arts 05.13.03

Secret Lives

"I had very dear friends who were Jewish — a couple," says an immensely sympathetic Dutch woman, one of the rescuers featured in the documentary "Secret Lives - Hidden Children and their Rescuers During WWII."

"And they lived in the same town where I lived. And they asked my husband and I to take their son. So we took the child, of course. That was the beginning. The one child. And then there were friends who had to hide themselves. And by and by the house was full."

This film, produced and directed by New York filmmaker (and Academy Award winner) Aviva Slesin, has the intense power of a primal fairy tale, wherein children are smuggled to safety in suitcases (as was Ms. Slesin herself), where they are cared for in idyllic rural surroundings by kindly friends acting in locus parentis, or, for their own safety, forced to spend hours on end sitting in a clothes armoire to avoid discovery.

The Dutch woman's declaration, "so we took the child, of course" is so moving precisely because it was hardly a matter of course. Most were indifferent to the plight of their Jewish friends and neighbors, or fearful for their own lives and those of their family, or active collaborators. Some rescuers had a decidedly less altruistic intent. But it is the rare notion of helping until the house is full that gives this documentary its heartening undertow.

What makes "Secret Lives" so compelling, though, is the rather more complicated tale of what happened after the war. In most cases, the rescued children were uprooted again, in rare instances reunited with parents (and difficult reunions they proved to be for the children) or removed from the rescuing families, many of which wanted to adopt them, and placed with far-flung Jewish families. It turned out to be such a complex and highly charged time for all involved that the wounds as well as the deep affections have carried down the decades.

"Secret Lives" starts this Friday at the Quad, 34 W. 13th [5th/6th] 212.255.8800. After the 8:45pm show on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will be a Q & A session with Ms. Slesin.
John Zorn, who wrote the score for "Secret Lives", has a new chamber work called "Chimeras". More on it and Mr. Zorn at

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