Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust (2019), directed by Rebecca Snow, is a poignant documentary that narrates the stories of three child survivors of The Holocaust focusing on their childhood experiences during Nazi persecution. It’s a character-driven documentary focusing on the personal stories of Helen Yermus, Rose Lipszyc, and Maxwell Stuart. It’s a deeply meditative film exploring loss, pain, memory, man’s inhumanity to man, and individual courage and the triumph of the will to survive. The documentary is deeply rooted within the stories of these three elderly Canadians who survived the horrors of Nazi German persecution as children during the Second World War when Nazi Germany was hellbent to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
Snow weaves together many visual elements to create a compelling and insightful documentary where tragedy meets survival and individual heroism. Interstitial tiles are used to structure the film. The director knits together first-person interviews, interviews with experts, archival footage, family photographs, narration, animation, and recreated scenes from her characters’ childhood experiences, montage editing, and mise-en-scene takes to make an emotionally moving and powerful documentary. The documentary incorporates both interior and exterior footage shot over an extended period of time at various locations which include Canada, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and Israel. Scenes alternate between Ms. Yermus, Ms. Lipszyc, and Mr. Stuart reflecting on their families, their childhoods, and their personal experiences of surviving the Holocaust, and as elderly senior citizens, coming to terms with their horrific traumatic experiences. The motif of loss, guilt, psychic pain weaves themselves through the documentary giving the film depth and structure. Some of the most dramatic scenes in the film include Ms. Yermus’s grandson visiting the site of her brother’s execution at Kaunas IX Fort now a museum, Ms. Lipszyc visiting Sobibor Concentration Camp where her mother and siblings perished, and Mr. Stuart reuniting with the family of Janek and meeting Tova whom he rescued when she was an infant.
Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust is a powerful film documenting the moving stories of three elderly Canadians who as children survived The Holocaust. Their collective experiences shine a light on the experiences of many survivors of The Shoah and is a painful reminder of man’s inhumanity to man but more importantly, is a testament to the triumph of the will and individual heroism.
The documentary is a labour of love and gives voice to the collective experience of the victims of Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Snow has not only created intimate portraits of three remarkable Canadians who triumphed over evil but has created a visual legacy that enshrines their personal stories which can be shared with future generations to educate them on the Nazi genocide inflicted on the Jews of Europe during the Second World War. The documentary has tremendous educational value and can serve as a vehicle to educate and promote social understanding and awareness. This documentary is deserving of your attention. Do see it!
Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust will have a special screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox presented by Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and on November 11, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the film will make it’s world-broadcast premiere on HISTORY.