The Arty Semite

A Holocaust Movie Without a Soul

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Walking With the Enemy” has brave Jews standing up to the Nazi death machine. It has helpless Jews loaded onto cattle cars. It has good Germans unwilling to participate in the eradication of a people. It has both Hungarian anti-Semites and Hungarian nuns who sheltered the oppressed. In short it has everything a good Holocaust film should have — except soul.

The film tries to do too much. Because it wants to be fair to everyone on both sides of every issue, it lacks the emotional connection a more focused approach might have.

It also lacks context. Hungary may not have been the place where the most Jews were murdered, but it is where they were killed with the greatest Nazi efficiency in the shortest amount of time: About 400,000 liquidated within a couple of months.

And while some of this is hinted at, it is never explained, diminishing the movie’s impact.

Hungary was an Axis ally during much of the war. This was good for Jews, because it meant Nazi troops were not stationed there and the country’s regent, Miklos Horthy (a woefully under utilized Sir Ben Kingsley), was able to protect his people from the worst of the German race laws.

While this is an over-simplification — there were numerous geopolitical forces at play here — it’s clear that when Horthy attempted to negotiate a separate peace with the Allies in 1944 the Nazis invaded Hungary and forced the Final Solution onto a sometimes all-too-willing populace. By mid-May they began the systematic deportation of Jews to their deaths.

In “Walking With the Enemy,” Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong) escapes from a labor camp, steals a Nazi uniform and mingles with SS officers to get useful information for the anti-fascist underground. He works with Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz (William Hope) — a real-life hero enshrined in the Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem — to issue letters of protection to Hungarian Jews that reportedly saved upwards of 62,000 people. He also uses his fictitious rank to waylay Jews being marched to death camps, telling their captors the Jews have been assigned to other work details.

Cohen is based on a real-life hero, Tiobor Rosenbaum, but more than his name was changed. What bothered me throughout the film was how a native Hungarian could learn German well enough to pass as a Nazi officer. In real life, of course, Rosenbaum didn’t pass as a German soldier. He wore the uniform of the Arrow Cross, an anti-Semitic political party that aided the Nazi’s extermination efforts.

It’s unclear why screenwriter Kenny Golde made the change, but it is distracting. (Interestingly, Golde is the only one of the filmmakers who does not get a bio in the press notes provided by the publicist. He’s not mentioned at all at the movie’s web site.)

Finally, this is the first directing effort for Mark Schmidt, and it shows. His storytelling is disjointed, and he has yet to learn that in filmmaking less can be more. What could have been a story of remarkable real-life heroism comes off as clumsy, and is unlikely to find fans even on the Jewish film festival circuit.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Film, Walking With the Enemy

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!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • 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.