All that you have is your soul (Tracy Chapman).
Monday, 23 July 2007
Five years ago, I was privileged to participate in my first ever family reunion. It featured my maternal grandfather's family and was held in the country that two of my grandparents hailed from, namely Holland.
As part of the visit, we were taken on a guided tour of Elburg, from whence my ancestors originally came and we also strolled around Amsterdam, where we were given a history of the the Jews in Holland and I was shocked to discover that the Netherlands ranks as having one of the highest numbers of Jewish deportations.
In Amsterdam, we visited the chilling site (a theatre) where the Jews were gathered together and sent off to their deaths. On a memorial wall therein, I saw the engraved names of numerous family members, along with a record of where they ended up - Auschwitz.
When you consider that, as of 1940, there were 140,00 Jews in Holland, which made up 1.6% of the general population (including 34,000 refugees from the Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Moravia), you realise that we are not exactly talking about an insignificant number of people.
Fast forward, five years, and one finds there were only 30,000 left. Doing the maths, it means that 110,000 were murdered.
How could it be that a country as liberal and historically benevolent towards its Jewish inhabitants, features so significantly (statistically-wise) in the Nazi genocidal programme?
Black Book manages to provide the answer - which I am not going to reveal here.
This is a powerful film that leaves little to the imagination. The acting is superlative throughout and it moves along as a brisk pace - which is fine if you're watching an action movie, but seems to jar at times with what I perceived to be the overall message being rendered as events unfolded.
Many of the dramatic scenes reminded me of the kind of war movies they used to make in the 1960's - think of Where Eagles Dare or The Great Escape and you will understand what I mean. That said, there are some pretty powerful moments and this film draws you immediately since you can't help but identify with the main protagonist whose experiences you follow throughout the generous running time. I certainly couldn't have imagined what was coming, when I was watching the early scenes in the Dutch household.
I think the film would have achieved more had it spent less time trying to get the adrenaline running and more effort examining the way in which ordinary folks coped under Nazi occupation.
I would certainly not advise comparing this film with something like The Pianist or Schindler's List. It is of a different breed, but still striking enough to make its mark.