Saviors in the Night
The New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center ends on January 28. It is very interesting that the movie which opened the festival, “Saviors in the Night,” and the one that will close it, “Within the Whirlwind,” have as a common theme the idea of people being decent in the face of huge indecencies.
I have qualms about reviewing movies that cannot currently be seen in theatres. I wind up receiving emails from readers who are, understandably, frustrated that they cannot find the films. So be warned that “Saviors in the Night” will not be released in this country until September. Prior to that it will be part of the Westchester Jewish Film Festival at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville in April and may be shown at other film festivals.
“Saviors in the Night” is based on the memoir of Marga Spiegel a German Jewish woman who, along with her daughter, was hidden from the Nazis by German farmers during WWII. Spiegel, 97, appeared and spoke after the screening. She was accompanied by the film’s director, Ludi Boeken, and Lia Hoensbroech who plays the part of one of her saviors, Anni Ashcoff.
Having heard stories, seen movies, plus a recent play (“Irena’s Vow”) about courageous non-Jewish Germans who saved Jews during WWII, I wondered if “Saviors” was going to tell me anything I did not already know…and it sure did. “Saviors” is certainly an emotional, suspenseful, harrowing and life affirming story. More important it concerns issues that I had not previously seen addressed in WWII stories. The film dispenses with the usual big WWII battle set pieces and casts of thousands choosing instead to tell a story about the relationships between people.
Boeken explained that the idea was to describe the conflicts within the German people. The German farmers, the Ashcoffs, who hid Marga and her daughter did so because they felt it was the right thing to do. At the same time the Ashcoffs were also German citizens with a son in the German army. While the Ashcoffs went against the Nazis by hiding Jews, as German citizens they also wanted the Nazis to win the war. As a result their actions and desires were conflicted. The conflicts within WWII Germany are also part of the story of Marga’s husband, Siegmund Spiegel, a German Jew who fought on the side of Germany in WWI. The film begins with him explaining how 25 years after WWI his country wanted to kill him. Siegmund cannot be hidden with his wife and daughter and has his own adventure trying to hide.
When asked how Germans felt about fellow Germans who hid Jews Boeken explained that at first they were thought to be on the wrong side but eventually were given German federal honors. Boeken added that the film is doing very well in Germany and that young Germans are proud of this part of history of saving Jews and questioning authority. Hoensbroech spoke about meeting the real Anni Aschoff, who she portrays in the movie. “Anni doesn’t talk about motivations,” Hoensbroech explained. She described Anni as very modest and quoted her as saying simply, “We did what had to be done.”
Saviors in the Night, director Ludi Boeken, 2009, Menemsha Entertainment, 95 minutes