Monday, September 07, 2015

Dusko - a film can alter how you see something that lies well outside movies

And here is where I come to my last conversation with "Phoenix," because sometimes, a film can alter how you see something that lies well outside movies. As soon as I got home from seeing the film, I opened my copy of Salka Viertel's memoir, "The Kindness of Strangers." She grew up in a well-to-do and cultivated Jewish family in Sambor, Galicia, which is now part of Ukraine, moved to California with her family in 1928, wrote screenplays (including "Queen Christina" and "Deep Valley") and turned her home into a magnet for people fleeing Hitler's Europe.
When I read the book, I couldn't understand Viertel's decision at the end of this passage, and I am not sure I do now. But in my mind, the trajectory of Petzold's heroine is now caught up with the following story, permanently.
Viertel's brother Siegmund, known as Dusko to the family, didn't make it out of Sambor in time. By 1946 Viertel was convinced that Dusko hadn't survived; she got one unconfirmed report that her brother had jumped off a train to the camps and been killed by the SS. Frantic to keep any details of Dusko's fate from their elderly mother, who had managed to reach the U.S. in 1941 and was living in her daughter's home in Los Angeles, Salka made a point of intercepting the mail every day.
One morning, Viertel opened a letter from a woman named Viktoria, an orphaned Galician who had been raised alongside Salka and Dusko in Sambor, as part of the family. Viktoria wrote, "In 1943 [Dusko] came to my house begging me to hide him, but as we are living in a rented place I could not do it, and since the last German Aktion I have not heard from him again." Aktion, Viertel knew, was the word used to mean rounding up Jews.
Viktoria closed the letter by saying she now had four children, and asking, "would Salka, who has always been like a sister to me, send us a food parcel?"
Viertel started to reply.
I wrote her that she had forfeited the right to appeal to my sisterly feelings. She had cruelly denied shelter to a hunted Jew, whose father and mother had given her love and devoted care since she was born, and she had allied herself with monsters and torturers. My tears stained the paper and I had to stop. Could I reproach this cowardly woman for not risking her life? Hadn't others, more powerful than she, stood by indifferently when these unspeakable horrors took place? She was only one among millions ….
I tore up the letter, mailed a CARE package to Sambor, and never told Mama what happened.

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