Holocaust is our Catastrophic Truth. We all are to be blamed. Not only the men who fueled it, but also the men who acted blindly. Where one side, a group of people still deny the existence of any such incident in history, Michael Samuels brings to screen the story of 300 Holocaust survivors who were brought to Lake School near Windermere, England, in order to help them to rehabilitate and rebuild their lives. The Windermere Children project was brought to life, to let these kids integrate back to normal society and live their lives peacefully. They did succeed in doing so, but the journey wasn’t facile.
The Windermere Children produced and written by Simon Block is a biographical drama film and a commendable venture, to show the after effects of war and genocide in the minds of kids, stuck in the midst of it.
The film begins with a bus travelling to the camp set on Calgarth Estate in Troutbeck Bridge, near Lake Windermere, England. A group of teachers and staff that includes Oscar Friedmann (Thomas Kretschmann), Leonard Montefiore (Tim McInnerny), Jock Lawrence (Iain Glen), Marie Paneth (Romola Garai) are waiting eagerly and nervously for these kids. None of them know what the journey ahead would be and how difficult it will be for both the management and the kids who have been through so much.
The kids come in, settle down in the places allotted to them, but with every incident that is said simply is visually and emotionally enhanced in the film, depicting their internal trauma and damage by Concentration Camps.
Oscar Friedmann, the managing head or warden of this rehab school is an excellent teacher but above all a brilliant human being. His approach towards these internally and externally wounded kids is both laudable and righteous in the sense. When the kids, the next day, take away the bread and run away from the mess, Oscar lets them do so, without judging or commenting, and by simply stating, “bring more bread, once they will know there is enough, they will come back.”
Oscar’s remarks are subtle but are filled with subtext, as in Concentration Camps the kids were deprived of bread and thus they run away with it. What Oscar is trying to do is reverse the effect and let them know that they are not in another concentration camp. He wants to make them feel that they are in good hands like Oscar and other staff.
Through a series of such incidents revolving around the lives of these survivors and Oscar’s approach to undo the effects as much as he can, Simon Block tells a fitting tale of their journey, as these children leave the Windermere Camp and slip into the real world. What is their triumph, is told in the end.
Oscar’s Approach – Kind and Righteous
As much as The Windermere Children is about the survivors, it is about Oscar and his approach to mend the scars, without which, the darkness would have kept surging. A teacher in the camp tells Oscar at night,
“For those of you who remember a life before(the war), these things were horrific. But these children grew up in that horror. For them, it was normal.”
What Oscar and his staff are dealing with, is to change the horrified normal of these kids and tell them that there is still some beauty left in the world. There are many heart whelming scenes, like the mess and the bread scene, where Oscar’s actions lend a thought to the viewers that many things could be done in the world if you change the approach and be kind to people around. If Hitler would have followed Oscar’s sane advice, there wouldn’t have been any war.
In one of the scenes, when Oscar takes the kid to the city to show them around, some neighborhood kids shoot at them with Nazi Salute. The survivors panic and agitates when Oscar asks the teacher to take them away. Oscar, very peacefully approaches these neighborhood bullies, and tells them that they are using the wrong arm for the salute.
“Trust me, I’m German. I’m also a Jew. They watched their families slaughtered by the Nazis. None of us can imagine what they went through in their short lives.”
Oscar is right and without using might or big lecture, Oscar’s response to the bullies stays with you throughout, because none of us can put ourselves in their shoes and what most of us can do is to be compassionate to them, while they try hard to overcome the trauma.
Yet another important and thought provoking scene is when one of the lads of the camp steals a neighborhood lady’s dog and hides it somewhere. The lady complains Oscar and demands a corporal punishment for the kid who did so, saying “Spare the Rod, spoil the child.”
Oscar smiles and very affably speaks, “Unlike carpets, madam, children are not improved with beating.” Thus, Oscar’s approach in all such provocative situations portrays a harmonious demeanor, something that is much required for the kids who have only dealt with violence and ferocity.
It is only Oscar’s humane approach that could have saved these survivors. But there is still an argument whether they will be able to adapt in the real society or not. Oscar knows he can’t protect them forever and he has to let these birds out of the nest. When he bids them adieu, he speaks his heart out, expressing words that would be their Holy Writ in reality to come.
“Earn your place in the world, as you have earned friendships. Be proud of who you are, and what you have overcome. And even if you struggle with the darkest of thoughts, be open to the wonders that life can offer.”
Oscar lets them go and they survive the real world fittingly. Every kid in the camp has its own story, his own trauma and Oscar lends each one a helping hand. His staff of teachers help him in his approach as they groom these individuals to realize their potential and future goals while trying to forget the deafening past. What is intriguing is to follow the nuances of each of these kids and their ambitions that let them fight the trauma and damage. Oscar helps them see the new hope in their life, and anyone who inflicts Hope in Humanity should be celebrated, by any medium. Simon Block’s medium is Cinema.
The Windermere Children is one of the most stirring and essential films of the year 2020. I request anyone who read these words, to watch the film, If they haven’t.
The film has a very stimulating line in the middle of it, and I am not sure to whom it is said, but it might be directed to anyone who denies the fact of Holocaust or the existence of it’s survivors. The Windermere Children’s thematic foundation is based in these few words.
“When we tell other people what happened, they won’t believe it. But we will always speak the truth.”
The Windermere Children is available for Video on Demand.
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