The Family that Defied Hitler: Revealed - Tuesday October 23

the family that defied hitler: revealed (8/9)

This next film in Five’s award-winning historical documentary strand explores the extraordinary and hitherto unknown case of an entire Jewish family that survived the Holocaust to be reunited again after the war.

In the dark days of the Nazi regime, Jews faced a desperate and often futile battle to save their lives. It was extremely rare for more than one child in a family to survive, and even rarer for a married couple to escape alive. But a few years ago, filmmaker Michael Attwell discovered within his circle of friends a true story that is among the most amazing of all: the survival of an entire family – including the father, mother and two daughters. Only one other whole family in Nazi-occupied Europe is thought to have survived Hitler’s rule.

This film recounts the history of the family that defied Hitler through an astonishing combination of guile, nerve and luck. Their story is even more extraordinary because not only did they survive to be reunited after the war, but the parents voluntarily gave up their children once again to help them escape communist rule.

The tale begins with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, when a young Polish officer left his wife and two young daughters to fight for his country. Within a week, the battle was lost and the man was missing, presumed dead. His family were told that they had to move to a Jewish area, despite being highly assimilated into Polish society. The mother and her daughters found themselves fighting to survive in the notorious Warsaw ghetto, where they were to live for three years.

The girl’s mother adopted numerous strategies to make life possible. She befriended the ghetto doctor as a protector; sold her possessions for food; and even taught her daughters to pick the typhus-carrying lice out of their hair for two hours each day. Eventually, the girls were smuggled out of the ghetto and found their way to a nunnery outside Warsaw, whilst their mother was taken to a death camp at Ravensbruck in Germany.

Once the war was over, the girls faced the bitter prospect of life as orphans. Yet the elder girl still held hope of seeing her parents again, and returned to her old home in Warsaw to leave a message containing the whereabouts of her and her sister. The girls’ prayers were answered when one day they were visited at the nunnery by a strange man – their long-lost father.

It transpired that the father had cheated death in almost miraculous circumstances. Captured by the Nazis, he was challenged to a game of chess by a senior Gestapo officer, who promised to save his life if he won the match. The father duly won the game and spent the rest of the war in the Gestapo headquarters in Budapest.

The family’s good fortune was further sealed when the girls’ mother appeared at their convent, bearing her own remarkable story. She had survived malnourishment and hard labour in the fields of her concentration camp to be liberated.

Against the odds, each member of the family had survived the Holocaust, but the twist in the tale came with the rise of communism in Poland. In a bid to spare their children the harshness of this new regime, the parents convinced a rabbi to take them to England. The daughters moved to North London, while their parents remained in Poland and were allowed to make short visits to see their children.

This documentary recreates the history of this fortuitous family, with frank and moving interviews with the two surviving daughters – now aged 71 and 74 respectively. The film also uses archive footage, photographs and dramatic reconstructions to illustrate a tale of survival that, sadly, too few Jews were able to emulate.

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  • boeybaby

    I am so cross because I missed this programme last night.
    Will it be repeated?.Does anyone know?.Thankyou

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