Debajo del mundo (Underground; Under the Earth) (1987)
Director: Beda Docampo Feijóo.
Starring: Paula Canals, Karel Chromík, Carlos De Mateis, Oscar Ferrigno Jr., Gabriel Gibot , Víctor Laplace , Bárbara Mújica, Jan Pohan, Sergio Renán, Gabriel Rovito, Jorge Sabate, Bruno Stagnaro, Gabriela Toscano, Tomas Voth.
a family hides underground for six years to escape the Nazi's plans for them
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
People are working at harvesting a crop. A little boy runs to a man yelling: "Smialek, Smialek!" The boy points at some airplanes overhead. Smialek says that those planes are headed to Russia. He adds: "Later you'll see them come back much faster." That's because they will have already dropped their bombs.
This film is based on actual events.
Poland, September 1942. Two girls are playing the piano together. The telephone rings and a servant goes to answer it. She comes back and tells the grandfather of the girls that it's someone calling from the garrison. Grandfather speaks in German on the phone. He seems a bit disturbed by the telephone call.
Most of the workers in the field are Jewish. A girl who brings water to the workers has to wear a yellow star on her sweater. An older man tells his wife Liba: "We've been living like beggars for two years." A young girl runs over to the man to tell him to come on because Baron von Grotus wants to speak with everybody. The Baron tells them that they have to report to the garrison. They will then be transferred to the Ukraine. He says he is very satisfied with their work in the field, but he is powerless to intervene with the German authorities. He tried but could not intercede with the Commandant. "They want all the Jews." He also says that he is sorry.
A nephew of the older man says that the Germans are summoning the Jews in order to kill them. The uncle says that this is God's will and they must go. Most of the large family decides to hide in the woods. Rachel starts to go, but her older sister Judith tells her that she is staying right here. So Rachel stays with the group going to the garrison.
Smialek sees the small group of Jews walking toward the garrison. He runs out to speak to them. He tells Nachman, the older man, not to surrender. Don't act like sheep. Don't be idiots. Nachman tells Smialek that it's an easier thing to suggest to them what to do when he himself is not Jewish. Smialek says: "To the Nazis, we're all Jews." Nachman says that Smialek does not understand that God is testing them. Smialek says to Nachman that if he won't do it for himself, they he must do it for his youngest son Szachna. Nachman's wife urges her husband to let them hide from the Germans and see what happens. Nachman agrees.
The family hides in amidst the hay in the barn. The owner comes into the barn and tells the family, who remain hidden, that this will be the first place the Germans will come to look for them. He is worried himself that if the Jews are found on his property, the Germans will harm his own family. He puts a bag of food on the ground and then leaves. The family group of eight comes out of the hay. They grab the bag and then head for the forest.
At night Joseph and Baruj come out of the woods to talk with Smialek. Smialek tells them that yesterday the Germans found three Jewish people and killed them immediately. The Germans have signs up offering flour and sugar to anyone who will inform on the Jews. Smialek says the fellows must disappear for it's useless to keep coming back here to the village. The boys tells him that they have disappeared into the woods. Smialek tells them that's no good. The woods will be the first place the Germans will search for them. He goes on to say that they must keep moving, staying in a each hiding place for less than a day.
The Jewish fellows build an underground shelter for the group. The shelter is equipped with an entrance/exit spot which is then hidden under a conifer tree.
David, Joseph and Barqui tell Nachman about the underground shelter. The older man doesn't like the idea. He says that it's not dignified to stay in an underground bunker.
The sounds of shots and barking dogs fill the air and the family has to start moving again. They travel down the middle of a stream for awhile so the dogs will loose their scent. Then they head for an agricultural field like the ones they had been working on. They hide behind a big hay wagon.
Back in the woods the family considers using the underground shelter. Mom is the first to volunteer to go into the shelter. The rest of the family follows her. The last person in pulls the cover over the shelter entrance/exit. In the shelter they light a candle. Rachel starts panicking saying that she is suffocating and they will all run out of air. She yells for them to let her out. The others desperately try to shut Rachel up. The next morning, the family comes out of the hiding place.
They start burying their body waste, so the Germans or the dogs won't smell it. One of the guys, Joseph, goes over to speak with Smialek, who tells him that the family must make a hole on each side of the bunker that should be the size of a fist.
At night when they are all in the bunker, it starts raining outside and the muddy water starts dripping on all of them. The family now fears that maybe they all will drown. The next day the muddied family comes out of the bunker hole again. The three younger men grab some hay for the bottom of the bunker and some potatoes to eat. The small boy asks his mother why do they eat so little? She says: "The less you eat, the less you go to the bathroom . . ." And the less they eat, the fewer are the times that they must go out and steal food which means a lower risk of being discovered for the entire family.
