Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

In Darkness

(Polish, 2011)

In 1943 the fucking Nazis decided to liquidate the Jewish ghetto in Lvov. (Or Lviv, or Lwow, sources differ. It’s a city with a complicated history. At the time it was part of Poland; now it’s in the Ukraine. No, they didn’t move the city, they moved all the Poles.) A small group of Jews entered the sewer system and tried to hide there to escape the slaughter. They were assisted by Leopold Socha, a sewer worker, but not from the goodness of his heart. One of the Jews was rich, and Socha charged them for everything he did for them. He was as anti-Semitic as any other Pole, a people historically almost as prejudiced as the Germans or Russians.

But eventually the money ran out … and Socha continued helping them and bringing them food. It struck me as a sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome, where hostages come to like the hostage takers. He had invested so much of himself, and had also come to know them as people. For whatever reason, it worked. The dozen or so Jews stayed underground in the filth and stench and rats for fourteen months. This film recreates that grim experience. In the film, Socha is shown proudly proclaiming to the amazed citizens as the Jews crawled out of the sewer for the first time, “These are my Jews! My Jews!” Whether or not that actually happened, it is a fact that Socha was named “Righteous Among Nations” (formerly, “Righteous Gentile”) by the State of Israel, just like Oskar Schindler.

This movie is not quite the tear-jerker that one was, but it’s damn good. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film (the Iranian entry, A Separation, won). It must have been a real bitch to film, too. The sewer sets were narrow and low, with water running along the tunnels. The actors were wet much of the time, and the camera crews had to wrestle heavy steadicams backwards through all that. My hat is off to them.