Sunday, March 20, 2005

World War II German war crimes in Belarus depicted in film

This year's Istanbul Film Festival is packed with choices World War II German war crimes in Belarus depicted in film 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Gallopoli

From my notebook


A great tragedy of war crimes was inflicted upon not just one, but 628 villages in Belarus (then Belorussia) of the USSR during the final years of World War II by German armies marching deep into Russia.

A film surrounding the atrocities, "Come and See," was made in 1985 by the late Russian genius filmmaker Yevgeny Elem Klimov, who died in 2003. It is a dramatic masterpiece in cinematographic history and especially so in the field of war films, and it also has a human touch.

The film opens in the interior of a poor Belarus village house where 13-year-old Alexei Adamovich is called to arms by the local militia to fight against the invading German army with ramshackle hunting rifles, dressed in dilapidated civilian garb yet rapt with nationalistic fervor. His mother, fearful of his fate, is left behind in hysterics with her young twin daughters as Alexei's grinning enthusiasm to join the militia due to his teenage psychology to prove his manhood prevails over her maternal preservation instincts.

Subsequently, while wandering around in woodland having been left behind by the militia because of his old worn-out boots, Alexei meets a young and beautiful yet traumatized girl crying alone and whom their own militia has just raped. They then live together for a short period of platonic togetherness before Alexei returns to his village thinking his mother will be happy to see him back. The sad reality is a scene of carnage next to their empty house while the cooking pot is still warm from the fire, with his mother and two twin sisters victims of the German soldiers' atrocities.

Alexei, shocked and who instantly ages into an old man, then joins another militia group, many of whom are killed by stepping upon land mines without firing a shot at the German armies as they march on. One particular scene depicts the searching for the dead bodies of his mother and twin sisters in a swamp, and, even if it was real, is too far-fetched to do credible justice to the memoirs of the young boy, Alexei Adamovich, who witnessed and barely survived the onslaught.

The main horror scene is when a whole village -- men, women and children -- are hurriedly collected in the main square with their identification and land registry papers. In an effort, in all probability, to economize on precious bullets they are all forced into a barn to be burned alive as human torches. This is reported to have been merely one such incident of the carefully counted 628 villages, all of which suffered the same ordeal and fate for no rhyme or reason and for no crime or fault of their own except that they happened to be there at that terrible moment while the German soldiers and their commander were enjoying themselves outside merrymaking with much laughter and drinking.

The reason given, as later spelt out by one captured German officer, was: "You're a backward communist nation. You do not deserve to live. As Russians you have no future." In the last scene the captured officers flatly deny their crimes, but Alexei -- who had not as yet fired a shot saved his one precious bullet until the end to shatter the framed portrait of Adolph Hitler, the main architect of the Holocaust -- is there to witness and identify the main players of the horror so depicted. This is, indeed, a difficult film to watch.

This utter inhumanity inflicted by man upon his fellow man without a cause and without an excuse still makes one ask, ?Why and why?? The present generation of Germans have condemned and apologized for the crimes committed against the six million Jews by their forebears in World War II -- and they still feel a moral burden. I would like to remind Ms. Angela Merkel, the secretary-general of the German UDP of this historical fact, and, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," before hastening to judge others.

I highly recommend this film to all those who, like me, missed its first showing in Turkey some time ago whenever they next have the opportunity to see it.