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Case Number 06816: Small Claims Court

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Unlikely Heroes

Koch Lorber // 2003 // 120 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 17th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson was deeply moved by this documentary about little-known acts of heroism during the Holocaust.

The Charge

Their selfless actions changed the fate of so many.

The Case

Koch Lorber's documentary Unlikely Heroes tells the stories of the little-known heroes during the Jewish Holocaust. The people spotlighted in this program would likely be unknown to most any casual observer of world history, but each of their stories is a stunning example of courage and audacity in the face of powerful evil.

The two-hour program is narrated by Ben Kingsley (Schindler's List). The individual stories are told through photographs, authentic footage, and interviews. In fact, some of the profiled individuals tell their stories themselves in their own words. Stories run about twelve minutes or so, and are categorized by the country where they took place (e.g., Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Switzerland). Each person is also represented by a special name, such as "The Artist" or "The Rabbi's Daughter" or "The Partisan."

For example, there's Robert Clary, "The Entertainer." Clary, who would later go on to a successful career in show business and is best known for his role in—ironically—Hogan's Heroes, improved the morale of countless Jews in his concentration camp through performance. And then there's Ann Heilman, a woman who played a pivotal role in an audacious sabotage plan carried out by incarcerated Jews against their SS captors. Working in a gunpowder factory, Heilman and a few other brave women would sneak minute amounts of gunpowder to their bunks every day for months. This gunpowder was delivered to a covert force of Jewish men who turned it into a rudimentary bomb and succeeded in blowing up a gas chamber and a crematorium in Auschwitz.

Pinchas Rosenbaum, "The Master of Disguise," pulled off the imaginable. A master linguist, Rosenbaum had a knack for picking up languages and masking his own Jewish accent. Between that gift and his skills as an impersonator, remarkably, he infiltrated Nazi bureaucracy. Decked out in SS garb gathered from Germans who died during air raids, Rosenbaum facilitated the transfer of thousands of Jews to neutral countries like Switzerland and Sweden.

This is just a sampling of the moving stories that can be found on this disc. All are inspirational and do in fact, as the disc case proclaims, dispel the belief that Jews were complacent sheep to the slaughter during the Holocaust.

Watching Unlikely Heroes will almost certainly stir something in the viewer. For me, it was a potent reminder of the profound evil perpetrated against innocents just over fifty years ago, and, at the risk of wandering into melodramatic territory, the strength of the human will. The A-level production, multiple interviews with eyewitnesses and experts, and the passionate narration by Kingsley make this a documentary of the highest order. Vigorously recommended.

Technically, the disc shines. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is clean and sharp. Though much of the footage and photographs are in black-and-white, the video quality is so superb that the images leap off the screen. A Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix does the job, though there isn't much heavy lifting for a sound mix with this program. The only down side to the disc is the lack of special features and a befuddling absence of subtitles.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 95

Perp Profile

Studio: Koch Lorber
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Previews


• IMDb

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