Into the Arms of Strangers
Don’t expect any ”Schindler’s List”-type uplift from this Oscar-winning WWII documentary about thousands of European Jewish children who escaped concentration-camp fates when their parents put them on trains to British foster homes. For all the lives that were saved, there are no real happy endings here. Indeed, as a number of now-elderly survivors relate their stories of loneliness and loss while living as strangers in a strange land, one is repeatedly struck by the realization that the very fact that they were spared has caused them a profound mixture of guilt and sorrow. It’s sad enough to hear their recollections of families being pulled apart on cold, crowded train platforms (”I ceased to be a child when I boarded the train in Prague,” one woman says). But when several of these people revisit the moment they knew they’d never see their parents again, the effect is absolutely heartbreaking. For one survivor, the news came when the letters from her mother and father were returned to her unopened and stamped ”deported to Auschwitz.”
Director Mark Jonathan Harris, who also won an Academy Award for his 1997 Holocaust documentary ”The Long Way Home,” augments his oral history with evocative moving images of prewar Nazi Germany, rare footage of der kinder on their trans-European odyssey, and photographs of their lives in Great Britain. But all he really needs are his dozen or so ”talking heads” and their haunting memories. Hardly healed by passing time, they provide an uncommonly intimate perspective on the horror of the Holocaust.