The family starts to get lice in their hair and bites on their skin. Nachman says it's because the rotting clothes they wear attracts the insects.
The fellows bring back some burlap bags. The family starts to use these for their clothing.
One day Rachel just disappears. They don't find Rachel. The next day Rachel's sister Judith decides to search for Rachel until she finds her. Baruj loves Judith and has to be held back so he doesn't follow Szachna.
In happier days, Nachman's whole family sits outside to have a family portrait made.
At night mother is awakened by what she says is the sound or horses above them. The family huddles together in fear. They then hear men speaking in German. And then they hear the voice of Rachel asking the family to come out. She says the Germans will kill her if they don't come out. She becomes more and more hysterical as the Germans pummel her. The family hears the sound of a submachine gun and they figure that Rachel is dead.
One morning the family hears the covering of the entrance/exit hole being move and then they see sunlight come pouring into part of the bunker. A voice tells them it's Smialek. He says they have a good hiding place, but in winter snow the bunker won't be of much use. They have to build a shelter someplace where they can retreat to in times of really bad storms. He goes on to say that he doesn't know what Rachel told the Germans before they killed her, but he now has to disappear too. Smialek now throws a bag of salt down to the fellows. He says salt is necessary for their survival. The fellows ask him where is he going to go? Smialek tells them that he is going to go up into the mountains where people are gathering together to fight these criminals.
December, 1942. Snow covers the ground. At night the family moves over to the garrison. German guards walk around the area. The Jewish family sneaks into a shed and then they climb down a ladder. They take two large boards away from one of the walls, get into a small area and then put the two boards back in place. Dad says they are mad for building a refuge right next to the garrison. But one of the young fellows says: "They'll never imagine we're so near them" And they won't have to worry that their tracks in the snow will give their hiding place away, because their tracks will mix together with the tracks of all the soldiers.
One night the garrison has a big party with music and dancing. The three young fellows return with some food. One of the German Shepherd guard dogs follows them around for a little while. And right beside the dog, one of the boys even eats the flesh and bones given to the dog for his dinner. The boys go on another food run. Also at night the youngest boy hears some noise nearby. He looks through the cracks between the boards and sees a German soldier having doggy style sex with a woman. The boy watches them until they finish. The three older boys now return from their expedition. When they see the door of the ice shed being opened from inside all three fellows dive onto the ground and stay absolutely still next to the dark fence.
One of the little girls that plays the piano has been looking out the window and has seen what she thinks are ugly ghosts. She tells her grandfather about it, but he just thinks she's telling him something she heard about ghosts. Then grandfather hears some noises outside his door. He opens the door, steps onto the small porch and asks who's out there? Two of the three boys step forward and tell the grandfather that they are Nachman's boys. Grandfather is actually very happy to see them and he invites them inside to have some supper. The farm family thought for sure that the Germans had killed all the Nachmans. Grandfather says that he knows that David is still alive.
After they have eaten their fill, the boys starts to leave. One of the guys tells grandfather that when the war is over, they will pay for everything he gave them.
In the hiding place dad teaches his youngest son about the universe. It's hard for the boy to concentrate because he's worried about his brothers who are late coming back.
A German squad car comes by the farmhouse and the two brothers have to hide quickly. Once the car has disappeared they start back to their hiding place.
Back with the family, the older boys are happy to bring food to the others who had no fancy dinner like they had. It's a feast for them.
Two guys jump into the ice house. They start stealing boards to sell them for firewood. The guys notice a terrible stench as they remove the boards. When they get real close to where the family is living, one of the brothers stands there looking straight at the two fellows and then he screams and screams. The two burglars get the hell out of there diving through one of the flimsy sides of the ice house.
Now the family has to move. They start running away from the ice house.
February 1943. The family has found a different hiding place on a farm. They feel secure enough to start a fire to heat some water so they can have hot potatoes for supper. The only problem is that smoke can be seen coming out of the chimney. Another problem is that dad ate too much for dinner and now he has an extreme amount of pain coming from his stomach area. One of the boys runs to get some help from the priest in the village. He gives some broths to give to his father in the hope that this will help him. But whether or not it will clear up the problem is not known, because the priest is not a medical doctor.
By the time the brother returns from seeing the priest the family cured the problem by rolling dad back and forth laying on his stomach area. The gas escapes from his body and dad feels so much better now.
