. Anđelko tells her that Mile is probably at Grandina, where many of the men have been sent to separate them from their families. Nada and her children soon find out that trying to reunite with Mile has to wait when they’re all just trying to survive and not be separated themselves. There are several times in the story when all five of the Ilić family members face the possibility of being torn apart from each other for various reasons.

At Jasenovac, there are three female prisoners who make a big difference in helping Dara and her family overcome some obstacles. One of them is compassionate Vera Stanić (played by Sandra Ljubojević), who steps up in a pivotal moment and pretends to be Mile’s sister, so that the Ilić family won’t be separated. There’s also feisty Mileva Kovar (played by Nikolina Friganović), who is severely beaten for stealing corn for her children. And a kind Jewish woman named Blankica (played by Jelena Grujićić) is especially fond of Dara and gives her helpful tips on survival.

The many gruesome murder scenes in the film include a vile game of musical chairs that the soldiers force the male prisoners to play. The odd man out gets his throat slit and stabbed. And sometimes a prisoner will have his throat cut for random reasons. The scene ends with the soldiers beating the prisoners to death.

This movie is relentless in showing people getting shot, beaten, stabbed and murdered in other horrific ways. And there’s no sugarcoating of the violence that happens to the children. There’s even a scene of kids who are locked in a room while a soldier throws a grenade inside to kill them. This is a movie that shows the worst of humanity, made all the more horrifying because it re-enacts what happened in real life.

Every time a significant character dies in the movie, “Dara of Jasanovec” has a technique of depicting how that person has passed into the afterlife, by showing the character walking through a snowstorm and stepping into a gloomy train car. As the story goes on, the train car gets filled up with more and more people, while more snow starts to fall. The snow is a metaphor for the worsening storm of this sickening Holocaust.

“Dara of Jasenovac” gets all of the production elements right in accurately portraying the hell of concentration camps. The actors all give convincing performances. However, the character of Dara is a bit of an enigma throughout the entire story. Viewers do not get any sense of what her hopes and dreams were before this terrible tragedy. She’s brave but very quiet, and she often barely reacts when a lot of terrible things are happening around her. But it’s also a realistic portrayal of how someone can be when they’re in shock.

It isn’t until the last third of the film, when Dara is faced with being permanently separated from her younger brother Budo, that Dara shows a fiery will to fight for her family. However, viewers should not expect to see a cliché ending where the people who survive live happily ever after. “Dara of Jasenovac” is a haunting and impactful story of how the evils of concentration camps have left permanent damage to countless families and are a shameful part of human history.

101 Studios released “Dara of Jasenovac” in select U.S. cinemas on February 5, 2021. The movie was released in Serbia in 2020.

Review: ‘The Windermere Children,’ starring Thomas Kretschmann, Romola Garai, Tim McInnerny, Iain Glen, Tomasz Studzinski and Kacper Swietek

April 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

“The Windermere Children,” pictured from left to right: Anna Maciejewska, Tomasz Studzinski, Lukasz Zieba, Kuba Sprenger, Marek Wrobelewski, Jakub Jankiewicz, Pascal Fischer and Kacper Swietek (Photo courtesy of PBS)

“The Windermere Children”

Directed by Michael Samuels 

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1945, shortly near the end of World War II, the drama “The Windermere Children” is based on a true story of how a group of Jewish orphans who survived the Holocaust are brought to a group home in England to start new lives.

Culture Clash: The orphans experience difficult recoveries from their trauma, as well as anti-Semitism from some of the local residents.

Culture Audience: “The Windermere Children” will appeal mostly to people who are interested in stories about orphans or Holocaust survivors.

Thomas Kretschmann (standing) in “The Windermere Children” (Photo courtesy of PBS)

Most stories about Holocaust survivors tend to be about what their lives are like years after World War II ended. But the dramatic film “The Windermere Children” (which is inspired by true events) tells the story of what happened in August 1945, shortly near the official end of World War II, when a group of about 300 Jewish orphans were brought from continental Europe (many were from Poland) to an estate in England as refugees. Because almost all of the children did not have relatives to claim them, the orphans had to start new lives in England.

Almost all of the children survived concentration camps and are going through severe trauma. They arrive by bus to Calgarth Estate, which is located by Lake Windermere. The estate has been turned into a group home for the children, whose transition and rehabilitation will be aided by a group of counselors and volunteers. Leading this group is German psychologist Oscar Friedmann (played by Thomas Kretschmann), whose specialty is child psychology.

Other people who are part of the team are athletic coach Jock Lawrence (played by Ian Glen); art therapist Marie Paneth (Romola Garai); philanthropist Leonard Montefiore (Tim McInnerny); and married couple Georg Lauer (played by Philipp Christopher) and Edith Lauer (Anna Schumacher). Friedmann used to run an institution for troubled boys in Germany, but nothing quite prepares him for what he will experience with these orphans.

“The Windemere Children” (Michael Samuels and written by Simon Block) shows the somewhat chaotic and anxiety-filled arrival of the children by bus (one boy vomits on Mr. Montefiore as soon as he’s greeted by Montefiore), but then the teenagers who will be the main orphan characters in the story start to come into focus. (The ones who get the most screen time and backstories are the boys.)

