For the survivors of the Holocaust, liberation came over 70 years ago, but what happened during the war still burns inside. Claire Ferguson’s absorbing 80-minute documentary Destination Unknown (released in selected cinemas on 16 June) captures the pain that continues to haunt them, and the resilience needed to live on.
The film centres on twelve survivors, twelve families torn apart by the Holocaust, twelve people striving to build a new future after the war.
Blending unique and intimate testimony with immersive archive film, the documentary does not dwell on the horrors of the camps – we see the now familiar images of the emaciated bodies only briefly – but rather unveils the human stories underlying the nightmare of the Holocaust and is all the more powerful and chilling for it. These include one of the few escapes from the terror of Treblinka and a survivor forced to watch a sadistic Nazi commandant training his two dogs to tear Jewish prisoners to pieces, as well as an exclusive interview with Mietek Pemper who helped Oskar Schindler compile his now famous list.
Using only the survivor’s own words, the film weaves a vivid narrative of lives sustained by genocide. We trace their journeys from the outbreak of war, through the misery of the ghettos to the unimaginable horrors of the camps. The film traces the narrow paths to survival, whether in hiding – one man who was hidden by a Polish farmer insisted he should sleep in the barn so if he was discovered by the Germans, the farmer wouldn’t be taken away and shot – fighting as partisans, or through enduring camps such as Krakow – Plaszow, Mauthausen and Auschwitz – Birkenau. While a few managed to escape, most had to try and find a way to stay alive until the end of the war. But their stories do not end with liberation. We see how they had to survive the chaos that came afterwards and their attempts to build new lives.
This film’s genesis is worth recounting. In 2003 following a chance encounter with the son of a Holocaust survivor, producer Llion Roberts embarked on a remarkable journey. Over the next 13 years, he travelled the world, interviewing and filming Holocaust survivors. Some like Ed Mosberg, regularly returned to the camps, in order to recall the traumatic events of the war. Others, like Oskar Schindler’s right-hand man, had previously refused to talk on film. Gradually a picture emerged of survivors who had each experienced a different horror but who had all shared the pain of living with the memory.
This, then, is an important, masterful documentary that can’t fail to move all those see it.
Released in selected cinemas on 16 June 2017
Watch the trailer here: