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In 1938, with British immigration laws loosened, some 10,000 German-Jewish children were packed into trains and boats by parents worried about Hitler's movements. This was the Kindertransport, and the children were sent to uncertain futures with foster families in Britain by parents with the foresight, patience and skill to endure a bureaucratic maze of sponsorships, visas, and exit permits under a strict deadline. They promised to follow their children, but as this testimonial documentary discovers, precious few would live to be re-united with their children.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey
In 1993 Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List marked a turning point for films about war. Heroic shoot-em'ups were out and redemptive, provocative, reflective, and hopeful films were in. Mark Jonathan Harris' moving documentary takes that line. Narrated by Judi Dench and produced with the assistance of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, Into the Arms of Strangers comprises interviews with survivors and their extended families. There's also plenty of restored black and white photographs of faces long since passed. It's an Oscar winning documentary perfectly suited to DVD, and thankfully, the DVD is loaded with features.

There are two feature length commentaries with the director, writer and others, who all speak with empassioned power for a subject they care deeply about. The survivors, however, now in golden years but each with vivid memories of the past, speak for themselves, proving that this documentary is less interested in re-visiting the horrors of the Holocaust than in locating
small, redemptive, personal pockets of humanity.

The interviews section features intense personal stories of how loved ones were separated or came together, were lost or found. Each describes the agony of leaving their parents, the strangeness of England and the tragic aftermath of the war as they tried to rejoin the parents who sent them away. Most now live in England and the United States, but still speak with Central European accents. Like Kurt Fuchel, whose bubbly demeanor makes his tears all the more potent when he speaks of his love for the Jewish foster parents who sheltered him in Norwich. Or Lord Richard Attenborough (the old fuddy-duddy in Jurassic Park), who recalls the day his parents told him that two German-Jewish girls were to become his adopted sisters.

The photo gallery displays museum artefacts like clothing, toys and beloved items the children chose to take with them, historic photos, and production stills. There's an archive of known Kinder and their rescuers, like Nicholas Winton, who was responsible for bringing 664 Czech children to England. Even the written instructions of the process the Kinder went through for the
transport is included. There's touching footage of the London and Berlin premieres (London attended by Prince Charles), where Kinder were reunited.

The film occasionally over-sentimentalises with imagery and music, but it's excusable given the subject. For instance, one woman talks about how her father was unable to watch her leave from the platform and literally pulled her from the moving train's window. There's more to her story, of course, and each helps us comprehend a little more about this little known but marvellously moving historical event. As the film reminds us, while 10,000 were sent to safety in England, 1.5 million children in Europe weren't so lucky.

Published December 27, 2001

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia





DIRECTOR: Mark Jonathan Harris
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video
DVD RELEASE: November 20, 2001

Commentary by Producer Deborah Oppenheimer and Writer/Director Mark Jonathan Harris, Commentary with Editor Kate Amend, Sound Designer and Re-recording Mixer Gary Rydstrom, Archival Researcher Corrinne Collett and Composer Lee Holdridge, Interview with Lord Richard Attenborough, Interviews with Kindertransport Survivors, London and Berlin Premieres,Memorabilia from the Kinder, Photo Gallery; Profiles of the Kinder, their Parents and their Rescuers, Trailer, Web site link, Study Guide Access

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