Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

We went to see The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas tonight, which I thought was rather good. Yes, there is a degree of disbelief to suspend: the camp seems remarkably free of perimeter guards or watchtowers, for a start. A number of reviewers have commented that a child of Shmuel's age would have gone straight to the gas chambers on arrival. And if we are dealing with a full-blown extermination camp (Auschwitz is strongly implied in the book, and the scene with Bruno's father examining plans for a fourth gas chamber suggests the same in the film) what were Shmuel and Pavel doing on work duties outside? IIRC the whole point of Schindler's List was that Oskar Schindler was certifying as many Jews as possible as essential labour so they wouldn't be taken from him and put into Auschwitz, but left in Plaszow (a work camp). Auschwitz was like Hotel California: you could check in any time you want, but you could never leave.

That said, it's a work of fiction after all, and very moving. Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful was even more moving despite being even harder to believe. We were sitting in front of a couple of noisy, giggly teenage girls to begin with, who had become piles of sniffles by the middle of the film, never mind the end.

My son, who knows plenty about the Holocaust, had never before been confronted with the physicality of a gas chamber in use (so hadn't realised exactly how the gas was generated) and found it horrifying. Though he had in fact previously stood in a gas chamber in Dachau, he was a little young to take it in then. (FWIW the Dachau chamber was only used to the extent that it was tested - presumably on Jews - but was never brought into production. That renders it no less vile as a place to stand.) For my part, I was impressed by the use of the old propaganda film footage of the happy Jews playing games and eating cakes in their happy camp (and the way it was integrated with the reality toward the end).

Some reviewers, and some of the more idiotic commenters, have complained about the upper-class English accents of Bruno and his family. Consider that the film is in English, and they are portraying members of the Berlin elite. How should they be speaking? In cod-Cherman accents like ze vuns in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?

And this foolish reviewer refers to the "lachrymose score by the dread James Horner", which made me see red. Quite apart from the fact that I thought the score pretty good, and that lachrymose is maybe how you want the score of a film about mass murder and childhood innocence: what's with the "dread" James Horner? Let me guess. The reviewer didn't like the score of Titanic. But I'm prepared to wager that he couldn't name a single other film that Horner scored (not without looking them up). What is supposedly dreadful about the music for The Mask of Zorro? Or Field Of Dreams? Or Sneakers?

Very well worth seeing.

P.S. Looking James Horner up on IMDb I find he's done more good scores than even I had realised. I've watched Willow dozens of times without realising it was one of his. Or Apollo 13, or Iris.


At 04 October, 2008 01:59, Blogger Persephone said...

As a matter of fact, there was a "family camp" at Auschwitz, consisting of two transports of Czech Jews from the "model camp" of Theresienstadt. These families were kept together, not shaved, kept their civilian clothes and worked, but within their own camp. There was a school for the children and some SS officers came and played with them. After six months, the surviving members of this camp (a quarter of this camp's population still died of disease; apparently this was remarkably good by Auschwitz standards) were gassed. It remains a mystery why these prisoners received different treatment. This comes from an interview of camp survivor and resistance member Rudolf Vrba, interviewed for the landmark documentary Shoah by Claude Lanzmann. Of all the Holocaust documentaries I've seen, this one remains with me, particularly for its dispassionate testament of the sheer planning this genocide required, and how banal this planning was. I bought the text of the film for myself.

At 04 October, 2008 02:16, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks Persephone: I didn't know that (and I haven't seen Shoah)

At 04 October, 2008 08:13, Anonymous Phil said...

The death camp was Auschwitz II; the original camp was Auschwitz I, and later there was a work camp as well - Auschwitz III. Map here. I'm sure they do prettify the camps, but it doesn't sound as if they've actually made anything up. How old is your son, by the way?

At 04 October, 2008 13:24, Blogger Rob said...

Phil - the camp in the film / book is clearly a death camp. I didn't think there was much two-way traffic between the Auschwitzes (though I'd forgotten about camp III). But in a sense it doesn't matter whether it's dramatic license or not.

My son is (just) 16 and if I have my dates right was just short of 11 when we visited Dachau. He does remember: he remembers being nauseated by the pictures and description of Mengele's experiments and having to go out of that bit of the exhibition. He realised what the gas chamber was all right, but it didn't really make the emotional impact it did on his parents. Mind you, he has mild Asperger's syndrome so his responses that way aren't always quite what you'd expect.

At 06 October, 2008 17:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not seen the film, but I have read about it. The Auschwitz "death camp" was Auschwitz II, also known as Birkenau. The Commandant and his family lived in a nice house at Auschwitz I, the main camp, three kilometers from Birkenau. The Birkenau camp was huge, 425 acres in size, so it had a long perimeter fence of barbed wire. Polish civilians came up to the fence and traded goods with the prisoners inside, who had stolen diamonds and other things of value from the camp warehouses. The main activity in the Birkenau camp was called "organizing" which meant stealing and trading with the object being to always trade upward for something of greater value.

However, the son of the Commandant would never have been allowed to visit Birkenau or talk with the prisoners through the fence. He would have been a member of the Hitler Youth from the age of seven and would have been instructed in Nazi ideology.

The Jewish boy in the film would have been killed in the gas chamber upon arrival, but there are numerous survivors of the Holocaust who were children in Auschwitz and were not gassed. Each of them has a story to tell: they jumped off the truck on the way to the gas chamber or they lied about their age, etc.

Dr. Joseph Mengele did research on twins at Auschwitz. He had started this research before he went to Auschwitz and he was sent there to continue his work. He also did research on genetic conditions and diseases.

The experiments done at Dachau were done for the benefit of the German Air Force. There were also experiments done at Dachau to find a cure for malaria.

Before the Museum at Dachau was changed in 2003, there were numerous photos that were taken at Auschwitz and other places, which your son might have seen and assumed that they had been taken at Dachau.

At 28 October, 2008 19:02, Blogger Carla said...

So you're saying that in the film, Schmuel is in Auschwitz II - Birkenau? or is he in Auschwitz I?

At 30 October, 2008 21:55, Blogger Rob said...

I would take it as being Auschwitz (II) - Birkenau, as it is clear from the context that it is a death camp. In a lot of ways the camp is more like one of the smaller camps like Treblinka, but in the book Bruno (who tends to mishear adult conversations in a somewhat "cute" manner, referring to the famous senior Nazi who visits as "The Fury", for example) refers to it as "Out-wits".

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