End of the Line, Seeshaupt: A Documentary by Walter Steffen 2013
Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films Ltd., P.O.Box 7153, Jerusalem, 91071, ISRAEL
Produced by Walter Steffen
Directed by Walter Steffen
DVD, color, 88 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Judaism, Jewish Holocaust
Date Entered: 10/23/2013Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA
This German-made, German-produced documentary is the memoir of Louis Sneh, a Hungarian-Jewish teenager in 1945, who was transported by train from a Nazi labor camp in Muehldorf-Mittenheim to Seeshaupt—the end of the line—where he was liberated by a unit of General Patton’s Third Army. One would think that lengthy narration in German with English subtitles, punctuated by Mr. Sneh’s sometimes halting comments, testimonies, archival clips, and historical images would be an interminable bore, but it is anything but. Mr. Sneh’s story is full of suspense, surprising revelations, and a hopeful ending in spite of taking over half a century.
Mr. Sneh says the mission of the slave laborers in Mueldorf-Mittenheim was to build jet planes for the Third Reich. Starved, beaten, and driven like animals, he acknowledges that it was solely chance that saved his life on more than one occasion. Others were shot because they were too weak to work, or they died of disease. One wonders why, when it became clear in the spring of 1945 that the Nazis had lost the war, that they invested any resources at all in transporting the remaining slave-laborers to places the advancing Allied armies might not find them. On more than one occasion, Sneh and the rest of the slaves found that their keepers had abandoned them and run away. But, what could they do? Local people were loath to harbor them, although some good souls gave them bread and warm clothing. The SS returned and they went back to the train.
In addition to Mr. Sneh, a fellow slave-laborer, Max Mannheim, recounts his experiences during the transport. What happened to him augments Mr. Sneh’s statements and Mr. Mannheim provides a slightly different perspective, more considered, yet equally compelling.
Technically, the live action blends well with the historic images and film clips. Additional testifiers, that pop up in a corner of the screen like talking portraits with identifying information are interesting, too. One improvement on that technique would be to keep the names on the screen a bit longer. Since the narration is in German, English-speaking viewers are torn between reading the translations and seeing who is speaking. Like footnotes in a book, they document the story.
For the most part, moving back and forth in time contributes to the impact of Mr. Sneh’s story, because one can see (or, in some instances, imagine) the aging adults of the present as the children they were in the chaotic days when World War II was ending. These children had to have been affected deeply by what they saw when Jewish slaves were herded through their towns. End of the Line, Seeshaupt and other documentaries that tell the stories of survivors are more important than ever to counteract the lies perpetrated by Holocaust deniers, or those who say that Jews were only a paltry few of Hitler’s victims. As time passes and the remaining survivors die, such lies might go unchallenged. Fortunately, films like this one remain to tell the truth.