Betrayed – The guilt of doing nothing

In some ways Betrayed, from director Erik Svensson is like many other films about the Holocaust. It tells the story of the deportation of Jews from Norway in 1942. (Actually, we start three years earlier, in more normal times.) But this film doesn?t quite follow the pattern of other Holocaust films, which gives it a very different feeling.

The film focuses on the Braude family, especially Charles Braude, a boxer who lives with his parents, sister and two brothers. Charles is in love with, and eventually marries a Gentile, and they begin their life together. But the German occupation soon brings disruptions. Soon the men are all sent to a workcamp, where they face abuse at the hands of Norwegian Nazi sympathizers.

Meanwhile authorities are cataloguing the belonging of Jewish households. When the time comes, state police sweep through the town arresting all the Jewish women and children to be taken to the port to be shipped off. We learn at the end of the film that the Germans deported or imprisoned over 700 Jews from Norway. Only twenty-eight survived. When we thing of the Holocaust, we often think of the millions, but that may make us miss the more human side of a small community completely destroyed.

Where this film veers away from most Holocaust films is that we are used to such films being about heroics. Either the oppressed fighting back, or the heroics of neighbors who saved Jews from the sure death. It is precisely the lack of such heroics that gives Betrayed its power. Instead we see the people around them acquiesce?and even cheerfully so?to the orders that come down. We know that the German occupying power is behind all this, but it is Norwegians who are actually doing the terrible things.

The film tells us that in 2012 the government of Norway issued an apology. That apology stated that although the Germans did the killing, it was the Norwegian people who arrested and drove people to the docks. That was an acknowledgement that as a nation, they participated in the evil of the Holocaust. Does the power of the German occupiers mitigate that guilt? To some extent, but certainly not entirely.

Films that show heroes in the midst of the Holocaust may serve as examples for us to imitate in the facing of evil (and there are surely evils that we need to face in our own society).  But this film that shows the failure to act heroically is just as powerful by holding up a mirror to the may times we have failed to act?to allow the evil around us to flourish by our inaction, and sometimes even by our active participation because we?re just going along with the power.

Betrayed is in select theaters and available of VOD.

Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

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