TV Film Not Rated. Running time: 2 hours 57 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 6; Language 3; Sex/Nudity 3. Our star rating (1-5): 5
Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! By your sword deliver my life from the wicked…
Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him.
Originally shown in 2001 as an NBC miniseries, this is one of two films* in which Jews fought back with guns against their Nazi oppressors. Thanks to its length director Jon Avnet and co-writer John Brickman are able to provide lots of details of living under the Nazi occupation and of the difficulty in securing the cooperation of and arms from the Polish resistant fighters. I was somewhat familiar with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising because several decades ago I had read Leon Uris’s exciting novel about the event, Mila 18, the title based on the Warsaw address of the headquarters of the Jewish resisters. The film gives us far more details of the real life leaders whose courage and perseverance enabled them to hold out against the savage SS attacks for a longer period than the whole Polish army resisted the Nazi invaders—quite a feat with so little resources!
The film begins with scenes of the Nazi conquest, the herding of 400,000 Jews into the small Warsaw ghetto that is surrounded by a 10’ high brick wall, the gradual increase of Nazi demands, and their rounding up and shipping Jews to “the east.” Affairs inside the ghetto are run by the 24-mmber Jewish Council, headed by Adam Czerniakow (Donald Sutherland), his hope being that he can mitigate the evil effects of their enemies. However, he soon learns that he has absolutely no power, the Nazi commandant regarding him merely as a conduit for his orders. The Jews are even ordered to pay for the expenses of gathering and caring for victims of the roundups!
Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria) is a teacher concerned with how a moral person can sustain a moral code in an immoral world. He is one of those questioning what happens to those shipped off in cattle cars. He keeps trying to convince Czerniakow to persuade the Council to provide funds for arms so that eventually the people can mount a defense against their oppressors, rather than to submit like sheep going to their slaughter. He is joined by like-minded others, Tosia Altman (Leelee Sobieski), Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer), Kazik Rotem (Stephen Moyer), Zivia Lubetkin (Sadie Frost), Mira Fruchner (Radha Mitchell), Deworah Baron (Mili Avital). Eventually sending out one of their number to follow one of the trains, they discover that their worst fears are a reality, the Nazis are guilty of mass murder. Another member is smuggled out with the message revealing this, the intended recipient being Churchill.
The film is a fitting testament to the brave men and women who said “No” to tyranny, most of them losing their loves in the process. I was pleased to see that there are scenes involving a hero who resisted, but without violence, Dr. Korczak, a famous writer/doctor/children’s advocate and head of an orphanage housing almost 200 children. (See my review of the film named after him below in this issue.)
For a review of Koczak: