In Darkness (2011)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Agnieszka Holland.

Starring:     Robert Wieckiewicz (Leopold Socha), Benno Fürmann (Mundek Margulies), Agnieszka Grochowska (Klara Keller), Maria Schrader (Paulina Chiger), Herbert Knaup (Ignacy Chiger), Marcin Bosak (Yanek Weiss), Julia Kijowska (Chaja), Jerzy Walczak (Jacob Berestycki), Oliwer Stanczak (Pawel Chiger), Milla Bankowicz (Krystyna Chiger), Krzysztof Skonieczny (Szczepek), Kinga Preis (Wanda Socha), Aleksander Mincer (Szlomo Landsberg), Piotr Glowacki (Icek Frenkiel), Maria Semotiuk (Mania Keller).

a gentile Pole saves a number of Jews who sought shelter in the sewers of Lvov

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Two men, Szczepek and Socha, are robbing an apartment. Two young people come into the apartment. The boy is with the Hitler Youth and the girl seems to be his girlfriend. The lead robber Socha yells at the girl: "What are you doing with this Kraut?" She answers: "None of your business!" This gives the boy time enough to grab a pistol from a cabinet. He points the gun at the leader and pulls the trigger. Click. Now the leader grabs the pistol from the boy and hits the young fellow in the head with it. The boy goes down to the floor. Socha says with contempt to the girl: "Get yourself a Polish man to fuck."

The robbers run into the forest. It's quiet in the forest and then the robbers see women being driven screaming through the forest by German military men. (Some nudity involved.) Then they hear the sound of machine gun fire. The guys go to see what happened and see the women shot dead laying on the ground.

The two robbers go down into the sewer to hide their goodies behind the bricks cut out of a brick wall.

The leader Socha returns to his home. His blonde wife, Wanda, asks him where has he been? He tells her he had to take care of a blocked pipe. She says that their daughter Stefcia needs some fresh fruit or she's going to be coughing until summer. He goes over and tucks his daughter's foot under the covers and then he hops in bed with his wife. They have sex. (brief nudity)

Some Jewish men are busy cutting a hole through concrete. Somebody tells them they are being too loud. Outside the German soldiers are harassing the Jewish people who have to wear arm bands with the Star of David on them.

Szczepek walks up to the fence that is part of the wall around the Warsaw ghetto. He calls over one of the "Yids". The young man comes over and Szczepek hits him as hard as he can in the face. That had to have hurt. Szczepek tells the fellow that's for the fake engagement ring the man sold him.

Szczepek and Socha return to the sewer after another successful robbery. Szczepek tells his friend that Marysia is going to leave him. He says he thinks his girl is fucking the neighbor fellow named Aleksy. Socha tells him to beat Marysia. Szczepek says that Socha is just teasing him again.

The robbers hear the sounds of hammering and stop to listen. Socha says the sound is coming from the ghetto. The diggers bust through the hole they're creating. The men drop down through the hole into the sewer. There they are met by the two robbers. Szczepek recognizes the man who cheated him with the fake engagement ring. The fellow's name is Pirate.

A Jewish mother yells for her daughter Krysia. She tells the two children running around the house if they don't stop it, they will have to go back into the closet to hide. Socha comes up out of the hole first. This frightens the mother. But her husband follows after Socha. He is shocked to see that Paulina has let the children out of the closet. She requests that Ignacy not be angry. The kids needed some fresh air.

Socha tells the men that he knows of a possible hiding place inside the sewer system where they might just be able to hide from the Germans successfully. For the right price, that is. How much? 500 a day.

One of the Jewish men says to the other Jews that the little fellow, Szczepek, is scared and is sure to betray them. Another Jewish man says never trust a Polack. There is talk of killing the two robbers, but another man says the Germans will kill 20 Jews for one gentile killed.

While the Jewish fellows are talking and plotting, so are the two Polish fellows. Socha says: "We can always turn them in later. First, let's see how much they have." He then says to the other men: Do we have a deal? Ignacy gives them a "down payment" and the Polish robbers leave. The Jewish men put a some lumber, a rug and a table over the hole.

At a tavern an old friend from prison calls out to Socha. Socha shouts out with the man's name: Bortnik! Bortnik is a Ukrainian. He points to his lapels and says he's a commander now. Socha introduces him to Szczepek. Bortnik says there were a lot of untrustworthy bastards in prison, but the man that could be trusted was Socha.

Ukraine is an old enemy to Russia. Bortnik says the Germans were the best thing to happen to the Ukrainians in ages.

