Rating: 2.5 stars
A follow-up to filmmaker Jon Kean’s “Swimming in Auschwitz,” a 2007 documentary that chronicled the World War II experiences of six female concentration-camp prisoners, “After Auschwitz” picks up the stories of these survivors just as they’re being liberated from the death camp Auschwitz. “Go home,” they were told. But where, in the words of one of the film’s subjects, was home? Where do you start, and where do you end up — not just literally, but emotionally — after such an experience?
Those questions inform the trajectory of the film and haunt the interviews, conducted over a period of many years. Eva Beckmann, Rena Drexler, Renee Firestone, Erika Jacoby, Lili Majzer and Linda Sherman entered the camp from Holland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland at ages ranging from their midteens to their early 20s. Many other camp survivors were murdered, according to the film, when they attempted to return to the towns they once lived in.
Physical survival is, of course, only one of the problems that confronted the women in the straightforward yet poignant film. Rebuilding damaged trust, and the search for closure — an impossibility, one woman suggests — are the real issues. But “After Auschwitz” also addresses more mundane subjects as well: making a wedding dress from leftover parachute silk, emigrating to America, finding jobs, buying cars, registering to vote. The smallest things become imbued with an importance out of proportion to their significance to the rest of us.
Three of the women have died since their interviews were recorded. But they all make for lively, even inspirational subjects. As one puts it, somewhat poetically, if paradoxically, “When I’m homesick, I can’t find a place where I’m homesick for. I’m home where I am.”
Unrated. At area theaters. Contains images of human corpses, violence and discussion of violence. 83 minutes.