The Holocaust remains one of the worst blights on human history. While wars have raged and millions of people have died, the genocide waged against the Jews in Europe still haunts us, rippling with hints of future violence if we fail to learn from the past. This month, two films about the Holocaust find their way to home media. One is a tale from inside of Auschwitz; the other paints a painful narrative about life for those who survived.
Son of Saul shines a light into the dark corners of Auschwitz, where a Hungarian Jew named Saul (Géza Röhrig) works as a member of the Sonderkommando, disposing of those who have died in the gas chambers. In the day and a half of his life which the audience sees, Saul discovers the body of a dead boy who could’ve been his son. Fighting for his humanity – and that of the boy’s – Saul fights to find a rabbi who can properly bury the young man.
In Remember, two Auschwitz survivors share a friendship in their old age. Max Rosenbaum (Martin Laundau) continues to remind his dementia-sickened friend, Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer), of the way they were abused by a prison commander named Otto Wallisch. Wallisch, says Rosenbaum, has migrated to North America under the pseudonym of Rudy Kurlander – of which there are four in the U.S. and Canada. Incited to revenge, Guttman buys a gun and begins sorting through his list of potential tormentors. But revenge is never easy, and Remember shows its difficulties.
While Son of Saul won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film this year, the critical response to both films has been deservedly positive. Both feature strong performances by their leads, and both have a haunting realism blended into their creative use of history. While we are honest with ourselves, we may realize that this speaks to our present day fears about the state of our world, and about what we (as humanity) are capable of. But we must face this evil and choose to fight it, or we become those passerbys of The Parable of the Good Samaritan who did nothing.
While I have always found the Holocaust fascinating – because of those who choose to fight the Nazi regime and stand for those who had no power – the chilling reminder of what happens if we do nothing now carried these films from historical entertainment to outright challenge. That always brings to mind this quote from Martin Niemoller, a contemporary of the situation observing his own fear – and the evil humanity faced:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Watch these films, and ask yourself, what should you do? What difference can you make in the face of evil?
We must do something, or be counted among the oppressors.