Hungary’s János Szász, whose both parents were Holocaust survivors, is the brilliant writer-director of Woyzeck (1994), which updates Büchner’s play as a twentieth-century dead-end/abstraction. The film astonishes, as does Szász’s throbbingly humane A Holocaust Szemei, which is included in the anthology Broken Silence produced by James Moll, co-founder of the Shoah Foundation.
The first “eyes” we see belong to a toy bear; the next pair, to its likely owner, a child who has rescued from the rain a tome about the Holocaust. By perusing the book, hers will become the “eyes of the Holocaust” (as she reads to herself, we hear her voiceover as well)—the next repository of the relevant history. There are also other candidates for the film’s title; there is a phenomenal montage of children highlighting their eyes. (Of the six million Holocaust victims, 1.5 million were children.) There is also a particular little boy whose pained smile cannot hold back tears. We assume he is another Holocaust victim; but a fuller revelation of context at the close shows that he is a survivor, a child toting three possible enormous burdens: memory of his death-camp experience; survival where so many others perished; loneliness, given how many of his loved ones may have perished.
Szász combines survivor interviews (the interviewer’s voice is mute), archival photographs and film, dramatic reconstructions, animation and puppetry; many survivors were themselves children at the time of their liberation, when they hurled their frail bodies into the arms of Russian soldiers who could not fully comprehend the event. Indeed, someone notes, the Holocaust was in toto an irrational, incomprehensible event. “God was not there in Auschwitz,” someone reports.
With the cooperation of authorities in Hungary’s right-wing government, 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported, most of them to Auschwitz.
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