Review: The Living Witnesses
- This very educational documentary, directed by Karolina Markiewicz and Pascal Piron, takes a moving look at young people’s perception of the Shoah
16 October 1941. Detained in the Abbey of Cinqfontaines, the sole internment facility for Jews in Luxembourg during WWII, 323 citizens of Jewish origin are deported to Łódź in Poland. Only 12 will return. Before the Occupation, the country had about 3,500 Jews. While some fled to Portugal, two-thirds lost their lives.
Presented at the 11th Luxembourg City Film Festival, The Living Witnesses [+see also:
interview: Karolina Markiewicz and Pas…
film profile] thus takes as its starting point a specific fact (the first wave of deportation of the Jews from the Grand Duchy) but, while the film possesses certain characteristics of the historical reportage, it isn’t really one. Rather, the film aims to show a process of intergenerational reflection that can be very educational, too. The viewer witnesses the development of the political and historical awareness of the impact of the Shoah in three young people who have lived through traumas which, without being equivalent to the horrors of the Holocaust, nevertheless remain comparable.
There is Christina Khoury, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Luxembourg in 2013 and who has just been granted citizenship; Dean Schadeck, a 17-year-old high school student and LGBTQ activist who had a difficult childhood; and Chadon Tina Marie Yapo, a 20-year-old who fled the Ivory Coast in the middle of the post-election crisis. They are guided by Claude Marx, former president of the Israelite Consistory of Luxembourg. When he was eight years old, this man spent months hidden in an attic to avoid deportation. It is in fact the association he funded, MemoShoah, that suggested to directors Karolina Markiewicz and Pascal Piron this documentary project seeking to interrogate the way History is being written.
From the Auschwitz camp and the Berlin Memorial, to the Polin Museum situated on the site of the former Warsaw ghetto, this small group of “living witnesses” travel across Europe to question antisemitism and the civic responsibility of each and everyone of us. In this project, Marx is the matchmaker: during the trip, he organises encounters with survivors, to whom the students ask questions. Among the film’s powerful moments are the discussions with Marian Turski, a great Polish historian and journalist who was deported when he was 17 years old; and with Halina Szpilman-Grzecznarowski, a former prisoner of the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald camps: she was the wife of Władysław Szpilman, the composer who inspired Roman Polanski for his film The Pianist [+see also:
film profile] (2002).
The young subjects show great deference to the survivors, and Claude Marx reveals himself to be a real mentor. He is a man who attempts to explain what cannot be explained, with few words and admirable restraint: he is a great added value in the film. While the viewer finds in him an excellent teacher, it is the admirative gaze he has on his “little pupils” that is the most moving.
For example, when the group is confronted to homophobic acts in the streets of Warsaw, the reactions are strong: the students share their surprise, their dismay. Alongside distraught Polish activists, the young subjects explain wanting to play an active role in a more just and inclusive society. With his presence alone, Claude Marx embodies the link between past and present, like a watchman who tirelessly reminds us again and again that the horrors of History always end up repeating themselves…
The Living Witnesses is produced and distributed by Paul Thiltges Distributions.
(Translated from French)
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