All the production values and visual effects in the world can't top the stark power of a first-person account of a harrowing event. In "Witness: Voices From the Holocaust," a single camera captures the blood-and-tears-soaked remembrances of 19 individuals who lived through the Nazi genocide of European Jewry.

All the production values and visual effects in the world can’t top the stark power of a first-person account of a harrowing event. In “Witness: Voices From the Holocaust,” a single camera captures the blood-and-tears-soaked remembrances of 19 individuals who lived through the Nazi genocide of European Jewry. It’s a staggeringly powerful record of the atrocities suffered by innocent men, women and children, and a potent weapon to fight those who dare deny the evils of the past.

Producers Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar have assembled never-before-released interviews with survivors and witnesses from the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale U., and present them in a straight-forward style, using minimal music and archival footage. Without any additional narration, docu, based on interviews which took place in the 1970s, allows their tales of survival and loss to unfold as naturally as they would in an intimate conversation with a good friend or a family member.

Many of the interviewees are in their 40s and 50s and have never talked about their experiences. As a result, “Witness” captures their natural emotions as they flash back to the tragedy that took 6 million lives. They speak about the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia and how they became subject to hatred and discrimination by people they once thought of as friends and neighbors.

In some of the production’s most moving moments, interviewees shed tears as they recall losing their whole families in concentration camps Auschwitz and Majdanek. They admit to weak moments when they’ve had to steal a piece of bread from a friend to stay alive, or when the instinct for survival takes over all other human emotions. The horrors of smelling the burning flesh in concentration camps are described, as are the utter confusion and broken-spiritedness felt by many survivors at the end of the war.

The fact that “Witness” is not as large-scaled as similarly themed documentaries such as “Shoah” and last year’s Oscar-winning “The Last Days,” doesn’t diminish its power. The anguished faces of its subjects will stay with viewers a long time after it premieres on May 1, National Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Witness: Voices from the Holocaust

PBS, Mon. May 1, 10 p.m.

Production

Executive producer, Marion Lear Swaybill; producers/directors, Joshua M. Greene, Shiva Kumar.

Crew

Editor, Juantxo Royo; sound, Joe Deihl; underwritten by Charles H. Revson Foundation, Dorot Foundation and Fortunoff Foundation. 90 MIN.
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