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Unlikely Heroes [DVD]

Robert Clary , Ben Kingsley , Richard Trank    Suitable for 15 years and over   DVD

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Netherlands released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Mono ), Dutch ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: Interactive Menu, SYNOPSIS: Directed by Richard Trank and narrated by Ben Kingsley, Unlikely Heroes revolves around the largely untold tales of Jewish heroism during the Nazi regime. The film is supplemented with touching personal artifacts and rare footage from the Holocaust era, most of which was found in an extensive search throughout various European archives. Though much of the credit for the decline of Adolph Hitler rightfully falls on the shoulders of the worldwide military effort to defeat him, Unlikely Heroes offers members of the Jewish resistance a chance to discuss their personal contributions to ending -- and occasionally merely surviving -- one of the most violent periods in history. ...Unlikely Heroes

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They made a difference 21 Nov 2006
By Anyechka - Published on
This documentary opens with a passage commenting on how so many people ask why European Jewry let itself be led like sheep to the slaughter, and how people who make such comments clearly weren't there and didn't experience things like being packed together in cattlewagons, starved and tortured for months on end before being deported, reduced to animals, and losing one's entire family and circle of friends. Those people also weren't there to see the quiet dignity and class, the people who gave up a precious bread ration so that a beloved grandmother or little sister might live another day, the people who risked their lives to create schools, the people who kept alive culture in the ghettos through orchestras, theatres, and literary magazines, or the people who had lost everything and yet risked their lives to save others even knowing the huge odds against them. This documentary doesn't bring us the stories of Righteous Gentiles; it brings us the stories of Jews themselves, people who did the impossible with little or no regard for their own lives and safety, because it meant saving the lives of others.

The first story is about Viennese lawyer Dr. Willy Perl, who saw the writing on the wall long before the Nazis invaded Austria. Dr. Perl arranged for countless people to sail to Palestine and bypass the British blockade, taking them away from a place that didn't want them to a place that did want them. He was so successful and persuasive that he even managed to get Nazi permission (over the head of Adolf Eichmann) to allow his operations to continue after they invaded, although given how many people didn't or couldn't see the writing on the wall, not everyone he wanted to help was willing. Ironically, many parents weren't happy with the idea of their children going on this long dangerous voyage to a strange new land because they thought they might die there, whereas in Austria they would be assured of life. He saved 40,000 people in this way.

The second story is about French entertainer Robert Clary (né Robert Max Widerman), perhaps best known for his role on 'Hogan's Heroes.' (His father-in-law was also the legendary entertainer Eddie Cantor.) After deportation from the French camp Drancy, together with his parents, brother-in-law, and some of his siblings (he was the youngest of 14 children), he managed to survive when his singing skills came to the attention of the Jewish girlfriend of the camp commandant. Singing was his lifeline in the camps, and he often had to sing for the S.S. and to take part in concerts put on by other fellow inmates, even knowing that singing and performing used up a lot of vital calories and physical energy that most other prisoners would have preferred to have stored up. He also sang for his fellow inmates when he didn't have to, knowing that this was raising their spirits and keeping their hope up.

The third story is about Recha Sternbuch, the daughter of the chief rabbi of Antwerp and, before the war, a traditional unassuming wife and mother. By the time of the war, she was living in St. Gallen, Switzerland. Over and over again, she helped people across the border and into neutral Switzerland, putting them up in her own house and taking care of them as though they were her own children. Once she even had to violate the Sabbath several times over (and on her only son's bar mitzvah no less) to save the lives of three people who had been taken to a camp in Vichy France; she felt that this were the best bar mitzvah present she could give her son, the lives of these three people and teaching him that saving a life takes precedence over all else. Sometimes she even travelled alone to Germany to plead for people who had been arrested or detained, and every time managed to bring them back safely to Switzerland.

The fourth story is about German/Czech artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, who was an artist of quite some renown and an early proponent of using art therapy with troubled youth. In Theresienstadt, she was an art teacher to the children, even though all teaching had to be done secretly. She managed to give these children hope that there might be a tomorrow, and that life should still go on, with happy cheerful paintings and drawings. Sadly, she perished in the gas chambers on 9 October 1944, along with many of her students.

The fifth story is about Lithuanian partisan Leon Kahn (né Leibl Kaganovich), who lost nearly his entire family to the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators. Although his parents, sister, and grandmother managed to escape an Einsatzgruppen massacre of the ghetto in Eishystok (he and his brother Ben had already suspected a trap and hidden in an old Catholic cemetery) and to flee to Radom, Poland, where they had relatives who took them in, their luck was short-lived. Not long afterward, they had to go to another ghetto. Leon's mother elected to stay behind with her mother, but Leon, his father, and his two siblings escaped again and joined a community in the woods. After losing his father and siblings at the hands of Polish partisans who were as anti-Semitic as they were anti-Nazi, he kept the promise he'd made to his dying father by avenging all of their murders. Leon joined a group of partisans who blew up bridges, cut down utility poles, and derailed trains, as well as killing Nazis and their Lithuanian, Polish, and Belarussian collaborators.

The sixth story is about Hanka Wajcblum (now Anna Heilman) from Poland, who with her sister Estusia (Ester) and their friends Ala Gertner, Róza Robota, and Regina Safirsztajn took part in the heroic Sonderkommando revolt at Auschwitz in early October of 1944. For over a year they built up a supply of gunpowder to be smuggled to the Sonderkommandos, gunpowder that was used to blow up Crematorium IV and to make grenades to use against the SS when they tried to put down the uprising. The gunpowder was eventually traced back to their factory, and all of the women working there were tortured. Eventually Ala, Róza, Regina, and Estusia were betrayed, but Hanka's friend Marta Bindiger protected her, and she managed to escape the sad fate of the other conspirators, one of perhaps 8 conspirators who survived.

The seventh and final story is about Pinchas Rosenbaum, the son of the rabbi of Kisvárda, Hungary. His parents, like many older Hungarians, thought nothing would happen to them after the Nazis invaded, but Pinchas knew better, and escaped to Budapest. He was a master of disguise, extremely convincing as SS officers, high-ranking members of the Arrow Cross, and even government official István Lukasz. During the final year of the war, he literally saved thousands of people, constantly risking death to confront the Nazis and to bring these people back to a huge ever-expanding safe house.

The documentary ends with a section on what happened to these people after the war (and in the case of Friedl, the recognition and acclaim her artwork and her teachings about the healing benefits art therapy holds for troubled children continue to enjoy). Most of them refused the label hero, and felt they were just doing what they had to do, not wanting any awards, official recognition, or special treatment. Some of them even feel ashamed or embarrassed to be reminded of what they did, since they don't consider themselves heroes or extraordinary people. They went back to living normal lives after the war.

This documentary is a powerful look into how ordinary people can become extraordinary people, and stands out as proof positive that most people decidedly did not go like sheep to the slaughter. There were more ways of resistance besides just shooting a gun and taking active part in something like the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or the revolts at Treblinka and Sobibór.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to save money! 7 Jun 2008
By S. H. Margolies - Published on
This documentary is superb, but why not buy this as part of the "Simon Wiesenthal Center Collection"? You will also get seven other similar worthwhile titled DVDs for less money than buying this title alone! If you are interested in the Holocaust, the other titles are also very interesting!
5.0 out of 5 stars Individuals who made a difference during the Holocaust 4 Nov 2009
By Z Hayes - Published on
The Holocaust is a subject that is close to my heart, having taught it as part of the history curriculum in high school years ago. I am always on the look-out for documentaries dealing with the subject and was pleased to come across this title recently. Unfortunately, it is no longer in production and one has to purchase it through third party sellers. That aside, "Unlikely Heroes" is an amazing documentary that focuses on ordinary people with extraordinary courage - those who stood up to the Nazis and defied them. Unlike most stories that focus on Righteous Gentiles, this documentary features Jewish heroes who did all they could, putting themselves at great risk, in order that they may save lives.

The first hero featured is Dr. Willy Perl, who had the foresight to realize the evils of the Nazi regime. Before Hitler's march into Austria, Dr. Perl worked together with the Greek underground to smuggle mostly Jewish youth into Palestine, evading the British naval patrols. What is even more amazing is that Perl continued his efforts after the Nazis had occupied Austria, obtaining Nazi permission to do so (as fantastic as that sounds, initially the Nazis did allow Jewish migration out of Europe). Unfortunately, many of the Jews themselves were not convinced that leaving for Palestine was a good idea and chose to remain behind, dooming themselves in the process. Perl did however rescue about 40,000 Jews this way.

The next to be featured is Robert Clary, who is most known for appearing in the cult tv show, "Hogan's Heroes". Clary ( original name Robert Widerman) had a harrowing experience after being deported from the French transit camp, Drancy with the rest of his family. His only means of survival proved to be his talents as a singer, compelled to put on shows for the SS, together with other inmates. One of the most poignant part of this retelling by Clary is when he recalls a letter his mother asked him to write to his brother Jacques whilst mother and son were travelling in the cattle train to the concentration camp. In the letter (which miraculously makes its way to Jacques), Clary's mother reminds Jacques to pick up the laundry, a mundane chore which Clary later reflects "Would she have asked Jacques to do that if she knew her destination was the gas chamber?" Entertaining in the camps proved not only a means to survive, but more importantly kept Clary's spirits up, as it did the other inmates. Clary would eventually survive the notorious death marches.

