A very old woman living in an idyllic French village says, "I think we all have memories of times when we should have done something and we didn't." But she did. During World War II, when Nazis occupied her town, she was among the local residents who hid Jews from the Gestapo, despite enormous risk to themselves.
"Either you think that we are all brothers -- or not," she says.
In the monstrous tragedy of the Holocaust there are enough moral lessons for all of human lifetime. Some of the positive ones are celebrated in "The Courage to Care," an exceptional and hauntingly direct documentary that Channel 26 will show at 10 tonight. Washington producer-director Robert Gardner interviewed survivors -- Jews and those who gave them aid and sanctuary -- and emerged with an intimate study in decency and hope.
Though probably not intended as such, the film serves as counterpoint to such works as "The Sorrow and the Pity" and "Shoah," in which the impression is given that all of humanity stood idly by during Hitler's genocidal rampage, and as a companion piece to "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story," last year's NBC docudrama about the Swedish diplomat who saved Jews by the hundreds from camps and gas chambers.
Only a few people are interviewed for the half-hour film, which was nominated this year for an Oscar as Best Documentary Short Subject, but their stories are compelling and, one is optimistically led to believe, representative of others like them.
A Polish woman, now living in California, who sheltered 12 Jews virtually under the nose of a German military official, recalls looking into the faces of children being hauled off to the death camps and seeing "Eyes searching, asking, 'What did I do? What did I do?' " She also remembers a public hanging in the village marketplace of Jews and some of the non-Jewish Poles who had tried to hide them.
A woman in Amsterdam had to shoot a policeman to protect the children and adults for whom she had found hiding places. A Jewish man recalls being hidden in a Catholic monastery on the outskirts of Krakow. A French woman, also hidden by Catholics, remembers the instructions she got from her elders while living as a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied France: When out in public, "look at your feet, and keep walking," in the hope of not attracting attention.
Elie Wiesel, heard in brief narration, says, "There is always a second when the moral choice is made," and says of those who dared defy the Nazi murderers, "To them, it was a natural thing to save people. To remain human."
There may never have been a time when remaining human was quite so difficult. "The Courage to Care" is implicitly a plea that there never be such a time again, yet it is also a reminder that there will always be basic moral choices to be made. Gardner's film -- movingly scored by David Spear, produced for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by the United Way, and underwritten by Mutual of America -- is inspiring and important.