Review By Jeff Myhre
The Allies liberated the prisoners of the Nazi concentration/death camps over 70 years ago. The people who survived the SS are succumbing to Time. So, Claire Ferguson’s documentary “Destination Unknown” may be one of the last documentaries on the genocide that includes footage of survivors filmed in the present. As one of the last, it is historically important, but at the same time, it is one of the best films ever to address the Shoah.
During World War II, somewhere between 50 and 80 million people died. In Nazi occupied Europe, 6 million Jews died at the hands of the gangster regime in Berlin, as well as thousands upon thousands of Roma (then called “Gypsies”), homosexuals, political agitators and anyone else who offended Hitler’s sensibilities. As Joseph Stalin, himself a mass murderer, noted, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” We cannot fathom so many dead. A million of anything (let alone millions) is something we can’t really grasp.
Ferguson focuses on a handful of survivors and breathes life, and death, into those statics. We have heard similar stories from survivors for decades, but every story is unique. The people in her film are given free rein to tell theirs as and how they want. Backed up with one of the best soundtracks (Andrew Skeets composed it) I have ever heard, there is no drama as powerful.
The film opens with Edward Mosberg, a typical little old man with a little spunk left in him, dressing in his old prisoner’s uniform. Once dressed, he takes his wife Cesia and her wheelchair to a camp. The reaction of those around him is that of people for whom history has just come alive. Photos are surreptitiously taken, I noted one man remove a hat, and all the while, Mr. Mosberg is shouting “Coming through, watch out!” I tried to imagine being a visitor to such a place and having him ask me to step aside.
Helen Sternlicht was a young woman held in Plaskow, where the commandant Amon Goth distinguished himself in the annals of sadism, and she was chosen to be his maid. One of Goth’s pals was Oskar Schindler, who told young Ms. Sternlicht that she would survive somehow. That friendship with Goth, however, confused her. At the end of the film, she says she met two men with power. Goth used his for evil, Schindler used his for good. “So, we have a choice to make.”
This isn’t a non-fiction remake of Schindler’s List, however. Ferguson gives time to the under-reported stories of the partisans – guerrilla fighters who hid in the forests and swamps to sabotage the German supply lines. Frank Blaichman was one such hero, but he asks, “Did I do the right thing? I left my family and now I am alone.”
Two other very powerful moments stand out in a film full of exceptional moments. Roman Ferber, who was a three-year-old kid when hell came to earth, said quite calmly, “Till the end, my dad believed that God will help us, well, He overlooked us for some reason.” It is delivered simply as a statement of fact. It hurt to hear it said, but there is no answer.
In contrast, Eddie Weinstein survived Treblinka to say in 2016, “When the war ended, we raised a family, two sons. I have seven grandchildren. And they, my grandchildren, are my answer to Hitler’s Final Solution.”
The survivors who helped make this film were people Hitler wanted to eliminate from history. He is gone. They are here: Edward and Cesia Mosberg, Eddie Weinstein, Regina and Victor Lewis, Helen Jonas (Sternlicht), Mietek Pemper, Frank Blaichman, Stanley Glogover, Roman Ferber, Eli Zborowski and Marsha Kreuzman.