Only Hollywood movie made during WWII to explore its aftermath

November 4, 2016

The National Center for Jewish Film and the American Studies program brought the film “None Shall Escape” to Brandeis, in a rare screening in 35mm on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

The 1944 film has a unique historical context for various reasons. In fact, it is the only Hollywood film made during World War II that depicts the events that went on to be known as the Holocaust. Before commencing the screening, American Studies Professor Thomas Doherty was given major credit for his efforts to screen the film in 35mm, highlighting the importance of keeping 35mm projectors and films.

“None Shall Escape” takes place in a time where supposedly WWII has ended and Germany has lost the war. Now it is time that the Nazis pay for their actions; the film centers on the trial of a fictional war criminal, Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox).

Grimm fought during World War I and lost a leg in combat. He returns from the war to resume his profession as a schoolteacher and his sentimental relationship with a Polish school teacher, Marja Pacierkowski. Yet Grimm remains bitter about Germany’s defeat, and this affects his ideals.

His perspectives are shaped from this bitterness, influencing him to join the Nazi party. In fact, he betrays his own brother Karl, who despises the Nazis and tries to flee Munich to Vienna with his family, in the hope of distancing himself from the new regime that has taken over Germany. Nevertheless, Wilhelm has another plan for his brother and sends him to a concentration camp. It is then arranged for Karl’s son Willi to enter the Hitler Youth, and as a result, he is brainwashed.

The whole film is a recollection of a timeline that is told during Grimm’s trial. A few years go by and Grimm sees Willi like his own son. Willi then falls in love with Pacierkowski’s daughter, Janina. They appear to be attracted to each other; however, she scorns his way of thinking and the group of people he represents.

Soon after the film’s conclusion, there was a Q&A about the film. Doherty commented that he spoke via phone with the actress Marsha Hunt, who plays Marja Pacierkowski in the film and is currently 99 years old. Hunt expressed her enthusiasm to learn that the film was being screened at Brandeis. Doherty described her relationship with Hollywood and how her activist spirit sometimes got in the way of her career, even getting her “Hollywood blacklisted.”

The film softens its subject matter, mostly because of the different censorship codes that existed during the time it was made. Indeed, the movie is not “Sophie’s Choice” or “Schindler’s List” or “The Pianist.” Nonetheless, it was made with the intention to denounce and inform, which is one of the reasons why films should be utilized.

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