Six Million and One
From the Documentary by David Fisher
It is an emotional journey for these grown children, now in their 40s and 50s, who engage in sometimes heated conversations, several taking place on the actual sites where Joseph and other prisoners endured unimaginable suffering. They speculate on how their father survived and how his experience affected their quarrelsome family. The movie’s biggest flaw is its devotion of too much time to these increasingly tedious discussions, which have the tone of group therapy sessions conducted without a leader.
In a director’s note Mr. Fisher observes that none of the four wanted to read their father’s memoir, with its horrific descriptions of a death march into the Gunskirchen forest where many starved. But he still felt compelled to read it.
Mr. Fisher is the only one of the four who seems eager to take the trip. The others are initially inclined to leave history behind and get on with their busy professional lives. In a recurrent structural device that is overused in the film, a young woman solemnly intones the causes of death of unnamed Holocaust victims, many of whom committed suicide.
Finding their way by flashlight, the siblings explore the labyrinthine tunnels of Gusen, dug by forced labor, that became a secret aircraft factory. They venture into the eerie forest where their father somehow subsisted on the few snails he could gather.
In the most moving scene two American veterans who liberated the camps share their memories of coming upon the thousands of starving prisoners at the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp who were so hungry they ate the cigarettes they were handed. Given K-rations, many died within two hours because their stomachs couldn’t take the sudden infusion of food.
As tears well up in his eyes, one declares, “I’ve never seen a horror movie that comes anywhere near what we saw, what we heard, what we smelled.”