Three Days in Auschwitz (2015)
Director: Phillipe Mora
Plot: A director’s reflection on his 3 visits to Aushchwitz and the direct effect it has had upon his life and people like him.
Upon watching this movie, I realised that I had given Auschwitz and the genocide of Jewish Europeans very little thought since my schooldays. Nazi Germany is a staple of school history lessons in the UK, covered from primary school up to A-Levels and this, in my opinion, is as it should be, especially when regarding the Nazi “Final Solution” which is often denied by many hate groups who try to convince as many other people as possible that it is fiction. Rightfully, all British school children are taught clearly that it is true. Lest we forget, the holocaust is one of those most horrific moments in human history that must be learned from in the hope that nothing like it will ever happen again.
Schools do a wonderful job, but because it was such an immense occurrence, it is hard for our limited brains (the results of a much less tragic contemporary landscape in many ways) to comprehend the true tragedy of the holocaust. Telling me that 6 million Jewish people died will have no emotional effect on me, as it is simply too big a number to comprehend. I feel this unintentionally happens in schools because there is that sense of detachment from the whole thing, despite tackling heavy topics such as who was to blame for the holocaust. It is a shame but it is hard to overcome. After my A/S-Levels, my academic interest in the Holocaust finished. Admittedly, I found the whole thing too depressing to delve into it further. I fortunately have no personal connections to the whole terrible affair. How convenient for me to not pay it any more heed?
So, every now and again, I need a film to shine a shaft of light into my heart and make me realise that this was in living memory!
Three Days in Auschwitz is director Phillipe Mora’s “cinematic notes” from his visits to Auschwitz. His mother is a survivor of the holocaust and narrowly escaped being taken to the infamous deathcamp by just one day! However, 8 members of that family perished there. I must admit that when I first started watching it I did feel uneasy, especially as in the first few minutes incredibly emotional and evocative language is used, making you immediately reflect the absolute evil that humans can inflict on each other. Schools are hands-on regarding this topic but, in comparison, their approach seems clinical. I blindly assumed that this movie was some sort of self-indulgence (especially upon seeing that Eric Clapton composed and performed all of the music). I even went so far to think it was an attempt of the film-makers to pat themselves on their back for tackling a difficult issue. How wrong I was! Phillipe Mora is a man who is deeply affected by Auschwitz – his very existence could have been entirely eradicated by it, and that is a thought that is clearly ever present within his mind. This movie can be simply regarded as his coping mechanism. With this fact, you can clearly see that he is troubled on how to approach it and, to be fair; how does one make a movie about Auschwitz?
The film reflects Mora’s uncertainty and confusion: it is a hodge-podge of footage from Auschwitz, Holocaust memorials and museums around the world; montages of photographs of the holocaust, Mora’s own Art; Mora’s mother’s accounts of her first-hand experience and his own musings. The result is a movie of contradictions leaving you unsure of how to feel. The holocaust must be remembered but I feel uncomfortable at the idea of such a place of misery and death being preserved; I was glad at least to see the gas chambers were raised to the ground. Like Mora, I feel information regarding Auschwitz should be widely available for all those who want to learn more; yet most of his footage was cut short by the fact that recordings were banned in many of the museums, including Auschwitz itself. The film was at first intended to be revenge against what the Nazis did: many times I found myself laughing at many of Mora’s middle fingers at Hitler, but then found myself deeply saddened by the photos of the Holocaust’s aftermath and seeing Mora’s mother’s sorrow during her recollections. In terms of emotions this film can be uncomfortable, it took me a while to warm up to it and from then on, my sombre mood was punctuated by sudden moments of comedy – it left me in a daze. I can’t complain though as this seems to be the point. Not only is this a film to lick Mora’s wounds, it is also his offering to those affected as well: navigation through the myriad of emotions he most likely experiences whilst contemplating Auschwitz. In his strive to find a way to cope; he helps those who are affected by this awful place too.
The movie suffers in terms of relevant footage and content. For a film that is about 3 visits to Auschwitz, we don’t really see much of it. I cannot really blame the film-makers for this as I see with my own eyes that the Auschwitz museum clamps down on recording, so what we see is technically illegal. Despite this, the brief glimpses are incredibly illuminating. The place is depressingly vast. Many of the buildings stand whilst many others are a pile of rubble – it is so easy to imagine the disgust of those who tore down those walls. I also got a rare glimpse of Jewish people performing memorials and mourning there, this is an aspect that was completely missing from my mind; I, a Catholic girl was taught about the Holocaust in a Catholic school, have no first-hand experience of how Jewish people cope. And honestly, it was amazing and a privilege to see; I am only saddened that it had not been introduced to me earlier. The lack of footage is also massively compensated by the editing – the varying speeds of the montages helped to move the movie along but then allowed reflection for the more harrowing images. Clapton’s music also massively helped: an unusual mix of whimsy and sobriety to relive yet also ground the audience. Mind you, the more twangy bits that are a Clapton trait became rather tiresome.
A really great thing about this movie is that the Director Phillippe Mora really knows this topic through and through and is clearly an individual with talent. Montages of his works are a joy and it is truly amazing that he is unafraid to be inspired by such terrible topics. Some of his pieces work to the goal of ridiculing Hitler and the Nazis, in the same vein of Mel Brooks’ Springtime for Hitler. I learned so much about the Holocaust and Auschwitz, moreso than what I did at school (and these topics are done to death in History lessons). Some of it is way beyond the history books: the Nazis’ determination to even exterminate Jewish children; the perpetuation of hideous acts of cruelty fueled by states of intoxication; the loyalty of certain Nazi officials to Hitler, even decades afterwards, and the extent of the French Resistance members work in saving Jewish children. The remoteness I felt whilst studying Nazi Germany left me emotionally sterile whilst this movie tapped into my anger; I genuinely felt rage at the hideous injustices that were committed against human beings. Such a moment that stands out in my mind was Mora’s recollection of his encounter with Albert Speer – Minister of Armaments and War Production in Nazi Germany. He asked him questions such as “What would you do if Hitler walked into the room” with which Speer replied with “I would be compelled to do as he tell me”. Such a shocking lack of remorse. When Phillippe recounted this tale to his father (a member of the French Resistance) he was asked “Why didn’t you kill him?”. I found myself snorting in agreement.
However, despite Mora admitting that this started off as a revenge piece, what is remarkable is his gentleness. He clearly states that what happened in Auschwitz is incomprehensibly wicked; yet he does not spit fire or hate, he does not seethe. He is surprisingly compassionate, feeling great pity towards his German friends who are anguished by what their parent’s generations did. This heart fills the movie and I feel provides the therapeutic power of this movie.
Three Days In Auschwitz is an achievement in the sense that it will bring many things to the table about Auschwitz beyond what has already been done in popular media and education. It makes the event tangible and evokes emotion in the audience on a subject that is otherwise too immense to feel anything real about. However, the lack of footage in this movie is frustrating with some of the interviews dragging. The rollercoaster of emotions doesn’t make this entirely pleasant and the film will leave you feeling exhausted. But, this movie revealed new truths to me and broke through into my empathy.