Based on a true story a Hungarian Jew kills an S.S. officer and takes his uniform so that he can infiltrate and save others from the Holocaust.
Let’s be honest here, as long as the writers, director, and actors don’t completely botch it (as has been the case with some Holocaust movies, I won’t deny that), the story alone you know will be compelling and unspeakably moving. As was the case of Walking with the Enemy. The movie is not without its minor flaws, especially in an exposition heavy first act, but those are easily ignored by a powerful tale of heroism and virtue.
The story follows Elek Cohen in WWII Hungary. Hungary was spared the worst of the war and the Holocaust until the last year of the war, when Eichmann himself was sent to clear the Jews out of Hungary. Elek is first sent to a work camp from which he escapes and makes his way back to Budapest where he begins to work with the Swiss consulate to give Swiss passports to Jews (which offers them protection from the Nazis)*. However it does not offer enough protection, and in stopping the rape of a Jewish woman Elek ends up killing an S.S. officer. And what first begins just as a way to break a friend out of prison, Elek soon realizes that wearing the uniform allows him to gather information and pose as an officer of the Reich who can order the release of Jews for fictional work programs. In the course of his actions he ends up saving hundreds.
You will be brought to tears over the suffering seen (it’s sad that society needs to be reminded this often of what happens when we don’t stand up to evil) and you will be brought to tears over the heroism shown by Elek and his friends.
Now just on the merits of the film I’m not going to put this movie up for best anything…nor would it be in the running for worst anything. The directing leaves some pacing issues to be desired, and the dialogue is a little unpolished in a lot of places. But who cares—for all the artistic liberties the plot takes this is the true story of a man who saved hundreds from the Holocaust. This simple fact makes it so that my suspension of disbelief was never broken enough for me to notice the flaws at any significant level.
Also there are some odd changes to the story. Our hero, Elek, is based on Pinchas Rosenbaum…I don’t see one name being more accessible than the other to an American audience, so I can’t begin to understand why this was changed. There are other changes, like the fact that Rosenbaum took the uniform of the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian fascist party) that I understand–you can’t exactly market a story about someone stealing an Arrow Cross uniform without going into a couple minute background on what the Arrow Cross was, not to mention it doesn’t come with the emotional punch that the S.S. is prepackaged with. And of course there are other changes, lots of them, which had to be made for the sake of plot and these I would also forgive because a good history isn’t necessarily a good movie. Everyone should go read about the real Pinchas Rosenbaum and what he did, and just thank this movie for introducing you to such a man, rather than getting overly nitpicky about how much it deviated from the facts. The central core of Rosenbaum’s story is still there, and that is what matters.
On a slightly deeper level this movie also has the advantage of also pointing out that the Soviets were just as evil and bloodthirsty as the Nazis, a relevant point often left out in the stories of the Eastern front. A shame we didn’t have leaders who had the spine or morals to finish the job of eradicating totalitarianism from the world (FDR, Truman I’m mean you, may you both burn in hell). The movie also early on points out that mercy and reason are not things to be given when dealing with evil…at one point during his escape from the work camp Elek has a gun trained on the S.S. overseer and they both agree to go their separate ways…until the S.S. officer, in typical fashion pulls out a gun when Elek’s back is turned. When saved by another prisoner it is pointed out to Elek, “you gave him five seconds too many.” And this is a good point, the nature of Anti-Semitism is so inherently evil and opposed to reason and truth, there can be no reasoning with Anti-Semites; there can be no truces, and no trust. Their hatred will always overpower everything else, and their evil, as P.J. O’Rourke put it, “is an outreach program.” It is something that needs to be stopped…especially when you have the top diplomats of nations continuing the usual lies about Jews to this day.
Go see this movie. Take people you know to see it. The fact that John Kerry hasn’t been forced to resign, be tarred, feathered, drawn and quartered over his apartheid remarks alone is exactly why people need a steady stream of movies like this. It is all too easy to forget what evil is capable of, and it is all too common for people with this evil to seek offices of power.
*I was a little displeased how the movie did not distinguish between the heroic efforts of the Swiss consulate in Hungary, which are worthy of admiration…and the loathsome behavior of the actual Swiss government which was a silent partner in the Holocaust. But this movie was already a little heavy with the complicated politics of Hungary that I can understand why such a point would have only slowed down the film. Just please don’t think that the Swiss government was in any way not involved in the bloodshed.
I give the film a 4.5 out of 5