Documentary - 'Into the Arms of Strangers'.

4 stars for 'Into the Arms of Strangers'

Do we really need any more proof that the Nazi's just weren't good people? Or, that Nazi Germany is probably one of the clearest examples of outright evil we have in the modern world? It seems as though the topic has been covered pretty well, over the years – it is, afterall, a period of history that has received a more or less consistent focus, in various forms.You really have to wonder how many stories there are left to tell.

Well, how about the lives of Jewish people living in Nazi controlled territories, as told through the eyes of children? It's an area that has been explored before, of course (The Diary of Anne Frank, most famously), but not quite to the same extent as tales of the war itself. Besides, there's nothing quite like tales of the mistreatment of children to remind us of what a bunch of bastards human beings are capable of being, is there?

Thankfully, Into the Arms of Strangers isn't quite the depressing parade of tragedy you might think it would be at first glance. It's focus isn't so much on the usual tale of the Nazi's appalling treatment of the Jewish citizens, but rather on the world's response to it. Because of this, the film manages to become that seemingly all to rare sort of tale that is able to look at a tragic point in modern history in a slightly more hopeful light.

In the years leading up to the outbreak of the second World War, following the Nazi party's rise to power, life was growing increasingly tense for the Jewish people unfortunate enough to find themselves living in Nazi controlled territory. As stories of increasing acts of cruelty began to spread out over the rest of the world, the response for some was an understandable desire to help – one practical response took shape in the form of the Kindertransport, which was arranged as something of a rescue operation. Through the Kindertransport, many Jewish children were given the opportunity to leave Nazi controlled territory – though, in all cases, it meant having to leave the rest of their family behind. Many families, seeing what was happening around them and knowing that they could not afford to leave themselves, were eager to get their children out of Nazi controlled territory, with the hope that they would eventually be able to follow. During the years when the Kinderstransport was in operation, ten thousand children were able to be moved out of Nazi controlled territory, to be set up in foster homes and hostels across Great Britain. The Nazis, for their part, who at this point were systematically trying to force the Jewish people out of their territory, were willing to allow the Kindertransport to operate – though, they still maintained strict control over it. The plan, from the beginning, was that this would only be a temporary measure, and that the families of each child would follow as soon as they were able. Of course, the outbreak of war brought a sudden end to the Kindertransport – leaving the families unable to leave trapped in Nazi controlled territory, and the children left with an uncertain future in what seemed to be their new home.

Into the Arms of Strangers relies on the standard combination of archive footage, photos and 'talking head' interviews with those who lived through it – both the children themselves, and those that cared for them. Time is spent outlining the overall happy lives these children lead in their home countries, before things started to turn bad, in order the give weight to the sense of loss that each child must have felt. Beyond that, much of the film is taken up with an exploration of the sense of intense culture shock and isolation experienced by each child – along with the fear for the families that they were forced to leave behind. As is made clear, many of the children were able to maintain contact with their families initially, though this come to a predictable, and unfortunate, end with the outbreak of war – leaving the children uncertain about whether they would ever see their families again. The war itself, though, along with the fates of those left behind, is ultimately pushed to the side – this is a film about the children who were fortunate enough to escape, from beginning to end.

© 2012 Dallas Matier

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