The 91-year-old, who survived 44 months in concentration camps as a boy

The 91-year-old, who survived 44 months in concentration camps as a boy
Daniel Chanoch with his granddaughter in 2022

The thought of watching a documentary about the Holocaust usually weighs heavily on the chest. An understandable, if not the most normal, reaction to the idea of ​​confronting horror, guilt and the bestiality in humans. However, anyone who is thinking about watching “A Boy’s Life” can put their concerns to rest to some extent.

The work of the Austrian directing duo Christian Krönes and Florian Weigensamer (“A German Life” about Goebbels’ secretary Brunhilde Pomsel, “Marko Feingold – A Jewish Life”) can be seen in special screenings starting today (more on the right). It will be shown regularly in cinemas from Friday.

Of course it will take strength to face this film. But protagonist Daniel Chanoch, at 91 years old, is still blessed with a special power that allows him to ease the confrontation for those born after him.

Why it is like that? It may be his charisma and his demeanor that, at this advanced age, demonstrate a vitality that gives hope for his own “final third”. Also the fact that with him you are sitting in front of a person who, given what he survived as a child, shows more integrity and humanity than you could ever have dreamed of.

The Jewish Lithuanian Daniel Chanoch was eight years old when the Nazis took away his childhood by killing and destroying his extended family – a wound that continues to bleed to this day. 44 months in a concentration camp followed. An odyssey that meant the loss of father, mother and sister, forced labor for “camp doctor” Josef Mengele on the death ramp of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp: pulling trolleys full of corpses for the “routines on the assembly line of death”.

The odyssey ended after death marches in the Mauthausen concentration camp and in the notorious subcamp in Gunskirchen, which a US liberator described as the “furthest corner of hell.” Chanoch was 13 years old.

The directing duo drew the right lessons from the discrepancy between his tangible presence and the unimaginable abysses: they sat down their protagonist and simply gave him space to bear witness to the times. There is no commentator, no interview questions are heard, just Chanoch as the epicenter. The cinematic beauty here lies in the simplicity that Hollywood, for example, has forgotten so much.

“Truth is never traumatic”

The visual core is his face, captured in black and white close-ups, which belongs to a great speaker. With this production, cameraman and editor Christian Kremer (“Welcome to Sodom”) succeeds in building an echo chamber that quietly reinforces Chanoch’s messages. This flow is interrupted by historical footage such as the trial of Adolf Eichmann, “the organizer of the Final Solution,” and Nazi and Allied propaganda spots. A clever trick: They provide outside perspectives that are often ridiculously far removed from what someone on the inside actually has to say about the Holocaust. One of Chanoch’s most important lessons: “The truth is never traumatic.”

You should hold on to that when you hear him complain that cannibalism in the camps has not been dealt with openly enough in the coming to terms with the Holocaust. And when he describes his impression of the civil society he encountered in Upper Austria: “very anti-Semitic, wrong and hateful.” This makes “A Boy’s Life” a lesson that as many people and school budgets as possible should see. Preferably in the cinema, where all hardships can seep in – in the protection of the group.

“A Boy’s Life”: A 2023, 96 minutes in cinemas from Friday

OÖN rating:

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