Monday, April 28, 2008

Idi i smotri (Come and See, 1985) * * * * *

Come and See filmCome and See (link to DVD on Amazon)
Ethnic cleansing of the Slavs living in the Eastern European lands including Poland, the Baltics, Ukraine, Belarus, Czechoslovakia and western Russian (to the Urals) was outlined in Hilter's Generalplan Ost as part of his long-term plan for creation of Lebensraum for Greater Germany. This plan involved removal of 70-90% of the existing Slavic population in these areas. Much of this was to be carried out after the war (after Germany's presumed victory) but pacification and elimination of certain areas was to be carried out during the war, in particular in Poland, Ukraine and Belarus.

Belarus (was Belarussia) has the sad distinction of being the country where the Generalplan Ost and the genocide of Slavs was most effectively implemented during WWII. 25-33% of the population of Belarus was killed in the war (about 2.2 million killed), the Belarus intelligentsia and Jewish segments of society were entirely eliminated, every city was devastated and large portions of Belarus were laid waste in a scorched earth policy (Belarus official website on the genocide). In some of the worst war crimes committed in WWII, in628 villages across Belarus SS troops rounded up and burned alive every inhabitant as punishment for partisan actions. Another 4667 villages were burnt to the ground with less than 100% of their inhabitants killed. The website on the Khatyn memorial even has archival video taken by SS troops of the plan in action: Plan Ost.

image from Come and See, Russian WWII film
Come and See (1985) is a movie about WWII as experienced in Belarus. It follows a teenage boy who joins the partisans. It shows the horror of the SS annihilation of villages through the eyes of this naive boy. As you might expect, there is a fairly well developed partisan-mythology in Belarus (Robin Hood with a gun). However although Come and See is sympathetic to the partisans, this is not your typical air-brushed film of the heroic partisans saving the day from the evil Germans. Come and See tries to paint a realistic picture of war, without any romance. In that sense, it is has a documentary quality almost, and like all "realistic" war films, it is decidedly anti-war. There is nothing, nothing remotely romantic about being a partisan in this movie because war itself is horror. During the course of the 2 days covered by the movie, we watch as Florya ages physically before our eyes. With each new horror -- the death of someone next to him, watching villagers rounded up and burned, the loss of his family, the gang rape of young girl -- his face becomes distraught, then crazed and finally wooden.

Come and See is one of the most famous modern movies about the Eastern Front. It is very well done and the cinematography and acting is excellent. But I had been warned by Kaja that Come and See is a disturbing movie. It was, however, not as distressing as I was bracing for. I was expecting to be forced to watch people burning alive, children getting their heads split open with rifle butts, or the gang rape of young girls. We see the after effect of these things and we see dead bodies, but the film doesn't actually show these horrors happening. I never needed to hit the "stop" button on the remote in order to avoid any really distressing scenes. That is a real accomplishment because the temptation would be to want to 'rub people's faces' in the horror: "look, look, LOOK!" But it is more powerful, I think, because instead it focuses on how Florya reacts and copes (or not) to seeing these horrors.

Overall this a must-see movie for those interested in the Eastern Front and the effect of WWII on Eastern Europe, along with Stalingrad, Mein Kreig, and Shoah.


Generalplan Ost
Hilter's Generalplan Ost
Online documents and transcripts about Generalplan Ost
Except from Janusz Gumkowkski and Kazimierz Leszczynski's POLAND UNDER NAZI OCCUPATION
Belarus : a partisan reality show
The Khatyn massacre website

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