In May of 1943, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels declared Berlin was ‘free of Jews.’ Little did he know that during WWII there were 7,000 Jews who were in hiding in Berlin at the start of the war. ‘The Invisible’ is a German documentary that profiles four German Jews who hid in the city, some in plain sight, during WWII. The Jews of Berlin that hid wore disguises, changed the color of their hair and stayed in secret hiding rooms or just continually walked the streets at night to escape detection.
The film tells the story of four individuals using interviews with them, combined with recreations and also actual footage from the time period. Each individual story is unique and how they survived the Nazis is amazingly varied. Ruth Arndt, Cioma Schönhaus, Eugen Friede, and Hanni Lévy tell their story of survival that lasted from 1940 until 1945 when the Russian army invaded the city. It’s a remarkable feat and their story is part luck, part smarts combined with the courage of ordinary German citizens who risked their lives to help hide them.
The interviews of the four are fascinating. All four were between 16 and 20 years old I can’t imagine being 16 years old, separated from your family, constantly in fear you will be detected and caught. Ruth poses as a war widow to blend in and at one point she works as a maid for a German General, who even knowing that she is a Jew, doesn’t ever turn her in. Hanni dyes her hair blonde and is on a constant search for somewhere to live and sleep. Hanni at times is forced to just walk in the streets for days on end, her only relief is to go to movies on almost a daily basis. Sitting in the dark for two hours gave her respite from the constant fear of being recognized or questioned. The film points out that for a while, there were about 20 Jews whom the Nazi’s let stay in Berlin. These Jews worked with the Gestapo to identify fellow Jews that were hiding in the city, most were doing this betrayal to try and save their own families.
Ciona, an artist, escapes being shipped to the concentration camp by forging papers that say he is needed to work in a factory that makes machine guns. He is so good at forging, he begins creating up to 20 forgeries a week for a black market businessman. Working out a garage with a fellow Jew, Ciona tells the story of how his friend mistakenly used a newspaper to heat the room, not knowing that was where Ciona had hidden the identity papers he was forging. The black market businessman doesn’t believe the story, thinking that Ciona had sold them for food.
At first, Eugen is protected by the fact that his father was a Gentile but he eventually has to leave his family and move in with a Communist family who distributes anti-Nazi propaganda. Eugen dons the family’s son’s Nazi uniform at times so that he can hide in plain sight. The family also took in Werner Scharff, one of the few Jews who escaped from a concentration camp. Werner was fearless and made it his mission to let people of the world what was going on in the camps, that the Nazis were murdering millions of Jews. Werner ended up being caught and was executed.
Every one of their stories is harrowing, with so many times they were so close to being caught. Eugen is actually caught near the end of the war when someone turns in the Communist family for spreading anti-Nazi leaflets. Eugen spends time in jail, waiting for his execution that never comes. When the Russians are on the outskirts of Berlin, Eugen is inexplicitly released.
The film not only tells the story of ‘The Invisibles’ but also the brave men and woman who risk everything to shield the Jews. Ruth, near the end of the war, had lost the room she was hiding in and is now just wandering the streets. Like Hanni, Ruth starts going to a movie theatre to rest for a few hours. One afternoon she meets a young man at the theatre and has a conversation with him after the film. It turns out his mother manages the movie theatre and had noticed that Ruth was coming almost every day to the theatre. The young man tells Ruth that he is going away to the front and could Ruth talk to his mother from time to time so she won’t feel lonely. Days later, the mother notices that Ruth has stayed in the theatre after closing. Ruth tells her the mother’s son had asked Ruth to look after her. She takes a chance and tells the woman that she is a Jew and does not have anywhere to stay. The woman takes in Ruth and even becomes like a daughter to her.
‘The Invisibles’ is at times hard to watch because of all the awful things happening but hearing these remarkable stories is uplifting in the end. These are stories that need to be told.
The Invisibles Review
My Rating: Full Price
Mike’s Movie Rating System From Best To Worst:
- I Would Pay to See it Again
- Full Price
- Bargain Matinee
- You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again