Blog: This Scene Got To Me
(originally written 1/20/10)
...and I can't get the image out of my head.
As you may have heard, about 70 years ago Germans cruelly and regularly exterminated Jews in Europe like ants on their picnic blanket.
As you may not have heard, there was a family of brothers, the Bielskis, who smuggled hundreds of their Jewish kin out of danger not unlike Harriet Tubman did for the blacks during slavery.
But I'm not here to talk about the past. Let's bring things current...
In 2008 a movie was made chronicling the Bielski's efforts—Defiance. I somehow had never even HEARD of this movie before this past weekend, but a friend got her hands on it. We popped it into our PS3 with no idea what it was about. Usually, if a movie is set before the 1980's I have no interest in it—never seen Gone with the Wind or Casablanca or even the original Godfather for that reason—but this one gripped us from the outset.
Amidst a number of powerful scenes throughout the film, and there were plenty, was one in the second half of the movie.
The Bielskis, by this point, have established a secluded "camp" of hundreds that is eventually uncovered by the murderous German Army. A few of their guards discover a lone German soldier either hiding or spying on them, and forcefully drag him back to the group.
Many of the Jews there, including the Bielski family, have loved ones killed by the Germans. When they see a member of the enemy in the flesh right before their eyes, emotions run very high. This man is outnumbered about 300 to one, and most of that 300 want to tear him limb from limb.
The soldier, blonde-haired, maybe in his early 30's and looking relatively non-threatening, is thrown to the ground. On his knees, realizing his slim odds of escaping alive, he begs for mercy (in German). "I have a wife and children!" he cries, with an expression of unbridled terror and panic reading across his face.
Most of the Jews are uninterested in his pleas, and justifiably so, seeing only the uniform that represents brutal Jew destruction. As the soldier pleads, he is punched, kicked, cursed, and spat upon waywardly, until the angriest campers pistol-whip him into unconsciousness (with a rifle butt).
Though not conclusively portrayed, it is strongly implied that the young soldier did not walk away from the confrontation.
I don't know who the actor portraying the soldier was (actually, the only actor in this movie I'd ever heard of is Daniel Craig aka James Bond), but boy, did he play the emotions of fear and terror like a master. This guy managed to make me, knowing full well what he and his people did to the Jews, feel sympathetic towards him and almost want to see him spared.
In spite of the movie's title, the soldier was anything but defiant, on his knees pleading for his life. One almost gets the impression of someone who did not have anything against the Jews personally, but was forced to carry out the most evil of orders from the most evil of superiors or face serious consequences himself.
Flipping the coin, whether he did it reluctantly or not, the fact was he probably did kill Jews, and would kill more if allowed to live.
Two of the campers wrestled with the situation internally, knowing that letting this man go free put themselves at risk, but killing him would make them no better than he or his fellow Germans.
It was some of the best no-name acting I've ever seen.
The scene still haunts me, four days later...