“Six Million and One”
A Film of Passion
David Fisher, an Israeli director was nominated for the 2012 Ophir (the Israeli Oscar) for his documentary “Six Million and One”. The film follows Fisher and three siblings as they visit and explore the concentration camps in Europe where their father, Joseph Fisher, was imprisoned during the Holocaust and World War II. After their father died, his children found his memoir and learned for the first time about his time there and his struggle for survival and ultimate liberation. This is quite an intense film especially the audio tour of Gusen, the exploration of the tunnels where Joseph was forced to build Nazi planes and the chamber orchestra and chorus performing in the middle of the forest. Joseph Fisher’s incredible story is portrayed with a sincere intensity, reflected in the deeply personal reactions of his children. They actually experience a sense of group therapy siblings on their journey.
This is a film that is only indirectly about the Holocaust. It is really about how Fisher and his brothers Gideon and Ronel and his sister Estee deal with learning about the experiences of their father, Joseph, who survived the Holocaust while interning at two concentration camps, Gusen and Gunskirchen in Austria. It was David’s idea that they travel to Gusen and it was an emotional journey as each of them reacts to the horrors that Joseph went through in his/her own way.
David Fisher merely follows his siblings along as they gradually open up with their thoughts and feelings. Among his siblings, he’s the only one who willingly goes on the journey and who read his father’s memoir. The footage of them having discussions in the car and particularly, in the tunnels where Joseph worked are not only engrossing but they are also thought provoking. They each certainly have a lot of emotional baggage that they’ve bottled up inside and their journey serves as a form of catharsis in a way albeit one without any concrete closure. It is interesting to see how the new Israeli reacts knowing that they are ready to go to war at a moment’s notice and fight to the death, something many feel that the victims of the Holocaust did not do.
This grapples with the repercussions and impact decades later on the next generation. The father died about 12 years ago in Israel and while David and his siblings knew generally that their parents were Holocaust survivors, they were surprised to discover that Joseph Fisher had handwritten a detailed memoir. But only David could bring himself to read about his father’s harrowing experiences and against-all-odds survival. After the native Hungarian was rounded up in May 1944 at age 17, Joseph avoided extermination at Auschwitz by being selected for the work camp at Mauthausen, and then endured slave labor at Gusen and a death march to Gunskirchen concentration camp, which was liberated by Americans in 1945.
Joseph Fisher saw death all around him and all of the time he was held by the Nazis. David was the only one in the beginning who dared to follow his father’s steps and he found in the archives of Mauthausen his father’s arrival number and transfer dates. Today most of what was the Gusen camp is now a housing development. The Gusen Commemoration Committee conducts an “audio-walk” tour of where camp buildings were, including the crematorium that was virtually at the residents’ front doors.
A year later, when David convinces three of his siblings to leave their families in Israel to return to Europe with him with him. We see their reaction when they recoil at even hearing German spoken, and become very angry at the lack of physical evidence preserved. He finally convinced them to come along because the Austrian government had just agreed to open up the last remains of Gusen, the rarely seen tunnels where the Nazis hid airplane construction to successfully avoid Allied bombing and whose dire forced labor conditions were a separate count in the Nuremberg indictments. Their tour guide cites statistics that Jewish prisoners usually only lasted a week, and is incredulous that their father survived to explicitly describe the starvation and backbreaking digging.
After Gusen, David insists they continue to follow their father’s footsteps to Gunskirchen. They are very much aware that picnicking by a memorial in what is now a pretty forest is a stark contrast to the descriptions in their father’s memoir and in the frank interviews the director conducted in the United States with elderly veterans of the 71st infantry division who liberated the camp. Not only do these men still have nightmares of the concentration camp they were horrified to come upon, but are still consumed with guilt that their spontaneous efforts to help the survivors are now known to have been counter-productive in saving the sick and starving.
The Fisher siblings struggle with how their father managed to survive—as the “one” of the title—under these extreme conditions. For all their issues with him looming over their lives, his legacy includes the warm qualities that keep these affectionate siblings close together with humor, honesty, and dedication to family.
The Holocaust is an inexhaustible event — there will probably never be an end to the stories of the lives affected by it. This movie is an actual account of people linked by family to its present-day effects. To watch four Jews who can’t avoid the repercussions of the Holocaust yet refuse to become victims to it makes for a fascinating film.
For David, this journey is one of healing, but for the three siblings whom he compels to join him, it’s a hurtful and unnecessary confrontation of pain better left buried, so the present can be enjoyed. The acts of remembering and forgetting are inextricably knotted throughout Fisher’s visits to the locations where Joseph toiled, which is also interrupted by a conversation with American military veterans still coping with post-traumatic stress from their camp-liberation experiences. Fisher’s use of POV shots overlaid with narrated readings from his father’s diary poignantly captures his desire to consciously inhabit scarred spaces that today—as evidenced by the sight of a family returning home to what was once the camp commander’s house—have been transformed into everyday locales stripped of their historical significance. All the while, Fisher and his kin’s incessant, contentious bickering exposes the ongoing difficulty of reconciling with inherited trauma.