One of the Jewish fellows, named Janek, with a wife and child is having an affair with an attractive woman named Chaja. At night he sneaks over to her bed and gets under the covers. They start kissing. Chaja tells him not to be so loud or they will wake the others. So Janek starts playing with himself while he leans close to Chaja. Wife and child see this from their bed. The mother puts her hands over the eyes of the child.

German trucks drive into the ghetto. Down in the sewers our two robbers hear the sounds of automatic weapons fire. The Germans are probably killing some Jews. As the two men run through the sewers they can hear constant firing.

Apparently, the killings are taking place right in a part of the sewer system. Outside Germans are beating and kicking Jewish people.

Paullina runs home and along the way sees the Jewish dead. She runs to her apartment building to check on her children. She goes upstairs and into her apartment. Going over to the closet she whispers for Krysia and Pawel. They are both alive.

Pirate rushes up to the apartment where Janek and many other Jews have gathered. Pirate fires his pistol into the ceiling to get everyone's attention. Pirate goes over and uncovers the hole. People start going down into the sewer system.

With all the pushing and shoving to get into the sewer system, some fights break out. Janek and Klara go down without his wife and child because they refused to go with him as long as he was taking Chaja along.

Ignacy, Paulina and their two children go down below. Some children are afraid to go below because it is almost solid black down there. Pirate tells a woman named Mania that she cannot stay up here, but she insists that her family is staying. So Pirate grabs Mania and her daughter and forces them to go down below.

Down in the sewer Mania starts panicking and crying. Her friend tells her to stop it. Mania puts up such a fuss that her sister Klara ends up having to give her a spanking. Pirate (or Mundek) comes along to tell Mania that upstairs the Germans will kill her. Mania finally starts calming down.

Socha leads his group to a hiding place. There are refugees there before them. So Socha has to push on past them. He tells his group to stay where they are for right now. He goes to check things out ahead of them and with his flashlight finds dead bodies floating down the sewer system.

A man with a large cart starts hauling dead bodies out of the ghetto. Socha sees the cart pass by him. Two Ukrainian guards stop Socha and say he's Jewish. He tells the guards that Bortnik is a friend of his. He knows him well. The guards decide to take Socha to see Bortnik.

Bortnik tells the guards that Socha is okay. A man is shot in the head execution style. Bortnik asks what the heck is Socha doing here? Socha tells him that he was working, but had to come up because of a blockage down below.

Bortnik wants to know if his friend saw any Jews down below? Socha says only dead ones. In fact, that's what caused the blockage.

Socha goes home. His wife wants to know all about what Socha saw while he was out. Socha doesn't want to talk about it. His wife Wanda says she wonders with all that noise if there is anything left of the ghetto. She also says: "Those poor people."

Socha says the Germans are offering rewards for turning in Jewish people. Some people have made a bundle of money by doing this. The wife says: "God will punish the greedy." Her husband thinks the Jews are being punished by God, but the wife says: "Jews are just the same as us."

Klara wakes up at night and finds Mania gone. She starts asking people if they have seen her. A young man tells her that Mania left here saying that this is a place she doesn't wish to die in. Klara starts to go find her sister, but Pirate gets up and tells her not to go out there. So Klara wants Pirate to find her sister. Pirate goes looking for her.

Socha buys a lot of groceries and arouses the suspicions of the woman grocer. She says the other week his wife was in here and she didn't have the cash to pay for her groceries and now her husband is in here buying enough food for an army. Socha doesn't like her snooping around him, so he doesn't say anything to her in reply. He just leaves.

The newspaper from the Nazis say that the German heroes will triumph over the Bolsheviks and Jews and take Stalingrad. Ignacy says if you read between the lines you can tell that the Germans are losing.

Socha comes down to the hiding place and tells the people that he has food for them. They mob him so much that he has to tell them to stop the shoving and fighting.

Klara asks about the ghetto. Pirate tells her: "Anyone left alive was taken to Janowska Camp. The ghetto is empty." Of course, this upsets Klara.

Socha picks out three men to go with him. He takes the men to a new hiding place. He says only ten or eleven will be moved here.

Ignacy and Paulina and their two children are chosen. Also going are Pirate, Klara, Janek, Berestycki, Chaja and Landsberg. And Frankiel makes eleven. Others want to go too, but Socha says no more than eleven and that's it.

The eleven are moved to their new quarters. Ignacy is bothered by the daily payment of 500 to Socha, but the leader says after he buys food for them, he only has 70 left, and he has to share that with Szczepek. He becomes irritated and says something anti-Semitic: "You're bargaining over your own life. You're just like any other Yid!"

