MIAMI, United States.- Three films that I have seen these days, related to the Holocaust, inevitably take me back to circumstances of my life in a dictatorship that, in a certain way, are reflected by the vast filmography on the ordeal of the Jews
My Name is Sara, Persian Lessons and Adieu Monsieur Haffmann underscore the ability of human beings to survive the worst calamities, even if they eventually have to abandon respectable principles. Life is the most precious of treasures and must be saved at any cost.
The apartment in Eastern Havana where my family took shelter was a sort of democratic oasis in the midst of the Castro debacle. My parents never imposed ideology or religion on us. There, the daily ups and downs that we faced in that rarefied society, of fear and simulation, were frankly whispered. What was elucidated in the protection of the home, there remained.
The tension, of course, was increasing. The so-called revolution was not a site that admitted indifference. It required loyalty and militancy to continue, otherwise you could be excommunicated from its meager benefits.
In Persian Lessons, a Jew pretends to be an Iranian when he is about to be shot along with his countrymen. The soldiers spare his life because the SS officer who takes care of the food in the camp wants to learn Persian.
This desperate transvestism becomes the way of survival of the beaten Jew. But it happens that he doesn’t really know the language and what occurs to him is to invent a kind of gibberish that the Nazi accepts as the language he wants to speak because he has plans to settle in Tehran, at the end of the war, to open a restaurant. .
The rules of totalitarianism encourage absurdity and deception wherever it happens, whether in the horror of a concentration camp or in the midst of communist devastation.
Gilles, the protagonist of Persian Lessons, a film that Bielorussia submitted to the Oscar Awards, is a Jew in his heart and has no other longing than freedom, but in the meantime he has to practice double standards and suffer not only Nazi violence, but that of compatriots at the service of criminals, dealing merciless blows to those who soften in the evil and long working hours of the extermination camps.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, Castroism created a crude repressive apparatus designed precisely to undermine domestic shelters such as those bravely erected by my parents. That no one felt safe, everyone could be suspected of infidelity. Informants swarmed spontaneously in the neighborhoods.
In the film My Name is Sara, which is currently being screened at Miami Dade College’s Tower Theater and in other theaters around the city, a 13-year-old Jewish girl has managed to escape the fascist massacre in Poland, changes her religious identity, and is taken in by a Ukrainian peasant family.
The village is occupied by the Nazis, who hang those who protect Hebrews on the nearby roads. Both the German troops and the Russian partisans, who fight to liberate the region, loot the property and physically abuse the family where Sara, who has changed her name to Manya, tries to survive at all costs.
In extreme moments of social reverberation such as wars or revolutions, there are naive or indifferent strata of the people with the illusion of living outside of situations that they did not create.
Late they are often convinced that kneeling and collaborating with evil will not return them to their previous lives.
In Adieu Monsieur Haffmann, a Jewish jeweler decides to send his family to Switzerland to save them from possible fascist arrests in Paris, with the idea of reuniting as soon as possible.
So he makes the decision to transfer ownership of the store and his house to his employee, who is not Jewish, until the war is over and he can return. But escape is impossible for him and to save himself until he has the opportunity to flee, he will live hidden in the basement of his own house, bossed around by whoever was his employee and now he rubs shoulders with a Nazi official who buys him jewels.
This is a tense film with admirable dramatic twists and turns that speaks at first of escape, while possible, and of the moral disintegration that totalitarianism causes.
Haffmann cannot believe the behavior of someone who was his honest and humble employee, transformed into a cunning being, capable of taking over other people’s property without the slightest scruple.
When freedom is canceled and regimes and doctrines are imposed by force, by means of weapons or other forms of repression and intolerance, the human being suffers covens such as those narrated by the aforementioned films or the one that countries like Ukraine and Cuba. All totalitarianisms are assisted by a desire for physical and spiritual extermination.
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