One of these was a movie called TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE. The movie was written and directed by Zbynek Brynych who was a Jew of Czech extraction. The film takes place in the concentration camp called Theresienstadt. Brynych was actually a survivor of that camp, having emerged from it as a teenager at the end of the war as the Soviet Red Army rolled across eastern Europe liberating the extermination facilities and opening the concentration camps. Oh–and also killing the fuck out of German Nazis and as many of their filthy collaborators as they could find and execute.
Brynych lived it. He was there. I got to talk to him a bit both before and after watching the movie. One thing that I recall is that a lot of people ended up leaving the film (we watched it in a small college auditorium). It disturbed me to no end that the group of Jewish students who took up the row behind me all left halfway through the movie. Why? To tell you the truth, I think they just got bored.
It’s not exactly what you might think of when you compare it to US movies about the Holocaust. The movie is very low-key. Almost silent at times. There is brutality, but not the bestial, bloody type of thing you see when you watch movies about those crimes that were produced here in this country. After the war was over Brynych chose to remain a Czech citizen and became a movie director, lensing several projects about the subject of the Holocaust.
The nice bit about the movie presentation was that Brynych made himself available to answer any question concerning the movie. I remember that he said that he chose to cast the Nazis with Jewish actors and those of the inmates with gentiles. He also talked about how Stephen Spielberg had lifted specific images and scenes from his movie and reshot them for use in SCHINDLER’S LIST. Brynych had a fatalist’s view of that. You could tell that it upset him to a certain extent, but with a shrug he passed it off. What was he gonna do about it? Nothin’, that’s what.
He told me that Spielberg had called him once to say that he’d seen and enjoyed TRANSPORT, but had said nothing about the sequences he’d borrowed for LIST. And that was all that he mentioned about that particular subject, which had been brought up when another student had asked him if he’d seen Spielberg’s movie.
Anyway, the two are very different films. Of them, I prefer TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE for a number of reasons. One reason is that Brynych of course lived it, emerging from that concentration camp as a teenager. One chilling thing he told me about his experiences watching the rise of the Nazi juggernaut was that as he saw it all unfold, he found the power of the Nazi imagery to be “beautiful”. That’s the word he used to describe it. (He spoke English fluently and knew exactly what he was saying.)
Also, he told me of one his friends at the camp–a teenager like himself. The kid had been placed in the camp because his father was an SS officer, and his mother was a Jew, (which halachically made the kid a Jew). As an officer in the fanatical SS, his dad had given up his wife and son because they were Jews and he had continued his work as an SS officer.
Brynych said that–in the last weeks before the Red Army liberated them–the kid had gotten his hands on a pistol, somehow. The kid told Brynych of his plan to sneak out of the camp (there were still guards there at that point) and to find his father who was quartered nearby and kill him with the gun. Apparently the kid did get out of the camp, but returned later, dejected, having crept back in. The teen had tried to find his father, but in the chaos created by the advancing Soviet troops, the SS-man was nowhere to be found.
This opened up a whole notebook full of questions I wanted to ask Brynych, but I never got the chance as he had to leave for other meetings.
I still have those questions, but Brynych is no longer among the living, and I am left with the mysteries of them.
|Carefully framed shot from Brynych’s TRANSPORT FROM PARADISE.|