Socha goes home and waiting for him is Bortnik. The Ukrainian tells Socha that he has Jews in his sewer. His wife says Socha knows nothing about it. Bortnik says a woman on Peltewna Street could smell fried onions coming from her toilet. Bortnik wants Socha to take him into the sewer immediately to get the Jews.

One of the men with Bortnik fires a shot because a rat scared him. This gives the Jews a signal to hide. Socha searches those areas where the Jews are, but reports that he sees nothing.

Szczepek is dining with Socha and his family. He lets slip that they know this certain Jew named Mr. Ignacy Chiger. This alerts Wanda and she asks her husband about the two of them knowing about Jews. He says they found a few Jews in the sewer system. She wants to ask more, so he tells her that the Jews pay them money. Wanda now gets really mad at her husband and she walks away from the table.

Janek and Chaja start having sex. This awakens some of the others. One woman masturbates to the sounds of the love making.

The next morning Bortnik tells Socha that the Germans found a bunch of Jews in the sewer system He's upset because he missed out on the money he would have gotten for capturing the Jews. Socha gets out of there as fast as he can with Szczepek following after him.

Suddenly Szczepek stops. He says: "I can't help you anymore." So Socha goes without him to check on his Jews. He finds Pirate throwing a dead woman into the local river. The larger group of Jews are dead, but Pirate's little group of eleven are still alive.

Janek starts going crazy. He grabs a pistol and starts threatening to kill the others. Pirate finally convinces Janek to sit down and be calm, but Janek still has the pistol.

Pirate agrees to take Klara out just to see some sunshine. They travel within the apartments to stay out of sight of the Germans. While helping her to put on some shoes they found, Pirate tries to kiss her, but she pulls her face back.

Socha goes down to visit his small groups of Jews again. The group is listening to Ignacy's little daughter sing to the group. Klara grabs Pirate's hand. Socha arrives in time to hear the little girl singing. He congratulates her on singing so well. Ignacy tells Socha that he has no more money left, but he tells Socha where he buried his wife's jewelry.

Socha finds the jewelry and takes it with him in his bag. He shows the beautiful necklace in the collection to Wanda. But when Wanda hears that the jewelry is from Mr. Chiger, she puts the necklace back in its box and then walks away from Socha.

Janek, Frankiel and Landsberg steal a wallet from Mr. Chiger and the pistol from Pirate. They leave the place. Socha comes and asks where's Janek? He ran off with Frankiel and Landsberg. Socha says they will be killed.

Socha gives the necklace and other jewels to Ignacy. Ignacy says Socha was supposed to sell the jewels to get money for food. Socha tells them that he won't be coming back. He says he's risking his own life and that of his family. And for what? Complaints, accusations and betrayal.

Pirate tries to choke Socha to death, but the others stop him. They say that Socha could have ratted them out to the Gestapo at any time, but he never did. Klara says she is very sorry for what happened to Socha. He is now very angry and bitter and tells the group: "You'll die here like dogs."

Szczepek tells Socha that Marysia is pregnant. Socha asks Szczepek is the baby his or is it Aleksy's baby? Szczepek starts hitting Socha, but Socha is the bigger fellow and he knocks Szczepek down.

Chaja collapses. Klara comes to her aide. She gives Chaja her daily share of water.

It is snowing outside. Socha goes searching for anything useful in the ghetto apartments. He sees a German soldier corner Pirate in the streets below. Pirate says he needs to join the work detail that just passed by. So the German follows behind him. The soldier tells Pirate to stop and says Pirate looks too healthy to be a Jew.

Socha comes running up to the two men calling Pirate a Yid. He speaks in Polish so the German wants Pirate to translate what Socha is telling him. The two men keep the soldier off guard and then Socha grabs the soldier and Pirate beats him over the head with a metal object.

Now they have to hide the body. They do so. Socha now takes a big gulp of liquor.

Now working with a new partner, Socha splits off from him to check on his Jews. He finds Ignaqcy's two children who are lost. The partner calls out for Socha. Socha tells the kids to stay right where they are while he deals with his partner.

The partner says that he found the problem in the sewer and he will fix it. Socha can go home now.

Socha picks up the two children and takes them back to their hiding place. Paulina is so relieved to see Socha with her two children. When Ignacy comes back and sees his children, he too is filled with joy.

Socha now tells everyone that he will proceed as before if it's alright with everyone. It's alright. Socha takes the jewelry to sell.

A woman tells Socha that the Germans killed ten Jews for one of their soldiers who was killed. And after that they killed 40 Poles.

Socha looks at the group of men hanged for the death of the German soldier. He is shocked to find Szczepek among the dead.

