“THE INVISIBLES”— Jews in Berlin, Hiding


“The Invisibles”

Jews in Berlin, Hiding

Amos Lassen

You might find it surprising that even under the oppressive National Socialist regime, at the height of the war, homelessness afforded a cloak of invisibility—fortunately. The air raid blackouts also helped. Even after Berlin had been declared “free of Jews” in 1943, an estimated seven thousand remained in hiding throughout the city. About 1,700 would survive the war and outlive those that tormented them. Four of those survivors tell their stories in Claus Räfle’s dramatic-documentary hybrid or mockumentary, “The Invisibles”.

Cioma Schönhaus set a new standard to the meaning of survival. For a while, he lived night-to-night pretending to be a new draftee summoned to Berlin, living in spare rooms provided by patriotic Germans for recruits awaiting their formal mustering. Eventually, he became involved with a counterfeiting ring and saved thousands of German Jews and dissidents with his fake papers, while also making enough money to eat in fancy restaurants.

After dying her hair blonde, Hanni Lévy spent her days in cinemas and window-shopping on the Kurfürstendamm, but she never knew where she would spend her nights or where her meals would come from. Ruth Arndt and her sister would eventually become maids for a high-ranking military officer, who knowingly shielded them from his colleagues. Eugen Friede probably lived a more typically “hidden” existence, but he too would become involved with the resistance. The people we meet here did not spend much time locked away. Instead, they largely followed a hide-in-plain-sight strategy, which seemed to work, because the National Socialists never expected it. Of course, their involvement in resistance networks would raise the stakes even further if they were caught.

There have been other films that combined talking head documentary segments with dramatic representations. Director Räfle gives them both equal weight. Probably the strongest performance is that of Alice Dwyer as the desperate Lévy, but the late Schönhaus’s recollections are the most fascinating. Nevertheless, the entire ensemble is quite strong and the oral history of all four survivors is profoundly valuable.

The film adds another dimension to what we know about the horrors of National Socialism. All four survivors go out of their way to celebrate the righteous Germans who sheltered them. What this film documents and dramatizes is incredible.

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