I can’t say from where the impulse stems, or precisely when the roots were seeded, but Holocaust literature, be it movie or film, has for some time now been a fascination. It may have occurred as early as fifth grade, when I read The Diary of a Young Girl. (I can still remember crying in the middle of Washington D.C. after finding out that the Anne Frank Museum wouldn’t be open until the day after we left.) At any rate, the stories have become a personal subject, books such as Night, Number the Stars, and The Devil’s Arithmetic come immediately to mind. Stories that seem so distant and yet hit so close to home.
Six Million and One is a documentary telling the story of four siblings coming to terms with their father’s past. And as much as history tells the story of a father, the story is about that of the children.
The documentary follows the group of four–Estee, David, Gideon, and Ronel– as they travel from the U.S. to the various concentration/internment camps in which their father was held. The group is seeking to reconstruct their father’s journey from camp to camp from what he wrote in his memoir.
The film is surprising in two ways–the first surprise is the film’s source of conflict.
You would think that emotional tension in this sort of film would surface in the form of extreme hatred toward the Gestapo. I imagined tempers flaring and angry outbursts as the siblings would curse whoever was responsible for taking years of their father’s life. I imagined moments of quiet intimacy as each sibling would break from composure, the weight of history having pulled them down.
But this wasn’t the case–not in the slightest. The documentary’s main strain, in fact, is tension between the siblings themselves. Each Fisher sibling is in a different stage of the grief process. David, the oldest, and also the only one of the four to have read the entire memoir, aware of what’s coming–knows in advance of his father’s experience. Whereas the other siblings are seeing their father’s life unfold before them for the first time.
Ninety percent of the movie is in a language other than English, so if subtitling isn’t your thing, then this movie may not be for you. But, however, if you can overcome the trials and tribulations (yes, sarcasm) of using sight instead of sound as your primary means of understanding, I think you will come to appreciate the layer of elusiveness that seeing a movie in another language conveys. The language barrier creates an air that’s almost fitting for the subject–an event intrinsically elusive, a part of history we won’t ever come to fully understand even after having read memoirs, even after visiting the camps.
The film moves from Gusen II, where their father worked in the Bergkristall camp, digging a tunnel so large that airplanes might be, and were, built within, to Gunskirchen–where U.S. soldiers eventually arrived to liberate the camp.
The second surprising aspect of the film is the insight given into the role of Americans as “liberators” of the camp. David Fisher–sibling, writer, director, and producer of the film–interviews an American soldier who arrived at Gunskirchen toward the end of the war–inadvertently liberating those within the fence. When I think of the “American liberators” or “America as a liberator” don’t you get this image of soldiers marching into enemy territory, riding in on tanks, armor shining, the forces surrounding the camp and forcing German surrender? This is how I always pictured America’s liberating the camps… The movie challenges this notion, and explains that the Allied forces couldn’t, even if they were told in advance what they were coming to, have conceived of the horrors that they saw.
It seems multiple generations–regardless of ethnicity and nationality–are still working to come to terms with and give words to an experience so unreal that it defies human emotion. How do you deal with loss? How do you deal with pain? If these are questions you are currently asking yourself, regardless of your interest in World War II or Holocaust literature–this movie is one you can learn from. The Fisher family gives a beautiful example of the healthy way to deal with life after death.
The film releases January 27 on iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu, XBOX, PlayStation, Google Play, and YouTube.
Claudia Mundy is a Campbell University graduate. She is a writer, a reader, and a runner. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClaudiaMundy.