It's when people come together to rescue a trapped puppy, help those devastated by natural disasters and participate in worldwide events such as Live Aid that you can see and sense how good humanity can be. At the same time, such actions and the passage of time makes many people forget just how vicious our species has been and can be toward one another.
While we've in no way become a one hundred percent harmonious world, crime rates appear to be on their way down and large scale slaughters and denial of human rights seems to have leveled off if not declined over the past decades. To insure that continued quest toward harmony, however, it's important to recall and reexamine past atrocities so that we don't become too complacent in our faith in overall human goodness.
As long as we don't forget how bad we can be or that we can collectively defeat and overcome such atrocities, we can hopefully nip any such future occurrences in the bud before they reach the tragic levels of those in the past. That's why it's important that films such as the wonderfully inspiring and heartfelt documentary, "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport," are made and, more importantly, seen.
Although mainstream moviegoers may think that they know and have seen all there is about everything related to the Holocaust after seeing films such as "Schindler's List," "Shoah" and even "Life is Beautiful," there are various untold stories still waiting to be told, and this is one of them.
Once well known by the public at the time but now long forgotten to all but those directly affected by it, the Kindertransport was a massive relief and relocation effort to move thousands of Jewish children out of German controlled lands and into the safety of foster homes in late 1930s era England.
Written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris (who also made the Oscar winning post-Holocaust film "The Long Way Home") and produced by Deborah Oppenheimer (whose mother was one of the relocated and thus saved children), this film is a moving and affecting tribute to those involved in the monumental effort.
Featuring contemporary interviews with the grown up survivors, some biological and foster parents, and the rescue organizers, as well as archival footage, photos and some brief, recreated scenes, the film recounts the Kindertransport in chronological order. From the early footage and recounted tales that show a rarely seen happy side of life in pre-WWII Europe through the Nazi crackdown and then the aftermath of the relocation, the film is never short of gripping or emotionally engaging.
Although not as harrowing as tales of those who were sent to WWII concentration camps and either survived or perished, the film plays off the universal fear of abandonment and isolation with which every child and parent can easily identify. Yet, while that and the underlying topic of the Holocaust looms over the film and its survivors even to this day, the documentary unfolds as a story of hope, courage and the human species' ability to adapt, survive and even thrive under duress.
There's the story of Kurt Fuchel who left his parents at the age of seven (to live with foster parents Percy and Mariam Cohen) and returned to them - reluctantly and no longer a boy but a young man - at the age of sixteen, one of the few separated families that managed to be reunited. Another was that of the Segal family where ten-year-old Lore - relocated to England -- managed to get her parents a domestic service visa and thus most likely saved their lives.
Then there's Lory Cahn whose father literally pulled her off a rescue train at the last moment, ultimately leading to her later internment at various concentration camps, including Auschwitz. One of the more ironic ones concerns rescuer Norbert Wollheim who managed to save several thousand children, but lost both his wife and young child at Auschwitz.
While the individual stories are completely engaging, touching, harrowing and emotionally gripping on their own (including one about a boy and his violin), it's the way in which the storytellers - the survivors, parents (real and foster) and rescue organizers - relate their tales that has the most impact on the viewer. The passage of time certainly hasn't dimmed their memories - both good and bad - and one can easily sense that these people have traveled back in time - within their heads - as they recount their stories as if they had just occurred last week.
Like any good documentary filmmaker, Harris - along with editor Kate Amend ("The Long Way Home") - has near perfectly assembled all of those raw elements - the interviews, photos and archive footage - and gets a great deal of mileage out of them, both individually and collectively. When some description is needed - which isn't that often -- Harris calls upon the soothing yet authoritative vocal abilities of actress Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love," the latest James Bond films) who lends an even deeper level of dignity to the proceedings.
While the film ends with the somber note that more than a million Jewish children perished during the Holocaust, one is encouraged that due to the sacrifice, courage and perseverance of those involved with the Kindertransport, 10,000 children did survive. An informative, touching and moving addition to the overall Holocaust chronicle, "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport" is a must see for history buffs as well as those who want to witness just how good humankind can be in the face of adversity and horror. We give the documentary an 8 out of 10.