Secret Lives: Hidden Children & Their Rescuers During Wwii

  • 2003
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Several fine films have dealt with attempts to rescue endangered European Jewry from the oncoming Nazi Holocaust; Mark Jonathan Harris's documentary INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, about the humanitarian effort that saved thousands of European Jewish children by sending them to live with English families via the kindertransport, was even awarded the 2000 Academy...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Several fine films have dealt with attempts to rescue endangered European Jewry from the oncoming Nazi Holocaust; Mark Jonathan Harris's documentary INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, about the humanitarian effort that saved thousands of European Jewish children by sending them to live with English families via the kindertransport, was even awarded the 2000 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But surprisingly few films have dealt directly with the far more dangerous efforts by citizens of Nazi-occupied countries to save Jews by sheltering them in their own homes. The penalties for getting caught were dreadful: Those who weren't immediately shot along with their families were sent to concentration camps. Aviva Slesin's profoundly moving documentary adds much to the historical record, and can truly be called a labor of love: Smuggled out of a Lithuanian ghetto and kept for two years by a Christian couple who passed her off as their own, Slesin was herself one of the "hidden children." Motivated by gratitude and a desire to learn how others were affected by their experiences, Slesin sought out both surviving rescuers and the Jews they saved, capturing their stories in a series of interviews that can only be called inspirational. While by 1942 many Jews were still unable to foresee what was about to happen to them, others suspected the worst and made the wrenching decision to hand their children over to brave souls willing to take them in. Some children were given false Christian identities and lived as orphans in convents and orphanages; some were passed off as gentile members of their rescuer's family. Still others remained hidden away for months, even years, in closets and attics. Despite the terrifying circumstances, many of these now-grown children consider the years spent with their rescuers among the happiest of their childhoods. It was only when the war ended that the trauma really began for many children, as parents who managed to survive the camps returned as virtually unrecognizable strangers. Through her interviewers invaluable testimony, Slesin confronts a number of difficult truths about life after the Holocaust, including the enforced silence that some survivors felt surrounded their experiences, as well as the conflicted feelings that can sometimes accompany such deep gratitude. Clear-eyed and unsentimental, the film nevertheless serves as a powerful tribute to a group of heroes who gave those they saved something nearly as valuable as life: proof that the best of the human spirit can endure even through the worst of times.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Several fine films have dealt with attempts to rescue endangered European Jewry from the oncoming Nazi Holocaust; Mark Jonathan Harris's documentary INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS, about the humanitarian effort that saved thousands of European Jewish children… (more)

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