Socha goes home. He tells Wanda that they killed Szczepek. She blames her husband for this, but Socha says he hasn't worked with Szczepek in months. Socha cries saying that Szczepek was innocent.

A sewer worker stumbles upon the now seven Jews and rushes out to tell the Germans. Socha hears the man yelling that he found Jews in the sewer. He goes down to move the Jews to another hiding place.

While moving, Chaja has a panic attack while crawling through a narrow area. The others have to help her out of there. Klara gets mad at her saying she has been stealing food and gotten fatter. A few moments later Chaja confesses that she is pregnant.

In moving around, the group finds the dead bodies of Janek and the two others.

Pirate wants to get into the Janowska camp. He tells Socha that Klara needs to know if her sister Mania is alive or not. Socha sets up a meeting with an older man who can help Pirate get in and out of the camp.

Pirate joins in the ranks of a work detail. The guards makes them crawl back into the camp. Back in formation one of the guards is going to shoot Pirate in the head with his pistol for not having his hat with him. A superior officer shoots in the air to stop the execution. Pirates of course, is relieved to say the least. The officer comes over telling the guard that the man is healthy. If he needs to shoot someone . . . then the officer shoots the man next to Pirate in the head. Now Pirate gets the dead man's hat. The officer goes on: if the guard needs to shoot someone, pick someone who is not so healthy.

Socha pays another visit to the Jews. He sees that the women and Ignacy are working hard with Chaja to give birth to her baby. Socha says that the baby will alert the entire community above when it cries. The baby boy is born. Janek's name is mentioned and Socha blurts out: "Janek is dead." The news hits Chaja hard.

Socha tells Wanda about the baby. He says he will speak to the nuns about taking the baby in. Then Wanda says she could say that she's taking care of her brother's baby while the mother is in the hospital (which she is).

The Jewish women say the baby should be circumcised, but Chaja says no emphatically.

In the camp Pirate asks man after man if anyone knows Mania Keller? One man says he knows Mania Keller. Pirate and the man have a whispered exchange of words.

Socha returns to the group only to be told that the mother killed the baby by suffocation. He tells everyone that he and his wife had just agreed to take the baby and raise him.

Socha insists that the child must have a proper burial. He digs a hole into the side of the riverbank outside the sewer system and buries the child.

Socha tells Klara that Mundek (Pirate) went to the Janowska camp to find Mania. Klara slowly starts to cry.

Pirate finds Mania. She says that she just could not live in that sewer. Janek's wife comes running over to ask if her Janek is still with that whore? Socha says: "Mrs. Grossmann, your husband is dead." She is so loud that Mania tells Pirate to get out of there. Mrs. Grossmann says that her child Rachel is also dead. As Pirate walks away a guard shoots Mrs. Grossmann.

Pirate returns and tells Socha the news. He then tells Socha that he knows his way back to the sewer and takes off. In the sewer he sees Klara taking a shower in the rain water coming off the streets. (Brief nudity.) When he walks closer Klara hears him and then sees him and grabs some clothing to hide her nudity. Pirate comes to her to tell her that Mania won't come back to the sewer. She's staying in the camp. He says to Klara: "I'm so sorry." They kiss and kiss again and again.

Socha brings some Chanukah gifts he found in the apartments to his group. He finds the little girl (Krystyna Chiger so depressed that she can't or won't eat or speak. So Socha takes her up to get some sunshine and a bit of normality.

When he lifts her head up enough to see, she sees pigeons and a scruffy-looking dog and buildings and the streets. And she gets a few breaths of fresh air. He puts her down and her parents tell him that they can no longer pay him. They have run out of money. Socha says nothing. The little boy wants a piggy-back ride, so Socha gives him one. He seems very happy to do this for the children.

Socha calls Ignacy over for a private talk. Socha gives Ignacy his own money for next Friday's payment. He wants Ignacy to pay him in front of the others, because: "I don't want them to think I'm a sucker who's doing all this for nothing."

A drunken Bortnik comes late at night with his also drunken buddy, to have a drink with his good friend Socha. He demands to be let in. So they come in and sit down. Socha looks around to get some food for his guests. Stefcia almost destroys everything when she says: "Leave it, Papa, that's for the Jews."

Bortnik immediately comes over to ask Stefcia about the Jews. The quick-thinking little girl quickly grabs two little dolls and tells Bortnik that these are her Jews. And they are hungry. Bortnik asks why are they Jews? Because her Uncle Szczepek brought her the dolls from the ghetto. The dolls are two little Jewish girls. Bortnik is impressed that the little girl has a quick answer for his every inquiry. He laughs about it. Socha is still a little shaken from the confrontation and from almost giving the secret away.

