Sunday, May 25, 2014

"Forget Us Not" Documentary by Heather E. Connell. Review.




"Forget Us Not" is an award-winning, seventy-minute documentary presenting the experiences of what are referred to as Nazism's "other victims." History's focus is on the six million Jews the Nazis murdered because Nazism's focus was on Jews.

But it is a tragedy, and a great lie, that too many people have no idea that Nazism also targeted non-Jews. When I speak about the Holocaust, I ask audiences, "What group did the Nazis mass murder first and last, even after they surrendered to the Allies?"

No one has yet been able to answer that question. The answer is handicapped Germans. If you are surprised, you don't understand Nazism. A good first step would be viewing "Forget Us Not."

Ron Perlman provides sonorous narration. Archival black and white film clips are interspersed throughout, including one brief, insufferable shot of Nazis laughing. Lieutenant Commander Jack H. Taylor, "the first Navy Seal," testifies to the horrors of Mauthausen. What music there is is excellent.

Most of "Forget Us Not" consists of four living survivors telling their own stories. Wilhelm Heckman's story is told via voiceover narration and photographs. Heckman was a musician and alleged to be a homosexual; he was interned in Mauthausen.

Robert Wagemann is the most articulate interviewee. Before his birth, his mother was imprisoned for distributing Jehovah's Witness pamphlets. His mother's obstetrician was Jewish, and thanks to Nazi policies, he disappeared. Wagemann was a breach birth, and his mother had only a midwife for help. Wagemann's hip was injured.

When Wagemann was five years old, he was ordered to report for a physical. His mother overheard a doctor saying that he'd break for lunch, come back, and murder Wagemann. Nazi Aktion T4 was designed to eliminate defective people. Wagemann's mother grabbed her son and rushed to the exit. A nun blocked their escape; Wagemann's mother was insistent. She took her naked son to a riverbank and dressed him in the privacy of the reeds.

Wagemann said his goal was to communicate to young people living in the West how fortunate they are, and what kind of freedom they have. "Tolerance and conscience is the most important thing," he says. "To fight racism and hate you have to have tolerance. You have to look upon the next person as your human brother and human sister. You have to help him when he is in need...if you cut yourself what comes out is red. If he cuts himself, it's the same color."

Ceija Stojka was an Austrian-Romani survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Her family was Catholic. Her interview offers the most graphic details of horror. She describes the death of her little brother Ossi from typhus, dead bodies of babies rolling out of trains when the doors were opened, and her attempt to match decapitated heads to appropriate bodies when she came upon an "insanely large" pile of corpses.

Natalia Orloff-Klauer was Ukrainian. Her parents were rounded up and used by the Nazis as slave laborers. Her experience was one of slow starvation and hideous conditions. Her mother became ill, never recovered, and died shortly after the war. Later, Orloff-Klauer survived the firebombing of Dresden. Even rescue presented nightmares; survivors had to be stripped naked, shaved, deloused, and paraded for inspection. After the war she lived in a damaged railway car. The Grace Presbyterian Church of Wichita, Kansas sponsored the surviving members of her family and made it possible for her to come to the US.

Veronika Young was a Polish slave laborer. Her interview was the least satisfying. Young repeatedly stated that she did not remember key details, including the name of the town she was born in. She said things like "It was horrible." I wish the filmmaker had found a more articulate and authoritative Polish survivor. There are certainly all too many Polish survivors of Nazi atrocities. After Jews and Gypsies/Rom, Poles were the most persecuted national group under the Nazis. The Poles' role in WW II was key, and better understanding of what the Nazis did to Poles would help the viewer.

Filmmaker Heather E. Connell's previous work addressed orphans in Cambodia. Her humanitarian approach is clear. Connell devotes the final twenty minutes of the film to the founding of the United Nations, to mention of other genocides, and to each survivor's exhortations to the audience. Realize how lucky you are, survivors insist to young viewers. Be tolerant. Take care of each other. Never again.

The "other victims" are often ignored for ideological reasons. I know students who have been lead to believe by Christophobic scholars and media that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon; in fact, Nazism vowed to destroy Christianity and Dachau was known as Germany's largest monastery, because of all the clergy interned there.  

Nazism was inspired by atheism, scientism, Darwinism, and neo-Paganism. Attention to Nazism's "other victims" can clarify ideological propaganda.

"Forget Us Not" doesn't provide enough information to the viewer to understand how each group of victims differed. Yes, Nazis killed Ukrainians, but it's important to remember that Ukrainians, at first, were significant in their level of collaboration and genocidal killings of Poles. Jehovah's Witnesses were concentration camp inmates, but they were accorded relatively preferential treatment.

"Three million Polish citizens marked with the letter P met their deaths in the camps," the film states. Three million Polish non-Jews did not die in concentration camps. Young says she was in Saarbrucken concentration camp and Orloff-Klauer says she was in Bibigan concentration camp; I cannot find either in lists of the camps. Otherwise, though, for its intimate portraits of "other victims," this film is recommended. 

