Amen.

In the film titled Amen, a Nazi official reaches out to the Vatican when learns that a process he developed to wipe out typhus is being used to exterminate the Jews.  Kurt Gerstein, a real-life chemist and SS officer who rose to become the Head of Technical Disinfection Services of the SS, and in that capacity helped develop and use Zyklon gas for vermin extermination.  But then he discovers it is also being used on humans in death camps.  Unnoticed, large segments of the Jewish population, especially the handicapped, are being relocated, but no one raises the alarm.  The story takes a dark turn when SS officers go to a remote area, where the officers glimpse through a peephole.  At Gerstein’s turn, he gasps shocked and walks away.  There is more horror in the fact that we don’t actually see what they are looking at.  This film is a partly fictionalized account of SS officer Kurt Gerstein’s reaction to the discovery that his country was ruthlessly exterminating millions of European Jews.  This is a fact / fiction account of his futile attempts to prevent the extermination of Jews.  He tirelessly denounces the crimes and tries to alert the Allies, the Pope, and the German populace about the murderous policy against the European Jews.  Kurt did this at his own risk, and at the risk his family’s welfare and safety.  In a fictionalized part of the story, he seeks the help of Ricardo Fontana, a young Jesuit who is a fictitious character used to represent all the real-life priests who were determined to struggle against the savagery of the Nazis, resulting in many of them paying for their courage with their lives.  Countless priests, some known, others anonymous, were not content to live with the silence of their church’s hierarchy vis-à-vis the Nazi machine.  He tries to appeal to Pope Pius XII, whose papacy became the center of a firestorm of postwar criticism for everything from negligence to cowardice regarding the extermination of Jews.  This serious-minded film portrays Gerstein, a technical consultant who reluctantly supplied poison used for gassing of Jews, but did not want to participate in the exterminations.  He becomes a man tortured by conscience who attempts to exploit his position with the SS to work in support of the Jews instead.  So he does everything he can to try to stop the killing of Jews.  He and the young Jesuit both struggle against great indifference and resistance to try to get someone on the Allied side to expose the killings.  Gerstein tries to inform the Pope, but in vain.  Father Ricardo, the Jesuit priest overhears the conversation and perseveres with the Pope.  It portrays the uncaring way in which the Vatican and the American diplomats treated the news of the Holocaust.  The Pope probably knew about the killing of Jews but chose to play it safe, because as he states, the Jews are not his flock.  And also for Catholic self-preservation, because the defenseless Vatican could have been easily crushed by the Nazis, as it had been in the past by invading armies.  Father Ricardo voluntarily offers himself for arrest with the Jews of Rome and is deported with them to a concentration camp.  Although most of Gerstein’s actions and the Jesuit priest with whom he works are fictionalized, the reaction of the Vatican and the rest of the world to the knowledge of the ongoing Holocaust is not fictional.  History has shown that with a few exceptions, no one did anything to help the Jews.  This movie also includes many aspects of the dark past of the Catholic Church that are rarely delved into.  It helps in understanding the forces that allowed the Holocaust to occur.  If you search Wikipedia you can see how closely this movie follows history.  As a proclaimed WW2/Holocaust historian, I found this movie to be a very authentic account of the Gerstein report.  The Gerstein report was a secret document after the war that Gerstein provided his French captors.  The report details his eyewitness experience when he witnessed in August 1942 the gassing of some 3,000 Jews in the extermination camp of Belzec. The report was used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials, and was used in many of the famous trials such as “The Nuremberg Trials” and “The Doctors Trials”.  This film is epic is scope, but understated in tone.  This film is excellent.  It covers a decade and most of Europe in a style that is paced like a thriller even though we know there is no Hollywood ending waiting for us.  The film takes care not to be graphic in its depiction of suffering and is all the stronger for its indirectness.  A great work, by a great filmmaker, Costa Gavras.  This movie is a must see for any history buff or practicing Catholic.  Truly one of the best movies I have ever seen.  This film is brilliantly adapted from Rolf Hochuth’s historical play The Deputy.  Docudrama 2002 NR 2hr11m.  (See also the film “Z” by Gavras.)

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