Koch on Film


By Ed Koch.

“The Counterfeiters” (+)

This film is based on a true incident although it doesn’t pretend to be a documentary. It focuses on some of the Jewish prisoners in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Called Sally, Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) was a master counterfeiter before being imprisoned. A Nazi officer recognizes Sally in the camp and puts him and others to work manufacturing (counterfeiting) American and British currency. In exchange, the men are granted privileges such as living together in special quarters with sheets on their beds.

When one of the prisoners, Burger (August Diehl), seeks to sabotage the endeavor, he is berated by the others. A Nazi officer who oversees the project, Herzog (Devid Streisow), suspects the sabotage and threatens to shoot the men if the project is not completed by a certain date. We see very little of the brutalities associated with the concentration camp, but when occasional pistol shots ring out, we know a prisoner has been shot for the amusement of the guards. Sally completes the counterfeiting producing the dollar bills.

How people lived under such conditions where their lives were subject to the whim of a guard who without explanation could kill them has always mystified me. Each year I attend a service commemorating the Warsaw uprising of the Jews. A band of women who survived imprisonment in concentration camps walk down the synagogue aisles carrying candles marking the death of six million Jews. I am amazed that these now elderly women were able to work and live under such horrendous, unimaginable conditions. In a way, it is like waterboarding only the torture and fear of imminent death went on for 24 hours a day with no end in sight. Seeing fewer women each year walk down those aisles brings tears to my eyes as I continually wonder how the world allowed such an atrocity to occur.

The movie ends with the victory of the allies and the camp guards departing the night before liberation. This is an important picture to see as our memory of that cruelty begins to fade and the survivors die off. The children of today in too many countries are totally unaware of what bestial conduct we are capable of inflicting on one another.

HS said: “I usually avoid Holocaust movies because they are so depressing and frightening. I totally know the terrible things that happened, and I am a strong supporter of Israel, where my aunt and cousins live. Nor would I see ‘The Producers’ because I don’t think springtime for Hitler is a fitting subject for comedy. This film, however, while in no way diminishing the horrors of the concentration camp, is upbeat in its own way.

“I was most shocked by the indiscriminate, random cruelties of the Nazi guards, beating and sometimes shooting people over trivia. The best line was the protagonist’s last sentence, which shows his dry wit. You could call this film Holocaust Lite, but seeing it is well worth your time.”

“The Band’s Visit” (+)

The story is banal but sweet. Eight members of an Egyptian band travel to Israel where they are scheduled to perform at an Arab cultural center. They arrive in the wrong Israeli city. The main characters include Israeli restaurant owner Dina (Ronit Elkabetz), who welcomes the lost Egyptians, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), the very dignified and likable leader of the band, and Camal (Imad Jabarin), a young Egyptian looking for some fun which he gets.

Those who support a two-state solution—a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israeli state—will be more resolved in their position after seeing the picture and as a result of Arab reaction far less sure that it can occur. I support the Road Map, but I doubt we will see it happen in the foreseeable future.

The citizens today in Sderat, an Israeli city next to the Gaza border, is rocketed nearly every day. The New York Times reported on February 25 that according to the Israel police, “13 civilians have been killed by the rockets since 2001, including two Israeli youths who were handling an unexploded rocket.” On February 23, the Times reported “Mark Regev, the spokesman for Mr. Olmert, was responding to recent Arab statements, published in The New York Times, warning Israel that unless it accepted the 2002 proposal—for full recognition of Israel in return for complete withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries—the deal would be withdrawn.” But many Israeli believe the Arabs do not want peace.

The Israeli desperately want peace. Many Arab leaders have made clear their refusal to accept Israel under any circumstances. The Hamas government and other Arab leaders repeat their demand of one-state in all of historic Palestine running from the “river to the sea,” ending the possibility of a Jewish state in Israel.

AS, who saw the film with me did not like it, referred to it as a one-trick pony. I enjoyed it realizing the same time that there’s not much to it. (In Arabic, English and Hebrew, with English subtitles.)