Saturday, October 04, 2008

Am Ende kommen die Touristen

After a small debate with one of my readers about the deluge of holocaust literature, last night I found myself watching a German film set ... in Auschwitz.

It's a strange little film which does not seem to be going anywhere, much like the main character, Sven. Sven is a young German who is sent to carry out his civil service (alternative to military service) working in the Auschwitz youth hostel and museum.  It's quite common for young men to go abroad to do this - in an obscure corner of Russia I once met a couple of such guys working with children with disabilities.  More normally they work in German hospitals and social institutions, which without this low-cost workforce would probably face much more severe financial problems than they do already.

Sven's job, frankly, is that of a gofer. He is assigned to look after an old man, Kchimsky (in his mid-eighties) who is a camp survivor and whose job it is to maintain and restore the suitcases that were left by the Auschwitz victims on the way to the gas chambers. Sven takes Kchimsky to his physiotherapy sessions, and to events at which Kchimsky talks to young people about his time as an Auschwitz 'resident'. In between Sven helps out here and there, and regularly, because of language problems and inexperience, gets himself into trouble. At one stage a group of young German apprentices (in Poland??) sets up a memorial in a village which formerly had been Auschwitz III. Kchimsky speaks at the opening, but is cut short by the company's director - and Sven's protest about this is not much cared for.  It makes me wonder how many locations in and around Auschwitz have similar memorials planted by well-meaning Germans....

There's a vague love interest, too, when he moves in with a female colleague and her complicated brother, but this falls apart when the colleague gets an opportunity to study abroad.

It was quite interesting, particularly seeing how busy Auschwitz is with tourist buses etc, but generally I felt much at a loss like Sven. But it was a short film, so that was all right.