Arek Hershlikovicz (played by Tomasz Studzinski) is a lanky, pimple-faced rebel. He shows an early romantic interest in Sala (played by Anna Maciejewska), who becomes his girlfriend. Icek “Ike” Alterman (played by Kuba Sprenger) is a bit of a charming flirt, and he finds out soon upon arriving that he’s attracted to an English girl. Schmuel “Sam” Laskier (played by Marek Wrobelewski) is a sorrowful loner. Ben Helfgott (played by Pascal Fischer) is a superb athlete, who quickly becomes a favorite of Coach Lawrence.

Chaim Olmer (played by Kacper Swietek) had assumed the identity of a boy named Ephraim Minsburg in order to survive, and the alias has stuck, but Chaim now wants to be known by his real name so that his sister can find him. Salek Falinower (played by Jakub Jankiewicz) is another loner, and he’s more likely than Sam to separate himself from the rest of the group. (He has to be gently coaxed by Friedmann to get out of the bus.) Salek is convinced that he will be reunited with his missing brother Chiel someday, even though everyone keeps telling him that there’s almost no chance that Chiel has survived.

Because most of the children have been through the trauma of concentration camps, their healing and rehabilitation are emotionally tough on them. The younger children who lived out on the streets are inseparable. During a walk in the woods, they are terrified by the presence of a small dog being walked by a local woman. The children run off and hide and have to be searched for by a counselor.

Another scene in the movie shows how something as simple as putting bread on the tables in the dining hall can spark a feeding frenzy, as the children grab the bread and run to their rooms to either eat the bread quickly or hide it from others. Eventually, the children learn that food at the orphanage is plentiful and they don’t have to act like paranoid scavengers and hoarders in order to get a meal.

Medical exams are also filled with anxiety and sometimes bad news. Many of the children are malnourished and recovering from physical abuse, such as beatings, whippings and burns. It’s not uncommon for them to have missing or decaying teeth. And the children also have to be de-loused. The clothes they arrived in are also burned, which is symbolic of them leaving their previous lives behind.

It’s while the children are being de-loused outdoors that they have an unpleasant encounter with some of the local residents. A group of boys who are in the same age group watch from afar and try to taunt them. Arek sees that the local boys’ reactions are out of fear and ignorance, so he approaches them, covered in de-lousing powder and extends his hand as if to give a handshake. One of the taunting boys tentatively takes Arek’s hand, but instead of shaking the hand, Arek pulls the terrified boy into the de-lousing shed. The other local boys run off and leave their bicycles behind, which some of the orphans gleefully steal.

Stealing becomes a habit for some of the orphans, and they are lectured not to do it by their elders at the orphanage. Meanwhile, the orphans are taught English and are encouraged by Ms. Paneth to paint their inner thoughts, without instruction rules or judgment on technique. It’s welcome therapy for many of the children, but one disturbing portrait by a child brings the art teacher to tears. And, as the movie shows, the children have constant nightmares and can be heard screaming and sobbing throughout the night.

During a trip to a local ice-cream parlor, the kids experience more anti-Semitism when the same group of boys who previously tried to taunt them show up at near the shop and give a Nazi salute, Friedmann than shames the boys by telling them that these children’s families were slaughtered. The boys sheepishly walk away, but the Jewish orphans see that anti-Semitism is everywhere, even in a country that fought against the Nazis in World War II.

Meanwhile, Coach Lawrence, a Scotsman who oversees the boys’ soccer playing, tries to toughen them up by telling them that people in the “real world” won’t care about them being Jewish refugees and they can’t use it as an excuse to get special treatment. Privately, Lawrence tells Friedmann that it might be time to start placing the kids into foster homes, in order to improve the strained relations between the locals and the refugees. Some of the locals are very open about their resentment that the estate land and taxpayer money are helping fund the refugees at the group home.

The most devastating part of the movie is when the Red Cross arrives to bring news about the orphans’ families. Most of the children had been holding out glimmers of hope that someone in their family would still be alive. But the news is as bad as expected. Arek is so emotionally wounded to find out that his entire family has been murdered the he verbally lashes out at Donna, and it puts an enormous strain on their relationship. There is a bright spot toward the end of the movie, which won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s enough to say that this happy moment is a testament to the power of hope.

The epilogue of the film takes a similar approach to what “Schindler’s List” did at the end: It shows some of the real-life  survivors returning to the place depicted in the movie, along with flashbacks to the actors who portrayed them in the movie. The real-life Windermere children who give comments at the end of the film are Arek Hersh (who changed his last name from Hershlikovicz), Chaim “Harry” Olmer, Ben Helfgott and Schmuel “Sam” Laskier and Icek “Ike” Alterman.

“The Windermere Children” is an emotionally powerful film (although by no means as harrowing and masterfully made as “Schindler’s List”) that tells an important part of the Holocaust refugee story. The film’s cast members give solid performances, but the movie is heavily slanted toward the male perspective of these children’s experiences, while the female perspective isn’t given as much importance. There’s a one-hour documentary called “The Windermere Children: In Their Own Words,” which is worth watching for a more balanced gender representation and for more testimonials from the survivors. The documentary is a great complement to this dramatic film’s version of their story.

PBS had the U.S. TV premiere of “The Windermere Children” on April 5, 2020. BBC Two had movie’s U.K. TV premiere on January 27, 2020.

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