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I Have Never Forgotten You

USA 2006
Directed by
Richard Trank
102 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life And Legacy Of Simon Wiesenthal

Synopsis: For Jews who survived the Nazi death camps, the name Simon Wiesenthal is no doubt indelibly enshrined in their minds as a hero. For the perpetrators, his name would have struck fear into their hearts. For the rest of us, Wiesenthal will be introduced as a kindly, life-loving, humanitarian who, belying his positive outlook, went through hell and came out the other side to pursue justice for those who perished by relentlessly hunting Nazis wherever they tried to hide.

Screenwriter and director Richard Trank is an award-winning documentary-maker whilst his co-writer, Rabbi Marvin Hier, is the founder of the esteemed Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Together they have presented an inspiring distillation of a great man’s life using a variety of techniques ranging from archival footage of interviews with Wiesenthal and his friends and family, current-day visits to places of importance in Wiesenthal’s life, old photos and some never-before-seen footage of the death camps. Beautiful Yiddish-inspired music underpins the film. Despite the dark nature of Simon’s life, the film is rich with warmth and light moments. His sense of humour is also never far from the surface – he describes with relish how, as a boy in school, he delighted in aggravating his teachers by teaching the Goyim (Gentiles) to speak Yiddish, the language of the Jews.

Some wonderful insights come from the man’s vivid discussions of his memories, such as when his camp was liberated and he observed US soldiers interrogating SS men who were now in shackles. He remembers it as representing “the tip of justice”. He describes how he was alone with nothing else to do so he started helping by listing SS criminals and so his life’s passion was born. The film presents a balanced view and doesn’t try to idealise the man. He is seen at times as a workaholic who caused great stress for his loving wife, Cyla, and his daughter, Pauline, who we are lucky enough to hear talk of her father. The world’s changing attitude to Simon is also covered, as there was a period in the '80s when he was ridiculed and other times when he was a lone voice crying in the wilderness. He was subjected to death threats and his house was fire-bombed yet he never lost the desire to track down each and every Nazi who was brought to his attention.

In his later years he was held in great esteem. Many of the interviewees speak lovingly of him, describing him as genial and jovial. Ben Kingsley describes Weisenthal as “tapping into an understanding of grief in all our history” and indeed the man’s work and experience should be a beacon of hope and comfort to the families of victims of all subsequent and more recent holocausts that the world has endured. In fact, at age 90, he was still writing and speaking publicly on genocides in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Cambodia.

Wiesenthal’s great humanity is also shown in many anecdotal episodes. When he finally tracked down the heinous killer Adolf Eichmann, a colleague suggested that they catch and drown Eichmann’s children. “We are not at war with children,” says Wiesenthal, who could retain his perspective despite having lost an amazing 89 extended family members to the death camps. Some extremely moving moments come later in the film when Bill Clinton awards the now old and frail man the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Above all, his humility is remarkable. You don’t get a much more inspiring story than that of Simon Wiesenthal and I Have Never Forgotten You brings home a profound lesson that we all can take to heart.

 

 

 

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