The Arty Semite

‘Rescuers’ Doc Ponders ‘Mystery of Goodness’

By Ed Rampell

  • Print
  • Share Share

Film still courtesy of Menemsha Films

The alternately heartwarming and heart wrenching documentary “The Rescuers,” about heroic non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust, focuses on the role diplomats did — and can — play in saving victims of genocide. The film, screening October 27 at the Museum of Tolerance in New York and October 30 at Yeshiva University, is reminiscent of made-for-TV films such as “Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story” (1985) and “Varian’s War” (2001). But “The Rescuers” differs from its predecessors in its comprehensive look at how a few civil servants thwarted genocide and became righteous saviors of the innocent.

The documentary is also different from other films in that it ties Holocaust history to contemporary genocides. Co-host Stephanie Nyombayire, much of whose family was murdered during the Rwandan genocide, is joined by Sir Martin Gilbert, in many ways her polar opposite. Yet the Jewish, white haired author of 80 books shares something with his African counterpart: During the Battle of Britain he was among the children evacuated to Canada, and he went on to write definitive histories of the Final Solution.

The 90-minute documentary’s globetrotting breadth took Emmy award-winning director Michael King and his crew to far flung locations over the course of three years, including the Greek island of Rhodes, England, Hungary, France, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Israel and Rwanda.

King follows Nyombayire and Gilbert as they talk to survivors, their descendants, and embassy and museum officials who reveal the hidden history of bold diplomats and the people they saved. Among the most inspiring vignettes is an interview with the son of Selahattin Ulkumen, the Muslim Turkish consul to Rhodes during Germany’s occupation of Greece, who provided documents that saved many Jews.

Another diplomat, Hiram Bingham IV, who was U.S. vice consul in Marseilles and who gave Jewish refugees in Vichy France visas to enter neutral Spain, was motivated by the same Christian zeal that had sent his ancestor to join the first missionaries in Hawaii. Bingham IV was aided by Varian Fry of the Emergency Rescue Committee, and among the thousands of people they helped save were artists and intellectuals including Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler, André Breton, Victor Serge, André Masson, Lion Feuchtwanger, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ophuls and Hannah Arendt.

The Swiss and Swedes may be known for their neutrality, but two brave diplomats from these countries did take sides. Switzerland’s vice consul in Budapest, Carl Lutz, rescued tens of thousands of Jews with protective papers. The Swedish government’s first secretary in Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg, took part in a rare joint diplomatic action to save 120,000 Jews from Hungary’s homegrown fascist party, the Arrow Cross. Budapest’s Catholic Bishop, Angelo Rotta, coordinated with other European diplomats to provide protective documents for a complete neighborhood in Hungary’s capital, safeguarding 25,000 Jews.

At times the film’s gallivanting co-hosts are overwhelmed by what they see. Despite the superhuman efforts of Lutz, Wallenberg and Rotta, not every Jew in Budapest was saved. Gilbert breaks down after viewing “Shoes on the Danube Bank,” cast iron statues of footwear commemorating the Jews ordered to undress on the river’s promenade before being shot by Arrow Cross militiamen. Similarly, during a sequence shot in Rwanda, Nyombayire weeps while pondering the fate of her Tutsi family in 1994, while the world stood by and watched.

Many of these tales have remained untold because, as King said, “there was no cachet in saving Jews.” Indeed, many of those diplomats who aided the persecuted suffered for their acts. Japanese Imperial Consul to Lithuania Chiune Sugihara — who provided transit visas via Japan for thousands of Polish Jews — ended his days as a porter in postwar Japan.

As “The Rescuers” looks at what caused an intrepid handful to save many from the Third Reich’s clutches, it plumbs the mystery of human goodness. Why did most diplomats who had the power to help turn a blind eye, while a selfless few acted against their personal interests to be saviors? Nyombayire said during an October 18 post-screening Q&A in Los Angeles: “From Tunisia to Occupy Wall Street, it takes one person to make a difference. How do you put individual interests in line with common interests?”

Watch the trailer for ‘The Rescuers’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Rescuers, Stephanie Nyombayire, Michael King, Martin Gilbert, Film, Ed Rampell, Documentaries

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.