THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The legacy of the Holocaust is one of stories. The past decades have been filled
an endless procession of documentary and feature films all geared towards
permanently recording the voices of
survivors, victims, and witnesses to one of the most troubling periods in modern
history. I recently took a look at a TV movie version
of the story of Anne
Frank, a young girl caught in the path of the Nazi
killing machine. Her story is especially sad because it never
lets you forget that she had no chance to grow up and fulfill her dreams. Mark
Jonathan Harris' Oscar-winning documentary Into the Arms of
Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000) features the stories of a group
of children who were able to escape the Nazi menace. During the early years of Nazi control, Germany encouraged emmigration and many families who were unable to find a new home were able to send their children to live with British families. Great Britain was the only nation to accept these charges and by doing so saved over 10,000 lives.
Into the Arms of Strangers is an effective and moving documentary when the
grown subjects recount their experiences. They are passionate, intelligent, and
articulate and their stories are interesting and engrossing.
The only real problem with the film, and this isn't really the film's fault, is that their
stories are not nearly as dramatic as many others (like Frank's) from the same
period. When the children reach England -
about an hour into the film - their stories pretty much end. Some had trouble
adjusting to their new lives and the reading of their letters back to their trapped (and
parents is genuinely moving, but there isn't much else to the tale. Some of the older
children were placed in internment camps when war broke out but were soon
released after public outcry. The sequence recounting the fact that many of the
children's parents never made it out of Germany alive is short and not as devastating
as it could have been, probably due to
the incredible distance between the kids and their families.
These stories need to be told and kept fresh. They need to be learned from (after all,
the US refused to take part in the kindertransport,
a denial that cost many thousands - if not millions - of young lives). Into the Arms
of Strangers is a clear and concise look at this unusual arrangement that united
two very different cultures and enabled thousands of children to do something that
many of their friends never got the chance to do: Grow up.
The full-frame video looks fine. It mostly alternates talking head interviews with
archival footage. Most of the archived footage
is pretty beat up but its historical significance greatly outweighs the importance of
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is actually quite impressive. The interviews are well
mixed and clear (especially considering that many of the interviewees have thick accents)
and the archival footage has been augmented
with dense sound effects. Bombs,
gun shots, and train rumblings definitely create a dramatic atmosphere. Sometimes
it's actually a little overpowering considering the modesty of the rest of the film but it
There is a fine selection of extras. Two commentary tracks are available: One from
Director Harris, and Producer Deborah Oppenheimer, and the other from various
crew members. The first covers the making of the film as well as additional facts and
interpretations of the subject matter. Oppenheimer provides an especially intimate
voice as her own mother was a survivor of the kindertransport. It was her mother's
refusing to talk about her experiences before she died that led Oppenheimer to want
to make this film. At certain points in the commentary a button appears that allows
branching out to additional information from the filmmakers, sort of like New Line's
Infinifilm concept. One unwanted side effect of this is that you can't run commentary
and film subtitles at the same time, something that I like to do.
The disc also features additional interviews with people, including filmmaker Richard
Attenborough, whose lives were touched by the kinderstransport. Perhaps the most
interesting extra is a pair of segments
on the film's premieres in London and Berlin.
The London premiere, attended by Prince Charles, is interesting since England was
home to the attending survivors and they are clearly still affected by their
experiences. The Berlin, premiere, however, is more unusual. AOL Time Warner
chief Gerald Levin's opening comments suggest that the injustices suffered by the
families in Germany have parallels in the modern
day Middle East (it's unclear whether he's
talking about the institutionally accepted oppression of Palestinians or the violence visited on Israelis and his comments are strangely
and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder talks extensively about the need for
Germany to remember the atrocities and to control the growing neo-Nazi subculture.
Extensive photos, bios, and other content is also available, as is a trailer and a
web-link to educational supplements.
Into the Arms of Strangers is an interesting film that details one of the more
strikingly humanitarian efforts during World War II. While strictly adhering to the
most basic documentary form, the filmmakers have fashioned a film worth a look.
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer.
He lives in Brooklyn.
E-mail Gil at firstname.lastname@example.org