After the two men leave, Socha is going to spank Stefcia, but Wanda absolutely will not permit this. She says don't blame Stefcia for this because Socha was the one who brought this upon Stefica and her. Socha says she must learn! Wanda retorts: "And when will you learn? Wasn't it enough they hanged Szczepek?"

The Jewish group holds a little religious service. For some reason they all start laughing about it and the kid wants to know why are they laughing? [I'm guessing they are just happy they're alive and able to hold a religious service.]

It's the day of the christening of Stefcia. Outside there is a thunder and rain storm. Socha starts worrying about his group and tells Wanda he has to go and goes despite her protests.

Socha sees the Ukrainians planting mines to blow up the Russians when they come to town. He goes over to Bortnik and tells him that there are gas pipes below and great destruction will result if the gas pipes explode. Bortnik translates this for the German officer, who tells him to go below and see if there are really gas pipes down there. If there are none, Bortnik's orders are to shoot Socha.

Socha takes Bortnik deep into the sewer system. He shows him a pipe and says it's gas. As Bortnik checks on the pipe, Socha suddenly disappears. Bortnik starts to panic and yells out for Socha. Socha shows himself.

The water is really coming in fast and furious. And coming along with the water are some of the utensils ad other things used by the Jews. Bortnik now accuses Socha of hiding Yids! He holds his pistol toward his friend. Socha warns him that if he shoots him, Bortnik will never find his way back. Bortnik trips and goes down into the water firing his pistol as he goes down. He shouts out to Socha to stay here, but Socha is gone.

Socha struggles to make it to his group who are near to drowning by now. Suddenly Socha is swept away with the waters. He wakes up later and the water is back at a low level. He finds the dead body of Bortnik up against the exit area gate for the sewer system.

Now he goes looking for his group. He hears a child crying and follows the sound to find the Jewish people. Socha tells them he will go get them some dry clothes and leaves.

When he gets home he finds his framed wedding picture broken and on the floor. Wanda and Stefcia have left him. Socha sits by his bed and falls to sleep. In the morning Wanda returns. She starts laughing at the way he looks.

The Russians are here! The Jews in the sewer become very scared when they hear a lot of noise indicating someone or someones are here in the sewer. Then they hear Socha's voice telling them they can come out now. "It's over!"

Pirate is the first one to come out of the sewer. Ignacy is next. Then Krysia and her brother followed by Paulina, Klara, Cajah and Berestycki. Wanda is there with glasses of liquor and some cake. Socha introduces his wife to the group. Socha shows more emotion than anyone there. He tells Wanda: "These are my Jews. They're my work!"

"Socha's Jews spent 14 months in the sewers of Lvov. On May 12, 1945, Leopold Socha was killed, saving his daughter from an out-of-control Russian army truck. At his funeral, someone said, 'It's God's punishment for helping the Jews.' As if we need God to punish each other. Krystyna Chiger grew up to write her memoir, 'The Girl in the Green Sweater', published in 2008. She and the other survivors escaped Soviet Lvov for Israel, Europe and the United States. Leopold and Wanda (Magdalena) Socha are among more than 6,000 Poles honored by Israel as The Righteous Among the Nations. This film is dedicated to all of them."

 

 

A terrific and very moving film.  A man who works in the sewers, named Socha, starts to take advantage of the poor Jews trying to save their lives by hiding in the sewers.  His only thoughts are about the money he can make from the unfortunate people.  He kept coming back to his group of Jews because one of the Jews was very rich and could pay him to come.  Mostly the money went to buy food for the Jews, but with the rise of prices the money left over for Socha and his partner was not that much.  We watch as gradually Socha comes to know these people as real people and comes to feel attached to them.  The rich man finally runs out of money, but Socha still tended to their needs.  I think Socha came to love his group of Jews.  And this is what makes the film so emotional as we see this close relationship growing between a robber and a group of Jewish refugees. 

There are a lot of scenes that are very disturbing to watch.  But if you are going to watch a Holocaust film, you have to be prepared for this.   It was a terrible thing, not a picnic.  On the other hand, in the historical films you do see a lot of disturbing scenes because of human's inhumanity to other humans. 

In the special features on the DVD, there is a very touching moment when the people in Canada saw the film at a film festival got to see and actual survivor from the sewers of Lvov.  The crowd really clapped loudly for the survivor, Ignacy's little girl,  Kaysia or Krystyna Chiger. Don't miss the moving scene.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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