12 comments:

  1. An 8-minute preview of this film, along with an interview of Heather E. Connell, can be found on YouTube.

    In addition, those readers who want to learn more on the actual and planned Nazi German genocide of the Slavic peoples should click on my name in this specific posting.

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  2. You say: "Jehovah's Witnesses were concentration camp inmates, but they were accorded relatively preferential treatment."

    They were among the earliest concentration camp inmates, but no. I don't believe they were given preferential treatment.

    Bear in mind that, as Christians, they could not "Heil" Hitler as if he were their saviour - let alone join his Nazi party, his army etc. And Nazi racial theories are completely opposed to the Genesis account of our origins.

    Their example and their teaching were very dangerous to the Nazi state. And they were treated very harshly because of it.

    A Professor Ebenstein of Princeton University stated: “The sufferings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps were even worse than those meted out to Jews, pacifists or Communists. Small as the sect is, each member seems to be a fortress which can be destroyed but never taken.”—The Nazi State.

    Eugen Kogan wrote in his book The Theory and Practice of Hell: “One cannot escape the impression that, psychologically speaking, the SS was never quite equal to the challenge offered them by Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (Page 43)

    Its interesting that you note the Polish survivor chosen to speak is inarticulate. Did you feel that was a political choice? Or not?

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  3. Saarbrücken is a city in Germany. There was a camp near that city called Neue Bremm. As for "Bibigan" I think it was Bübingen. Also near Saarbrücken.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neue_Bremm
    I've read Young's story and I find it strange.

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  4. Lukasz you think that Veronika Young refers to Neue Bremm. I don't think you are correct. Please see what Wikipedia says about Neue Bremm:

    Neue Bremm was a Nazi torture camp in Saarbrücken, designed to break prisoners who were not destined for extermination. Most prisoners were held for only a few weeks but during that time they were broken and sent on to Nazi concentration camps such as Buchenwald. Short term torture camps like Neue Bremm were called Straflager. The torture is reported to have included hopping crouched for 6 to 8 hours a day. Further, they were starved and deprived of sleep. These Straflager held the same pains as the other Nazi concentration camps but all focused into a few days.[1]

    Young says she was there for four years. Wikipedia says prisoners were kept there only for a short while. Doesn't add up.

    As for Orloff-Klauer. On the website for the film, she identifies the camp she was kept in as Bibigan. It's spelled that way on the website, or at least it was spelled that way when I visited the website yesterday.

    There are other errors on the website, errors in punctuation and word usage.

    Finally, Lukasz, please use a real first and last name when you post here.

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    1. Hello Dr Goska,
      You're right about Neue Bremm. That was really sloppy work on my part. As for Mrs Young's story:
      1) Zamość and Tomaszów Lubelski are two towns not one, although they are not far from each other. She was propably born in some village located in close proximity to both towns.
      2) She claims that in 1928 "Communists took everything from him (her father) and sent my mother and father to Siberia". Well, in 1928 Poland was not ruled by communists. In my opinion her father was deported to Soviet Union and his property was confiscated by Polish authorities.
      3) She claims that her father was an Orthodox. My guess is that he was not a Pole, but a Russian colonist.
      Mrs Young was 2 years old when she left Poland. That explains those misrepresentations in her story.
      As for Bibigan slave labor camp - I was looking for places with similar names located near Saarbrücken. Mrs Orloff-Klauer is not a German and she could have distorted camp's foreign name.

      Delete
    2. Thank you! And I apologize if my post sounded like I was trying to accuse you of "sloppy work" as you say. I realize you were being helpful. I posted quickly and without tact.

      Delete
  5. Sue you claim that Jehovah's Witnesses were not given relatively preferential treatment.

    Please see: http://ed5015.tripod.com/JwHolocaustMem84.htm

    From that website:

    Bible Students found an unexpected 'friend' in Heinrich Himmler.

    In a lengthy letter (which is published, in part, in 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses) Himmler wrote to senior SS officers Pohl and Mueller:

    "Should problems develop in camp in future involving Bible Students, then I prohibit the camp commander from pronouncing any punishment. Such cases should be reported to me with a brief description of the circumstances.
    "Now my suggestion is that all of the Bible Students be put to work — for example, farm work, which has nothing to do with war and all its madness. One can leave them unguarded if properly assigned; they will not run away. They can be given uncontrolled jobs, they will prove to be the best administrators and workers. We can employ Bible Students in our Lebensbornheime (homes erected to rear children fostered by SS men to produce a master race), not as nurses, but rather as cooks, housekeepers, or to do work in the laundry or similar jobs. I am convinced that, in most cases, we will have little difficulty with them ... I will then personally distribute them among large families. In such households they are not to wear prison garb, however, but civilian clothes...

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    1. With a 'guardian' such as Heinrich Himmler, Jehovah's Witnesses could look forward to a reasonably comfortable war. Witness prisoners were promptly placed in SS households, truck gardens, farm estates and the Lebensbornheime. In occupied countries SS personnel feared to employ house-staff from the native population and were delighted to learn from their SS Reichsfuehrer that a Jehovah's Witness would never pose a threat within the home. By February 1944 virtually all Jehovah's Witnesses still in detention had been moved to households and estates.
      As promised, Himmler personally took charge of this process; he arranged for a Party of sixteen Bible Students to be sent to Czechoslovakia to take charge of the estate of Lina Heydrich, widow of the late SS Obergruppenfuehrer, Reinhard Heydrich.

      The records of the Bible Students' fortunes in this period read rather differently from that of the millions who still remained in the Nazi camps. The Yearbooks of Jehovah's Witnesses document dozens of examples – like the forty-two brothers building a house for an SS official at Lake Wolfgang, who were able to go onto the lake in the evenings and entertain themselves with folk songs and concert pieces.

      There is the report of Gertrud Ott who, with eighteen other sisters, was incarcerated in Auschwitz to work in the hotel serving the families of the SS men employed there:

      "Those brothers and sisters who had been in Auschwitz for a time had positions of trust. Several sisters were allowed to walk the city without a guard to make purchases... in this way the sisters could contact brothers outside... they copied whole Watchtower articles into blue paper-covered school notebooks and tried to circulate them..."

      In the hotel they made contact with other 'sisters' and arranged to have regular Bible meetings in the toilet:

      "From then on, the sisters from outside regularly came and brought the sisters working in the hotel Watchtowers and other publications, which were then sent on to Ravensbruck".

      Many 'brothers and sisters' were given permission to make short visits to relatives living nearby.

      Reading these records, provided by the Witnesses themselves, makes one very conscious that the experiences described come from a very different world than that inhabited by the millions of Jewish people and other real victims of the Nazi tyranny. The 1974 Yearbook states that during the years 1933 to 1945, 253 Bible Students were sentenced to death, of whom 203 were executed.

      Whilst it is important to acknowledge and remember the death of every single innocent individual, these figures (compared with the estimated ten million Jewish victims) and combined with a knowledge of the true history of the Bible Students vis-a-vis the Third Reich, highlight the impertinence of the Watchtower Society introducing themselves into the Holocaust Memorial Day to market their so-called 'educational material'.

      Delete
  6. Sue, you wrote, "Its interesting that you note the Polish survivor chosen to speak is inarticulate. Did you feel that was a political choice? Or not?"

    I don't know, but here is my best guess.

    The filmmaker is sympathetic. She is a humanitarian. She did all the hard work necessary to get this film made. She dedicated the film to Young, who died before it premiered.

    I don't know how Heather E. Connell selected her interview subjects. Perhaps Young is a family friend. I am speculating. Who knows?

    I do know that Young's interview was the weakest in the film. Young was inarticulate. Her story online reads like classic Bieganski. Her father "bought" her mother. He drank and beat her mother.

    Here's an excerpt from the film's website: "My father was thirty-five years older than my mother – he had bought her from her family in the Ukraine. She was Ukrainian. My father was an alcoholic, and he beat my mother, and she would go have a child somewhere. I don’t know when or where, I just know there were eleven children."

    Young's interview offers the viewer zero chance to understand the bigger picture of Nazism's persecution of Poland, and that story is very important to the question the film raises: how do we talk about non-Jewish victims of the Nazis?

    Contrast that with the interview with Wagemann, a German man, JW, and handicapped person. He is fully articulate, polished, and he provides the bigger picture of the Nazi persecution of handicapped people and JWs.

    I don't think the filmmaker is anti-Polish; if she were, I think she would not have made this film. I do think that it is possible that Bieganski stereotypes influenced her to accept an inarticulate story as representational of Poles, but I don't know. I can only speculate.

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  7. Please do read Simone Liebster's "Facing the Lion", and watch "Purple Triangles" (not made by us) if you think Jehovah's Witnesses had an easy time in the camps. Very sad - especially as the children were taken from their parents so young.

    Though the main thing is that, as Christians, the refused to support Hitler and the Nazis, but, as Christians, they also refused to retaliate on them.

    We had a dreadful time under Stalin too.

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    1. Sue, you wrote: "if you think Jehovah's Witnesses had an easy time in the camps"

      I'm afraid you are distorting what I wrote, and I am uncomfortable with that. Please stop.

      This is what I said:

      ""Forget Us Not" doesn't provide enough information to the viewer to understand how each group of victims differed. Yes, Nazis killed Ukrainians, but it's important to remember that Ukrainians, at first, were significant in their level of collaboration and genocidal killings of Poles. Jehovah's Witnesses were concentration camp inmates, but they were accorded relatively preferential treatment."

      If you want to contest that, do so. Please don't put words in my mouth that I did not say.

      Thank you.

      Delete
  8. I wrote to the USHMM to ask about where Veronika might have been. I received this reply:

    From her description, it sounds like Vera was in a forced labor camp for Ostarbeiters (eastern workers.) However, the description doesn't provide me with enough information to determine which one.

    The best book about forced labor in Saarbrucken in:

    Lemmes, Fabian. Zwangsarbeit in Saarbrücken: Stadtverwaltung, lokale Wirtschaft und der Einsatz ausländischer Zivilarbeiter und Kriegsgefangener 1940-1945. St. Ingbert: Röhrig, 2004.

    Best wishes,

    Megan Lewis
    reference librarian

    ReplyDelete

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