Clary's account is followed by Recha Sternbuch's story who helped numerous numbers of people into neutral Switzerland from her home in St. Gallen, Switzerland. She made these Jewish refugees feel safe and comfortable in her own home, providing them a safe haven before seeing them cross into Switzerland on their way to Latin America and other places. This ordinary woman who was a wife and mother and daughter of a Rabbi, undertook many risks to save lives, showing extraordinary courage. Over and over again, she did the unimaginable, including crossing over into German-occupied territory to save Jews who had been arrested by the Gestapo and who were destined for the death camps. I found the account of how she broke the Jewish Sabbath in order to save the lives of three boys to be compelling and eye-opening, for it truly portrays the value she placed on human lives.

The next story features German-Czech artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who was incarcerated in Theresienstadt during the war. Here, she taught art to the children of the camp, though this was done in secret. She became a surrogate mother to almost 100 children. Most heartrending is the account of how she reached out to Jewish children from Germany who arrived almost in a state of catatonic shock after witnessing the deaths of their parents at the hands of the Nazis. Through this art 'therapy' many of these children were given a sense of hope and continuity, but sadly, Ms Brandeis became another victim of the Nazis and died in the gas chamber in 1944.

Lithuanian partisan Leon Kahn is the next hero and his story is one of grit and courage. Having lost numerous members of his own family during the Holocaust, Leon joins a partisan group and carries out acts of sabotage against the enemy, blowing up bridges, and killing Nazis as well as Nazi collaborators.

The next story features one that is quite familiar to me (through books and also movie dramatization) and it is of the Sonderkommando revolt in Auschwitz in Oct 1944. The story centers on Hanka Wajcblum (Anna Heilman) who together with other friends helped to smuggle gunpowder to a Sonderkommando unit in Auschwitz that was used to blow up one of the crematoriums. Though many of the women were tortured, Hanka evaded capture and survived to tell her story.

The last story is about Pinchas Rosenbaum, from Hungary. Extremely courageous, Pinchas donned different guises, even as high-ranking Nazis and Arrow Cross members to help fellow Jews escape the Nazi death net.

At the end of the documentary, viewers are told what happened to these heroes, and it is interesting to note that these amazing individuals do not consider themselves as heroes, but as decent human beings acting according to the dictates of their conscience. It is a stark reminder to all of us that individual acts of courage are significant, and it is our responsibility to speak out against injustice and atrocities.
5.0 out of 5 stars History at its finest. 12 Sep 2009
By James A. Ruffner - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
A history of some of the brave people during world war II. They risked and sacrificed their lives to help others, when it might have been easier to run.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I Have Come to Save Your Children" 12 April 2007
By MacGuffin - Published on
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I caught this a year or two ago on one of the Encore channels during Passover week and in fact looked for it last week in the hope that it might possibly be an annual Pesach presentation. Alas, such was not the case, so I went digging for a copy of my own. I didn't remember the title and spent many an hour (during which I should have been studying and working) trying to track it down. I finally remembered that Robert Clary's was one of the stories included and thus was able to discover its title through IMDb (DUH!). Fortunately, I was able to find a copy here on Amazon.
This documentary cites examples of heroism and daring that are so extraordinary, one might think they're fabricated. Contrary to the general consensus that Jews were led like lambs to their slaughter, you'll learn that many fought back, and that their efforts saved thousands of others, including Christians whose lives were in danger for the crime of helping Jews. It's an unbearably moving account.
Given that I'm reviewing the DVD release, I'm unable to confine myself solely to the content, hence I have to cite the flaws. There's no chapter insert which is always a big minus in my book. Of course, this could be due to the fact that--despite assertions on the back of the keep case to the contrary--there are no chapters, which is a major pain if one wishes to view a particular hero's story. I suppose things could be least fast-forward and reverse work. Subtitles and captioning are also missing. These omissions cost the release a star.
Unlikely Heroes was produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and is beautifully narrated by Sir Ben Kingsley (who, unfortunately, is unable to master the Yiddish/(Ashkenazi) Hebrew "ch"). Slight demerits aside, this should be seen by everyone laying claim to humanity. It's important to learn and remember that in the face of collective insanity and certain death, men and women are capable of almost superhuman courage. I dare anyone to watch this without being changed by it.
I observed that about half of the heroes whose stories are told during the course of this film died relatively young. If I were a theist, I'd posit the explanation that God finally found Heaven unbearable without their presence and, missing them, called them home.
Am Yisrael chai.
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