December 13, 2017

1945: Holocaust Survivors Return to Hungarian Hometown in Postwar Drama

By Kam Williams

It is August 12, 1945. Japan is reeling and on the verge of surrendering in the wake of atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With Germany having surrendered to the Allies back in the spring, Europe is already in postwar mode, though not exactly at peace, as we are about to learn.

On this bright summer day Samuel Hermann (Ivan Angelus) and his son (Marcell Nagy) disembark from a train that has just arrived in their rural Hungarian hometown. Oddly, their presence doesn’t inspire the locals to celebrate the fact that two of their Jewish neighbors, who were taken away by the Nazis, had miraculously survived the Holocaust and have now returned home.

Instead, the Orthodox Jewish pair are greeted with suspicion, because their property had long since been appropriated by residents in the small town. So, as Samuel and his son load their luggage onto a horse-drawn-carriage, the village notary (Peter Rudolf) directs the driver (Miklos B. Szekely) to go very slowly. 

The delay lets Rudolf ride ahead and alert the rest of the community with the warning, “They’re here! The Jews are back!” One of his stops is the drugstore the Hermanns had been forced to leave behind which is now in his own son’s (Bence Tasnadi) hands.

That is the point of departure of 1945, one of the most intriguing Holocaust dramas ever made. The movie addresses a question generally ignored by historians, namely, what kind of reception did concentration camp survivors receive who chose to return home.

Directed by Ferenc Torok (Moscow Square), the film is based on “Homecoming,” a short story by Gabor T. Szanto. The picture is shot in black and white, which amplifies the solemnity of the Hermanns as they walk in silence behind the slow moving wagon.

Their dignified behavior is in sharp contrast to that of the alarmed citizens, most of whom respond by closing ranks and wondering how many other “interlopers” might come to claim their land and property that had been taken from them during the war. The movie is powerful parable of Biblical proportions, illustrating man’s inhumanity to man, as well as his capacity to forgive, if not necessarily forget.

Excellent (****). Unrated. In black and white. In Hungarian and Russian with subtitles. Running time: 91 minutes. Production Studio: Katapult Film. Distributor: Menemsha Films.