February 1944. A bunch of hunters come into the farm building and decide to stay there overnight. In the morning the hunters are still there. So the boys dig a tunnel from their hiding place under the floor of the building to a place just beyond the side wall of the building. This allows them to get out of the building without disturbing the hunters. Everyone gets out of the building. They start walking away from the farm. They have a long walk ahead of them in the snow.
Dad says he can't walk any more. He collapses onto the ground and starts singing a song to God. One of the older brothers tells dad to stop, that they have to keep going. The family finally decides to give it all they got and they all get up. They find a place for a rest along side a huge rock. They all pile onto each other to keep themselves warm. One of the older boys is on guard duty. He sees some men in the distance and he raises his hands as if he is surrendering. But these men are not Germans, but members of the Jewish family's extended family.. And among them is nephew/cousin David. David sees the family and says to his comrades: "I can't believe it. They're alive! They're all alive." Everybody hugs each other. On the way to where the rest of the family is, they talk about the people they knew who were killed by the German soldiers: Sara, Ester, Samuel, Leon, Abraham and James.
When they reach their destination, Barui sees that Judith is there. She is pregnant and will deliver the baby in the spring. She will call him Saul after David's father. Szachna comes in to say hello to Judith.
The Nachman family members start telling their relatives that they have to be more careful. They shouldn't be having fires going in the daylight. They should be much more careful. The Nachmans even tell them that they should build two underground bunkers, 100 yards apart.
Spring, 1944. The Nachmans are in their bunker. They hear the sounds of battle coming closer and closer to them. Dad says: "I never thought cannon fire would sound like music to me."
One of the fellows climbs up a tree. He looks around and says the fighting is still very far way from them.
About 16 German soldiers, some of them wounded, are marching away from the battle.
Men in civilian clothes come up on the place where the Nachman's bunker is. The man that led them there tells the Nachmans to come out because their hiding place has been discovered. Baruj comes out and the men insult him and then start beating them. Father Nachman can't stand it anymore and he tells the men to stop hitting his son. The leader turns his attention now to the father. This provides an opportunity for Baruj to try to escape. The leader thinks that one of the men may have deliberately let Baruj escape. They start shooting at the fleeing Baruj. He goes through some reeds and then across some water to the other side. Baruj gets away. He has climbed up a tree and is staying put there holding onto the trunk of the tree.
The leader of the Jewish hunters goes back to the hiding place and throws a grenade into the hiding place. Undoubtedly, Mr. and Mrs. Nachman are both killed. From his perch, Baruj starts crying for he heard the explosion. Baruj is re-united with two of his brothers. The three of them cry over the loss of their parents.
The next morning the fellows start looking for Szachna, the youngest boy. They suddenly walk into the scene of a massacre. The other family group are all found dead in a small area. Baruj finds Judith's body. The brothers start blaming themselves for the massacre.
Soviet troops are now in control of the area. They pick up the three brothers and take them to the old garrison. The brothers take a sponge bath of sorts to get clean. They report to the commanding officer. He tells the boy that they are now free and can do what they want to do. The brothers start hugging each other at the news.
A narrator says: "A few days after the liberation, we decided to see if we could find signs of our little brother. After questioning several people, as it was a small town, we were told to go to a certain place, where a farmer had apparently found a skeleton with clothing apparently belonging to our little brother. When we approached the place where the dirt was still freshly turned over, with our own hands, we began to sift through the dirt. (long pause as one of the brothers takes a little time getting himself together so he can finish telling his story as to what happened to the youngest brother) And we discovered the remains of our little brother with the rags that were so familiar to us. We marked the place with a little mound of dirt but unfortunately we were never able to return there.
Another good Holocaust film. The story is told from the viewpoint of the Nachman nuclear family and its extended family. The nuclear family, in order to survive, builds themselves an underground shelter or bunker. Life is extremely hard for the family having to spend so much time underground. A girl named Rachel who is with the Nachmans has a bout of claustrophobia and the entire family gets involved in trying to get her calmed down. Then there's the time it rains hard and muddy water starts dripping all over the people in the shelter. What a mess. These challenges and many more are very hard on the morale of the family. Talk about having a hard life! And then there is that little matter of the Nazis looking to kill any Jew they could get their hands on. They cause the family a lot of big concern and real tragedy.
You just have to give the Jewish family credit for keeping together for many years under terrible conditions. The surviving Nachman brothers say at the end of the film that they hope the book and film contributes to people remembering the whores of the Holocaust so that it will never happen again.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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