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As a Young Girl of Thirteen: Simone Lagrange Remembers Auschwitz

2011
Distributed by Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by Abacaris Films
Directed by Elisabeth Coronel, Florence Gaillard & Armand de Mazamat
DVD , color, 88 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Jewish Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies


Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 4/24/2013

Seven life stages are identified on the opening screen of this powerful documentary. They capture the path followed by Simone Lagrange from the time she and her family are caught in the Nazi purge of the Jews of Lyons, France, until the moment nearly three decades later when she testifies against Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, and helps send him to prison for the rest of his life. They are: Jew; Deportee; Nobody; Birkenau; Return; Everyday life; and, Witness.

Ms. Lagrange narrates her story, starting with recollections of pre-war Lyons, growing up in a peaceful setting as part of a loving family. All this changes in the early 1940s when Klaus Barbie takes charge of the city and begins the Nazi persecution of Jews and Resistance members. Viewers see the buildings in which the Lagranges and others are detained and tortured; images of personal identifications stamped “Jew”; and clips of people—both local collaborators and occupiers—pursuing their frightful activities. As head of the Gestapo in Lyons, Barbie interrogates both her mother and Ms. Lagrange on the whereabouts of her siblings, beating the youngster day after day for information she does not possess, because they have disappeared along with a number of their schoolmates. Only after the war’s end does she succeed in finding them and reuniting the part of her family who survive. Her mother and father are both murdered in front of her, the former at Auschwitz and the latter when she recognizes him as the slave labor camp at Birkenau is being dismantled.

At Auschwitz, Ms. Lagrange retains a streak of independence that even the worst of the Nazis’ dehumanizing oppression cannot break. That streak saves her from certain death while those around her are selected for the ovens. She is robbed of her possessions, her clothing, her hair, her name, everything that makes her a human being; yet, when commanded to stand at attention during the selection, she refuses, saying that she won’t stand up in order to die. Sent to Birkenau, she finds a few friends who help one another endure, eventually escaping from the death march that the Nazis hoped would cover the evidence of their crimes.

When he is finally caught and tried in the 1970s, Ms. Lagrange is shown testifying against Klaus Barbie. She refuses to allow his defense attorney to attack her testimony, stating that Barbie questioned her 42 years earlier and won’t ever question her again.

Technically, the film is outstanding, with excellent cinematography, smooth editing, fine audio, and excellent use of archival clips and images. Without doubt, this is the well-documented testimony of a courageous woman—truly a “woman of valor.” Surviving the horrors of the Final Solution and confronting her tormentor, she achieves justice not only for herself, but for those who did not survive.