In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997)
Director: Joan Micklin Silver.
Cast: Armin Mueller-Stahl (Rabbi Adam Heller), Charles Dance (Captain Richter), Elina Löwensohn (Rachel Heller), Chad Lowe (Sergeant Lott), Don McKellar (Paul Heller), Peter Friedman (Kohn), Tony Nardi (Emmanuel), John Dunn-Hill (Josef Chinik), Diana Skaya (Child Singer), Ely Bonder (Singer's Father), Jason Shayne Schwartz (Israel), Alon Nashman (Baruch), Susan Almgren (Mrs. Carwinen), Saba Cottle (Miriam), Howard Rosenstein (Bookseller).
(Made for TV movie.)
struggle for survival during the coming of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
Jewish area, Warsaw, Poland, November 1942. The Jews wear white armbands with a yellow outline of the Star of David. A German officer is selecting people to be taken to the concentration camps. They do not select the Rabbi and his 19-year old daughter Rachel Heller. The Rabbi is on the Jewish Council. People with missing relatives give their names to the Rabbi to have them registered with the Council. The Rabbi's son, Paul, is in the Polish army.
Rachel remarks to her father: "How strange!" this waiting for death each morning. Rachel is making a dress for Gina. Some Jews are busy making Molotov cocktails. Others are getting and hiding pistols. The non-Jew Josef speaks with his friend the Rabbi, who kids him about engaging in so much thievery. But it's from the Germans, Rabbi. Paul arrives home from a labor camp from which he escaped.
The Germans arrive. An officer comes into the Rabbi's apartment and makes comments on all the books the Rabbi has. Paul hides on the roof of the apartment building. With the officer is Sgt. Lott who looks a little too nice to be a tough German soldier. The officer tests Lott. He tells him to knock the Rabbi down. The sergeant does hit the man, but it is much too weak to do damage. So the officer strikes the Rabbi with a whip across the face. The officer criticizes Lott for being too weak.
Paul does not like Josef because he in not Jewish. He says nasty things to the man. This upsets the Rabbi who asks God to forgive his son. Paul says: "God has left us." In the streets men pick up the dead bodies. The Rabbi comments: "I have run out of tears."
Gina comes for her new dress. She tells Rachel and her father that she is going east to get a job. Rachel tries to warn her not to go, but Gina just won't hear of it. On the street the Rabbi tells a German officer that they are running out of food for their people. Of course, this falls on deaf ears.
A three year old is thrown by the Germans through a window. The Jewish doctor, who works from 6 a.m. to curfew at night, says that typhus is going around the ghetto. The very healthy and strong man named Kohn succumbs to the disease. Paul gets an identification card. A little girl's mother is shot dead right in front of her. Paul wants revenge on the Germans.
The officer calls Sgt. Lott in to see him. The officer is bored. He makes fun of Lott as the "sensitive sergeant who doesn't hit old rabbis." The sergeant agrees with the officer: "I can't hit old men." The officer adds: "They are sub-human!" The officer then gets to the point. He wants Lott to bring him the Jewess Rachel. Lott objects: "Captain, she's so young." That makes no difference to the captain.
Lott enters the Rabbi's apartment, saying to Rachel: "The commandant wants to see you." Rachel has a foreboding about this. Lott tries to soothe her by saying the captain is very drunk and might not be up to much. Paul sees Rachel being taken away. The Rabbi tells him that it is for questioning purposes only. Paul doesn't accept that and blames his father for letting them take Rachel. At the captain's quarters Sgt. Lott waits outside the door. After the captain is through with Rachel, he tells the sergeant to "Take her away!" When Rachel arrives back at the apartment building she sees a couple going through the possessions of the man who used to live under the stairs, who the Germans had recently taken away. Paul carries Rachel up the stairs to their apartment. Paul nastily tells his father that apparently it was something more than just questioning.
One of the apartment dwellers who lives alone is extremely frightened of death. The Rabbi is concerned for his mental stability. He tells him: "Let death in! Don't struggle so. Don't clutch at life." Later the Germans come for the man, who is extremely scared. The Rabbi himself seems to be breaking down. Paul tells him to acknowledge what is happening around them. His father replies: "Paul, reality is too much with me." Paul roughs up his father a bit.
Sgt. Lott comes to talk with Rachel. He tells her he wants to help her escape. He asks her to show up at the tunnel at the Miller Street access. Rachel says she doesn't care anymore. She says: "You come late, when the neighbors are mostly dead. You should have come much earlier." The sergeant admits: "I have this love for you, Rachel." She turns her head from him. The sergeant appeals to her father. He says he wants forgiveness. They start packing Rachel's things. When Paul hears about the plan he criticizes Rachel for going with a German sergeant.
The sergeant, accompanied by Rachel and the Rabbi, start into the tunnel. But suddenly Paul shows up with a pistol. He tells them to move away from the German. Paul wants to kill the soldier. But the Rabbi also has a pistol. He shoots his son to death just as his son is about to pull the trigger of his pistol. The sergeant and Rachel go through the tunnel, while the Rabbi remains behind. Meanwhile, the uprising of the ghetto has begun.
The uprising of January 18-22 failed. Three months later, another uprising was launched. They were able to hold off the Germans for a full month before succumbing. The ghetto was destroyed in the final conflagration. Of the more than 450,000 Jews in the ghetto of Warsaw, only a few thousand survived.
Pretty good movie. The Rabbi had a hard time coping with the religious implications and meanings of the cruelty of the Nazis and their terrible impacts on the very people that the Rabbi served. He even started to have a mental breakdown. But he was still strong enough to know that the hatred of his son Paul for all non-Jews was not the proper way to react to the Nazi atrocities. In the end he stood up to his son to stop his hatred from doing its worst.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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