Unlikely Heroes (2005)

by | Aug 4, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Unlikely Heroes (2005)

Directed by: Richard Trank
Narrated by: Sir Ben Kingsley
Written by: Rabbi Marvin Hier & Richard Trank
Studio: Moriah Films/ Koch Lorber Films
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: ****

Unlikely Heroes contains seven little known riveting accounts of
heroism by Jewish women and men that took place during the slaughter of
the Jews by the Nazis. The commonly held belief that the Warsaw ghetto
uprising was the only major action of Jewish resistance is strongly
refuted by these richly detailed stories of relentless and sustained
courage.

Beautifully written, the narration of this documentary is read with
great feeling by Ben Kingsley. This excellent film is filled with
chilling footage of real events of the period as well as photographs of
the heroes in their earlier lives and their families and friends.
Interviews with relatives and friends of the heroes as well as with the
surviving heroes round out the dramatic accounts. Included is some
useful commentary by historians.

Each section opens with a map of the European country where the
subjects of the film lived. Featured are Austria, France, Switzerland,
Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslavakia, and Hungary. With the exception of
Switzerland, as each part begins, we see an account of  Hitler’s
invasion of each of the aforementioned countries.  Diverse in
their professions and socio-economic backgrounds, these men and women
shared an incredible tenacity in the face of great danger.

The “unlikely heroes” featured include the following:
A lawyer, Willy Perl, successfully smuggled over 40,000 Jews out of
Czechoslavakia, Hungary and his native Austria. Dr. Perl went from
country to country arranging transports.

Robert Clary, a successful French singer and actor, as a young teenager
sang over an extended period for his fellow inmates at Buchenwald at
great risk to himself. Though he describes the horrors he faced, his
animated personality is nonetheless vibrant and
life-affirming.           

A rabbi’s daughter living on the Swiss-German border decided to act
against her country’s neutral position of indifference. Recha Sternbuch
saved thousands, created a highly effective rescue operation, kept
hundreds in her own home, traveled alone to Austria and Germany, bought
illegal Swiss visas with her own money. She was tried in 1939 for
smuggling. She refused to be an informant. Charges were eventually
dropped.

The story of Friedl Dicker Brandeis, an accomplished artist and native
of Vienna secretly taught art to children at Terezin, the “model
ghetto” created by the Nazis for propaganda. Many of the children at
Terezin had lost their parents. Brandeis became surrogate mother to
over 100 children. One of her former students said “She made us forget
we were in Terezin.” Her beautiful paintings and much footage of the
children who were mostly killed at Terezin create a poignant and
horrible picture of the “model ghetto.”

Leo Kahn fought with the partisans in the forests of his native 
Lithuania, Poland and Russia. At 19, he witnessed the deaths of his
father and sister and lost his other family members. Eventually he
returned to his village to help bring justice to those who collaborated
to kill the Jews of his village.

Pinchas Rosenbaum, over a period of six months in 1944 risked his life
in numerous missions as part of the Hatzalah Resistance Operation. He
effectively disguised himself as a Hungarian Nazi and as a member of
the German SS. He personally saved hundreds, perhaps thousands, of
Jews. He was only 21. In later life in the U.S. Rosenbaum refused all
awards and recognition.

Anna Heilman fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with her sisters.
While in Auschwitz, they and several other women sneaked out gun powder
from the munitions factory to their barracks for three months until
there was enough for several crude bombs to be made by a resistance
group within the camp. In an interview, Heilman said they believed they
were going to die and wanted to die with meaning. Crematorium Number 4
was blown up. Anna Heilman was instrumental in saving thousands of Jews
who would have been gassed in the final months before the liberation of
the camps.

Images are sharp and vibrant, particularly the cinematography of
various European cities. The talking head sections are beautifully
presented in combination with historical still photos and artistic
backgrounds. Audio quality is excellent. The original orchestral theme
music is well suited to the film. The pace is just right and the story
well written.

An epilogue concludes the film with what happened to each hero in the
remainder of their lives. This DVD is worth viewing again and again
with its message concerning the capacity of the human spirit for
extraordinary courage in the face of unfathomable evil.

– Donna Dorsett

 

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