By David Kenney
Go to any mall and you’re bound to hear a wail from some young kid stricken with grief. Many times, the whimpering bundle of joy is suffering from separation anxiety or lost-parent syndrome. Usually, the kid and parent are reunited.
For Jewish Kinderstransport kids, reunion was often more about hope than reality due to the Holocaust.
Illustrated in the documentary, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kinderstransport, losing a parent was all too common in a young Eastern European Jew’s life around World War II. And that was only one of the many reasons to wail.
The Kinderstransport was Britain’s answer to saving young Jews nine months prior to the war. Approximately 10,000 children were lifted to safety before the Nazi nightmare fully began. This Mark Jonathan Harris-directed film includes testimony from a variety of Kinder-stransport survivors, set against black and white footage of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before, during and after WWII. It’s a childhood experience unlike any other.
Into the Arms of Strangers tells the story of two types of WWII’s children. Nazi children are remembered through grainy footage as eager kids caught up in war fever. Seeing Nazi soldiers is eerie enough, but swastika-wearing children blooming with grins is completely mind-blowing. You only wish they were playing pretend.
Kinderstransport children are described as regular children and then as war-torn victims. And it’s not just the war images that are striking; the lines on the faces of some survivors betray the stresses of their early life. As a kid, learning to tie your shoes is stressful. Into the Arms of Strangers puts you in size-three shoes again, with your feet tired from running for your life.
By the end of the film, it’s easy to feel worn out. Harris builds the momentum, but not the drama. The drama is obvious, but thankfully, isn’t Hollywoodized here.
Movie vaults are already filled with WWII and Holocaust films, many of them poignant and extremely important. More recently, though, audiences have rightfully demanded to see both Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful. Observing the war through Liam Neeson’s Oskar Schindler is to partake on a journey of contradictions and heroism. Life is Beautiful’s Roberto Benigni is an example of the necessity for hope in the midst of tragedy. Still, hearing recollections from survivors is something no amount of proper scripting or storytelling can match.
Into the Arms of Strangers is almost something more necessary. Capturing Kindertansport survivors on film is a history lesson in being young and allowing yourself not to become old. And most of all, it reminds us that every wailing kid here is lucky, even if they are lost.