Will Higgins’ Indianapolis Star article citing an archival gift to our National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. touched me deeply. The gift was given four years ago, and it is forever immortalized, “Lest we forget”.
The artifact is a ten sentence note written in July 11, 1944 in Czechoslovakian. Vilma Grunwald smuggled her note via a sympathetic German guard to her husband, Kurt Grunwald, a Holocaust camp doctor and a survivor.
The giver is her son, Misa, now 85 and called Frank. His mother’s words: “…. in isolation we are waiting for darkness…into eternity.” calmly sends facts and love before she dies in an Auschwitz gas chamber.
The film “1945” sends us more general information in the Holocaust’s immediate aftermath. Unlike Vilma’s dramatic yet composed note, there is a keen tension in Director Ferenc Torok’s art piece. The 45 year-old Hungarian film maker has rendered his film in black and white and to great effect. Hungarian villagers show every gradation of gray in their reactions to the return of two Holocaust refugees: fearful, suspicious, remorseful, guilty, contrite, cunning, every possible emotional nuance is covered.
This is one film where a second viewing is warranted to fully appreciate the effects that an inhumane event has on humanity. The sound effects alone are arresting. The lone-train-whistle reminds us of the western, “High Noon”. The incessant buzzing of flies bodes evil and its aftermath. The clock’s tick, the horse’s clomp, the cock’s crow, the yammering in the pub, and the bottle and mirror shards crashing to the floor, equate to an earthquake ready to rent all asunder.
Visually, “1945” begins with dark plumes of train exhaust and hands working. There is to be a wedding in the afternoon. The groom’s father cuts himself shaving with a straight-edged razor. He has not been straight in his dealings with the drugstore he has given to his son to run. We learn that he and the town, in general, have benefitted materially from the Jewish Orthodox being rounded up and taken to the concentration camps. A farmer rolls a cigarette, a stationmaster looks down the track and at his watch, a son wakes his mother up on his wedding day; and, the normalcy turns strange.
The mother, Anna, is using a handkerchief soaked in laudanum to get through the day. Much is filmed through curtains of gauze. There are secrets. Her husband is rough with her. He yanks back the bedclothes and yells: “ I said get dressed,” Anna does not like the bride, her future daughter-in-law, and we graphically see why. Our bride has another lover, and she loves the prospect of owning the drug store over all.
We are in Hungary with Russian soldiers patrolling opportunistically. One soldier tries to take the cap of the younger Jewish refugee. No one wishes chaos from the Russians. Our father of the groom plies them with bottles of champagne, just in case. But, the wedding won’t go on for other reasons.
Like a favorite German film of mine, “Labyrinth of Lies”, ( reviewed Nov. 14, 2015) , Torok’s film deals with returning. Here, in “1945”, instead of Nazis being reincorporated into civilian society, we have a father and a son coming home to bury the relics of their dead family.
The two figures in black walking toward the village start rumors flying. We hear, “ God bless. May I see your papers.” Even the village priest fears losing what has been accrued. “What do they want, revenge?” some fear. They will bring trouble” is bandied about. The two figures are wisely stoic. They seem to belong to another realm.
Woman, too, panic at maybe losing what they have acquired. One scene has a housewife hiding rugs and small conveniences of domestic life under a tarp covered car. Greed is rampant, but a few have signed false accusations. And one, who has tried the confessional and has been dismissed, hangs himself when alcohol will not assuage his conscience.
The village turmoil has Anna calling her husband a worm and her son leaving alone for the city, Budapest. The almost-bride sets the store afire. The two figures bury their own artifacts in the local cemetery and walk down the road they entered. A storm approaches, but it is the smoke from the building conflagration that darkens the sky and reminds us of the crematorium ashes of others. “1945” is a dark, painful, and haunting film, worthy of its accolades.