Political Film Society - Newsletter #119 - December 15, 2001

December 15, 2001


UprisingIn 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto, created by the occupying Germans to contain the Jewish population of the city, erupted in guerrilla warfare against the Nazis. In Uprising, director Jon Avnet provides a docudrama of the era, from prewar Warsaw to the end of the underground movement. Originally a November 2001 television miniseries, the film was released theatrically in Beverly Hills for a week during December 2001. Sprinkled liberally with titles to demarcate the major events of the occupation, we see the senseless brutality of the German soldiers in trying to subdue some 500,000 Jews in the Ghetto. The provocations include ordering a Jewish violinist to play on the street, followed by a vicious beating, raiding a ballet school, and forcing women to strip naked before they are cleared for work. The roundup of children and older women for the death camp at Trebilinka also plays a major role. Adam Czerniakow (played by Donald Sutherland) is named the head of the Warsaw Jews by the Nazis, but he commits suicide rather than signing the order to commit his people to Trebilinka. Gradually, some Jewish residents come to the conclusion that they will either die with honor or as cattle. According to the film’s tagline, "They did the one thing the Nazis never expected. They fought back." Mordechai Anielewicz (played by Hank Azaria) assumes a charismatic role in mobilizing resistance, and among those who assist are Tosia Altman (played by Leelee Sobieski) and Yitzhak Zuckerman (played by David Schwimmer).

By collecting weapons and making Molotov cocktails, the Jewish Resistance manages to sabotage factories and ammunition dumps, while killing a significant number of German troops. Indeed, the resistance in 1943 staves off the German army longer than the Polish army, which fell to the Nazis in less than a month during September 1939. Major-General Jurgen Stroop (played by Jon Voight) tries to mount an offensive to rid Warsaw of all Jews by Himmler’s birthday, but he is unsuccessful and ultimately relieved of his command. Much of the last minutes of the film focuses on how the German army tries to hunt down the last remaining resistance fighters, who continue to be more clever. One important fact is that the resistance receives no help from the Allies or the Polish underground. Titles at the end indicate that General Stroop was found guilty of war crimes, while several of the surviving Jews escaped Warsaw and then channeled their determined spirit of resistance into making important contributions to the new state of Israel. At several times in the film a question -- "How can a moral person can sustain a moral code in an immoral world?" -- just as Jean-Jacques Rousseau once stated "To be sane in a world of madman is itself a form of madness." As a detailed account of how actual members of the Jewish Fighting Organization resistance fought despite overwhelming odds, while noting the failure of the Allies and Polish underground to assist them, Uprising has been nominated by the Political Film Society for an award as best film exposé of 2001. MH

Political Film Society members have two more weeks to nominate the best political films of 2001. No nominations will be accepted after December 31, 2001.