Some may find the four elderly gentlemen at the core of this fascinating documentary poster children for Stockholm Syndrome, and yet their chilling stories show that events and choices can sometimes be so complex as to literally boggle the mind, and that one's primal instinct for survival trumps any trite considerations of which is the lesser of any number of evils. It may surprise people to find out that Hitler's wehrmacht had a fair number of men with Jewish ancestry, but the fact is there were literally thousands of so-called mischlinge (a term that prior to Hitler had been used to designate dogs of the mutt variety) filling the ranks of various German armed forces. These half-, quarter-, eighth- and so-on Jews were eagerly drafted by the Germans in their late 30s rush to rearmament. The draftees were not, understandably, quite so eager, but they literally had no choice--either they consented to service or knew they faced certain death before a firing squad or, perhaps even worse, slow death at the burgeoning concentration camps.
The interviews of these men, all in their 80s in the mid-2000s when the interviews were conducted, provide a certain amount of self-justification and rationalization with just as much cold, calculated observation about what life was really like for them. Some of them were actual poster children for the German army (until their Jewish heritage came to light); others lied about their "racial" identity; still others simply abided by a policy that would later become famous for another reason in the U.S. military: don't ask, don't tell. All of them appear surprisingly unconflicted about the choices they were forced to make, and they all steadfastly deny any role in any atrocities that were committed.
What emerges from the documentary is an intriguing sidebar to the general horrors of Hitler's reign, but also an interesting insight into how individuals in a persecuted class can join their ostensible tormentors and find a certain degree of security, even while living with the daily fear that their "true nature" would be discovered. Director Larry Price augments the core interviews with other experts on the subject, including the director of the Yad Vashem center, and author Bryan Mark Rigg, whose book of the same name "inspired" the documentary. Price wisely refrains from judging his subjects, allowing their own words and experiences to literally speak for themselves.
As we now live in our own era of "enemy combatants," even within an ostensibly more homogenous society, the choices these men were forced to make have a visceral impact as we examine the choices that people globally are being forced to make in various socio-political conflicts in the present day.
The basic interviews, all shot on video, look fine if not spectacular in this 1.33:1 release. A lot of the archival footage is badly damaged, second or third generation public domain standard issue.
Though the soundtrack is apparently stereo, there's little to no separation, which is actually fine, as virtually all of the documentary is simply either voiceover or the actual reminiscences of the interview subjects.
A brief Israeli t.v. interview with the director Price is fine, if nothing exceptional. There's also a still gallery and promos for other releases by Pathfinder.
It's easy to disparage those who, like these men, were forced into uneasy choices in order to preserve their lives. This documentary does an admirable job of showing the human toll such choices evince on an individual, and it provides ample food for thought as we all confront our own perhaps less urgent decisions made on a daily basis.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet