Stationed in a Bulgarian village in 1943, Walter, an artist and corporal in the Wehrmacht, lives an almost idyllic life far away from the war. Then, a transit camp is set up for Jews arriving from Greece and awaiting transport to Auschwitz. Written by
This East German film by Konrad Wolf did not reach the West until after the Cold War, and is rarely seen today. It concerns the story of a corporal, named 'Walter' (although his real name is never known) and played by Jürgen Frohriep with quiet complexity, and his relationship with interred German Jewess Ruth (played by the beautiful and powerful Sasha Krusharska) against the background of Nazism in Bulgaria, populated by inhuman oafs like Kurt (a repellent character played well by Erik S. Klein), and freedom fighters like Petko (Stefan Pejchev) and Blashe (Georgi Naumov).
The film was made in 1959, centering on events in 1943, when the Jews were rounded up, held prisoner, and eventually shipped to the death camp at Auschwitz. It does not flinch from their predicament, denied medicine, herded together like cattle, huddled quietly and hopelessly in congested rooms. The music score uses Jewish songs to pinpoint the action and underline scenes which are otherwise silent - panning along the faces of the refugees in their dignified acceptance of their situation, or following the death transports as the men, women, and children are packed into carriages and sent away from Bulgaria like animals going to the slaughter.
The power of this film is in its matter-of-fact treatment of what the Germans did to their Jewish countrymen and compatriots, in the name of racial purity, and how out of this one human relationship between - on the surface of it - enemies could grow and flourish. This concentration on Walter and Ruth makes the ending (also the beginning of the film, before the flashback) all the more poignant and touching.
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