The Resistance aka The Invisibles (Die Unsichtbaren)

Germany (2017) Dir. Claus Räfle

World War II has given us, and continues to do so, numerous horrific stories about the atrocities and suffering that occurred during this tumultuous period. While it is wrong to single out one particular event or aspect as the “most” upsetting, one can argue the blanket discrimination against the Jews rank high on a list of contenders.

German director Claus Räfle takes a creative approach to giving a voice to four Jewish survivors from WWII, possibly the last chance he or anyone may have to get firsthand accounts from this period, by presenting a dramatisation of their story betwixt archive interviews with the people themselves.

The year is 1943 and the Nazis have declared Berlin free of Jews, yet 7,000 Jewish people have managed the impossible and remained underground, although only 1,500 would actually survive the war. Through a combination of their own guile and help from friends and sympathetic Germans, these brave people managed to hide in plain sight of the Nazis.

Räfle interviews and tells the story of four such survivors. Cioma Schönhaus (Max Mauff) was a 20 year-old factory worker and a forger of passports that helped other Jews escape Germany. He has the biggest balls and shows the most ingenuity of this quartet in evading capture, beginning with convincing the Nazi’s his job at a gun factory makes him indispensible.

In finding accommodation, Cioma removes his yellow star to gain a list of houses offering rooms from the welfare office and subverts the system by claiming to be the survivor of a bombed out home, then arriving late so he has to register with the police the next morning, by which time he has left and moved on to his next room. He eventually finds a landlady who couldn’t be doing with the Nazis, giving him a (semi) permanent base.

Hanni Lévy (Alice Dwyer) was orphaned at 17 and with the Nazi’s closing in on her, she could no longer stay at home anymore and effectively becomes homeless. To avoid detection, Hanni has her hair dyed blonde and changes her name to Hannelore Winkler, proving successful in staying under the Nazi radar but doesn’t solve her accommodation problem.  

For Eugen Friede (Aaron Altaras) finding accommodation was not much of a problem, rather finding somewhere safe for an extended period. Unlike the others featured in this film, Eugen spent his time mostly moving from house to house thanks to the large network of friends of his father. It was only as the war was coming to an end that Eugen was finally caught and imprisoned.

Last but not least was Ruth Arndt (Ruby O. Fee), the only one of the four who has since passed away. Previously staying with patients of her doctor father, Ruth and friend Ellen Lewinsky (Victoria Schulz) resort to posing as war widows willing to work as cleaners for a room. They eventually end up in the employ of a Nazi general who remarkably keeps their secret.

Each of the stories is unique in how they all had different ways of avoiding capture, from the boldfaced to the desperate, and might seem farfetched had the people themselves not been on hand to share their tales with us. It is the fact that they are true that makes them so shocking and frankly miraculous given the horrific records of Jewish persecution at the hands of the Nazis.    

Of the four stories, Cioma’s is the one that lends itself to feeling more like a fictional drama with him being so active in rebellious activities and proving incredibly resourceful in evading capture. This leaves him open to more pitfalls to avoid, such as a feckless colleague accidentally burning a pile of papers and passports Cioma was due to deliver to his sponsor, or worse still, leaving his bag with his own papers on a train!

The one thing we are asked to take away from this film, as encouraged by the survivors themselves, is the important fact that not everyone in Germany supported or agreed with the Nazi’s anti-Jewish stance. Many of the people who risked their own lives and freedom in giving the Jews a place to hide were not Jewish and saw no distinction between them as German people due to their religion.   

During one scene where the young daughter of one of Eugen’s host families is told the truth about the “cousin” she never knew of before, the real Eugen’s voice over explains his fear at the time as it was known that any members of the Hitler Youth would report their own parents if they opposed the Fuhrer in anyway. A terrifying indication of how far the poisonous doctrine of Hitler stretched.

It seems plausible to assume this was originally two separate projects which were then combined to save time, however Claus Räfle insist this wasn’t the case, explaining that hearing the story directly from the horses’ mouths doubles its impact and validates its veracity – and it works.

Having each scenario acted out makes it more palatable and easier to follow rather than being left to our own imagination to envision what they went through, but we don’t feel manipulated by this approach at all – if anything it increases our understanding and unequivocally our admiration and respect for the survivors.

The tone, despite the grim subject matter, is rather positive in how the Jews continue to evade the Nazis and sets our cast up as inspirational heroes and not victims, yet this ostensibly is why they are in this situation in the first place. The actors are all up to the task in bringing these tales to life and Räfle has faithfully recreated the aesthetic of the era and the unease and unpleasant air created by this shameful witch-hunt.

A bold and original docu-drama The Resistance is a film that needs to be seen with stories that need to heard, including the classroom, in offering a personal perspective on this infamous period of history.