THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"KINDERBLOCK 66: RETURN TO BUCHENWALD"
If there's one thing history has taught us time and again, it's that little miracles can often somehow be found amidst great tragedy. Each and every one of us knows about the Holocaust and the horrible atrocities committed by the Nazis. And yet, there are stories that came out of the Holocaust that are inspiring, as Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List so magnificently demonstrated. Another remarkable true story is told in the documentary Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald, and it involves nearly 1,000 boys being saved from a concentration camp.
The film, narrated by Liev Schreiber, focuses on four now-grown men, each of whom was taken to Buchenwald as a boy. Separated from their families, Alex Moskovic, Israel-Laszlo Lazar, Pavel Kohn, and Naftali-Duro Furst all thought they were going to die. We hear their stories in heartbreaking detail: the terror, the worry, the uncertainty of being shipped off to a place of certain doom. There was, however, a Communist-led underground at the camp, and its members made the decision to try to save the children. Their plan was to ship all the boys to a new children's block, Block 66, which was isolated from most everything else at the camp. The Nazi SS guards stayed away from the area because of its deplorable conditions, so it made things somewhat easier to hide the children. (Disease was still a major problem, though.) One of the underground's members, Antonin Kalina, led the block, and repeatedly put his own life in danger to ensure their safety and ultimate liberation. Sixty-five years later, the four subjects of Kinderblock 66 return to Buchenwald to reflect on their experience.
There have been dozens of Holocaust documentaries, many quite compelling, a few extraordinary. Kinderblock 66 is not the very best of them – it could have been even more intensely up-close-and-personal with the men upon their return to Buchenwald – but it is nonetheless a compelling, emotional film. Director Rob Cohen is smart to just let the men talk, to tell their stories as though we were sitting in a room with them. Each of these gentlemen is exquisitely eloquent; they relate their experiences in heartrending detail. There's no need to gussy things up with fancy editing or self-conscious camera movements, so Cohen wisely doesn't try. The movie also does an outstanding job of detailing how Kinderblock 66 came to be and how it managed to protect the boys. For example, at one point, Kalina had them all change their names so he could insist to the SS that they were not Jewish. There is some gripping footage of the late Kalina woven throughout. He apparently only ever gave one interview about his actions, and seems curiously nonchalant about having saved nearly 1,000 children. Then again, it's probably that very same humility that made him risk death to keep others alive in the first place.
Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald offers a piece of history I didn't know about, but which I'm so glad to understand now. As the four men revisit the camp, we realize how miraculous it is that they survived such an unthinkable ordeal. The children who were liberated from Buchenwald went on to get married, have children, and truly, genuinely embrace life. They should be an inspiration to us all.
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Note: Kinderblock 66 is part of the Diginext independent film series. It will open on April 12 for a one-week run at Digiplex Destinations theaters nationwide. A live Q&A is also planned for select screenings. For more information, please visit the Diginext website.
Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald is unrated, but contains some graphic Holocaust images. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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