An elderly man plays with the remains of a fence, then walks across a scrubby heath.
“There were no trees here,” he says, looking at a path weaving through the bushes. “Nothing.” He regards the nothing for a moment, then tells of the last time he saw his family at the Kraków-Plaszów forced labour camp, in 1942. The camp featured in Schindler’s List.
Ed Mosberg, a trim, lively 92-year-old, regularly dons his camp uniform and travels to the sites of former camps to tell his story. His wife refuses to tell her story: “I have to pull the words out of her mouth…” he says. She remembers her sister’s fate after much patient prompting by her husband, and it’s heart-breaking to watch.
Helena Sternlicht, chosen by Amon Goeth from a line-up and sent to work in his house. She remembers Oskar Schindler attending Goeth’s notorious wild parties; he would give her a hug and tell her that everything would be fine.
Roman Ferber, liberated from Auschwitz by the Soviet army in 1944. He points to his younger self in a photograph; a skinny, apprehensive kid pressed against a barbed wire fence.
Eli Zborowski, hidden by neighbours in a specially built secret room. He joined the Polish army and saved a German soldier’s life.
Victor Lewis, who climbed out of the train to Auschwitz, leaving his parents and sister behind.
Mietek Pemper, who compiled the lists of Jewish workers for Schindler’s factory. His meticulous record keeping was key in ensuring Goeth’s conviction after the war.
What marks Destination Unknown apart from other Holocaust films is the space it allows for the 12 survivors to tell their own stories, unmediated by a narrator. Sometimes we are aware of the basic facts – like the purging of the ghettos, the trains, Schindler’s factory… but for many of the interviewees, this is the first time they have talked publicly about their experiences. There are stories of immense bravery, horrific torture and a bloody-minded refusal to be extinguished. The film follows them after liberation when they tell how they travelled across Europe in search of loved ones, and how they created a new, ‘normal’ life after years of chaos and death.
As one participant says, “My grandchildren are my answer to Hitler’s Final Solution.”
Destination Unknown is playing at selected cinemas around the country from 15 June 2017. See the website for details of screenings.