I’ve seen a number of WW2 movies over the years – one of the more unusual, Europa, Europa, was based on the true story of a Jewish boy whose sister was murdered on Kristallnacht, 1938, and the parents felt it best to leave Germany and go to Poland. The son ends in a Soviet orphanage in the Soviet sector of Poland, and when the Germans invade the Soviet Union, ends up after a long story as an adopted son of a Wehrmacht Captain, who believed that he looked “Aryan” enough that he ended up in a Hitler Youth elite school in Germany. Of course nobody knew he was Jewish in his fight for survival.
The Zone of Interest is also based on a true story, but the British director, Jonathan Glazer, based the screen play loosely on a 2014 book by Martin Amis. Although based on a novel, I would put the movie in the “substantially true” column.
Because while we don’t know the exact circumstances of the home and family life of Rudolf Höss, the SS commandant who changed the focus of Auschwitz from a camp for political prisoners and POWS (as Dachau was originally), to a murder factory that killed over a million people, primarily Jews.
We do know that the wife, Hedwig, so loved the home the Nazis allowed her and the children to remain after Höss was transferred to Berlin.
The home was built with the perimeter of Auschwitz just meters away. The title comes from the Nazi term of Interessengebiet. They cleared within a certain radius of the camp all Polish civilians. The actual house was built in 1937, and they evicted the Polish owner to allow for the Commandant. Höss actually built a mound with a tall tree to hide a chimney of one of the crematoriums so his children couldn’t see it.
The home shown in the movie was a replica built right near the camp (as the original), as the original was in too poor a condition.
We do know that the family considered this home to be an idyllic existence, with a nearby river where they would picnic.
Hedwig referred to herself as the “Queen of Auschwitz”.
In the movie, a servant is bringing her a full-length fur coat which she tries on. At no time is it mentioned where the coat originated; it is left to the audience to draw their own conclusion.
At no time are we taken through Auschwitz, although the horrors seep through the cracks and the wall in their garden. One hears the distant sounds of commands barked, shots, and the sound of an incoming train.
In one short scene Hedwig threatens a maid, “One word to my husband, and you will become ashes”.
It was also innovative in the way they shot the home scenes. The cameras were discretely placed around the home, and the actors simply carried on “normally” with the script. As one of them quipped, “It was like Big Brother for Nazis”.
It was the goal of Glazer to show the banality of evil. He said in an interview that “we all think of Nazis as monsters, and thank ourselves that we could never be like them”. Here he shows how evil can exist in all of us.
The movie has been nominated for best picture, and you won’t see it in your typical cinema multiplex. I saw it in a neighborhood theater that shows a lot of independent films, and if it is in your city, I can recommend it.
The dialog is in German with English subtitles.