Destination Unknown

 

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A heartfelt and heartrending documentary featuring survivors of the Holocaust.

 
Destination Unknown

  

Over sixty years on the short film Night and Fog made by the late Alain Resnais still remains cinema's most haunting comment on the Nazi concentration camps. However, that is no reason not to welcome other films on the subject and all the more so at a time when David Irving is not the only person who takes the preposterous view that the Holocaust never happened. Destination Unknown, the latest film of this kind, is the work of Claire Ferguson as director and editor and she has assembled testimony from twelve Jewish survivors (eight man and four women) who speak of their experiences in that distant time that has marked their lives forever. Their comments in interview footage or in scenes that show them returning to the old sites are intercut with past images in black and white.

 

All of this is done sincerely and competently even if there is no artistic imagination at work to come close to that of Resnais. But what counts here is not the quality of the filmmaking as such but the simple power of what these survivors have to say: nothing forced, nothing dramatised, but so direct and unmediated that the film is an absolute refutation of the claims of Holocaust deniers. Most of the speakers whose lives would be changed for ever were actual camp inmates and, although the familiar names of Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Treblinka come up, the Polish emphasis in this film leads to special stress being placed on the forced labour camp at Plaszów. Here the commandant was the appalling Amon Göth who trained his dogs to kill but it was also at Plaszów that Oskar Schindler, whose story was told on film by Steven Spielberg, played a positive role.

 

If the wartime experiences told here are of a familiar kind, they are no less important for that, but Destination Unknown in its later scenes covers elements not so often touched on. The stories that emerge here do so in what is more or less chronological order so the last section is concerned with the experiences of survivors in the post-war period. A memorable but little-known Dutch film of 1973, Louis van Gasteren's Now Do You Get It Why I'm Crying?, dealt directly with continuing trauma and the survivorship guilt felt by some. With its twelve contributors, Destination Unknown takes a wider look at these issues touching not only on tragedy and pain but also on reunions and on the fact that many of these intended victims are now parents and, indeed, grandparents. There is, too, an unexpected but haunting tale from a survivor who joined the Polish army and found himself influencing the outcome to discourage a Russian soldier from his plan to shoot a German prisoner. The sense of humanity in this one particular tale is also characteristic of the film as a whole.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Stanley Glogover, Helen Sternlicht, Roman Ferber, Eli Zborowski, Frank Blaichman, Mietek Pemper, Ed Mosberg, Cesnia Mosberg, Marsha Kreuzman, Victor Lewis, Regina Lewis, Eddie Weinstein.

 

Dir Claire Ferguson, Pro Llion Roberts, Screenplay Jonathan Key, Ph Aled Davies-Jones, Malcolm Owen, Rhys William, Llion Roberts and others, Ed Claire Ferguson, Music Andrew Skeet.

 

Dartmouth Films/Churban Pictures/Gigatel-Dartmouth Films.
81 mins. UK/USA. 2016. Rel: 16 June 2017. Cert. 12A.