|Directed by:||Nurit Kedar||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2006||Running Time:||66 mins.|
|More Info:||More stories of Jews hidden in convents during WWII||Category:||Hist & Rem|
A young Jewish girl survived the Holocaust with a profound love for Pope John Paul II. Hanuszka blends documentary and narrative elements to tell Hanna Mandelberger’s atypical story of survival, escaping the Warsaw Ghetto and finding refuge in a convent.
“I will love you forever Pope John Paul II,” the arresting child actress, reenacting Hanna’s story, whispers.
A film that speaks like a poem, Hanuszka has a careful eye for detail and symbolism as it explores a Jewish girl’s war-time experience that drove her to embrace the Catholic Church. Blending contemporary footage of the grown, real-life Hanna touring through Warsaw with a reenacted narrative account of her childhood, the film shows how her experiences and struggles have stayed with her. Telling the story from two angles, Hanuszka is able to depict both the fear and innocence of a child’s experience and the insights that come with age and reflection.
Before the Germans occupied Poland, Hanna lived a peaceful life with her sister and parents, practicing piano and playing on the train tracks by her house. But after the occupation, they were relocated to the Warsaw ghetto where, Hanna says, there was “nothing, nothing, but dirt, tiles, and bodies, and screaming.” It’s not long before Hanna realizes that the only things separating her from a life among “trees” and “flowers” and “people with brushed hair” are six bricks of the ghetto wall and her Jewish identity.
The kindness of the nuns and priests who take care of Hanna and a child’s normal wish for approval help to draw Hanna into the Catholic faith. Plus, her isolating situation causes her to relate to Jesus and the story of the cross. “I wore the cross,” she says of the Christian symbol of suffering, “it was with me; it was mine.”
Hanna makes for an exceptional narrator because of her sharp tongue and acute ability with words. Wandering through the space that was once the Warsaw ghetto, she shares her memories freely. Her intense, stream of conscious reactions avoid cliché and instead draw up images that are singularly horrific or poetically straightforward. “The children were thin and the rats were plump,” she mutters in conclusion.
Dealing with a topic that’s been controversial for some time, Hanuszka enters the heated debate over what Pope John Paul II did during WWII. Born Karl Wojtyla, he has been both attacked and praised for his actions during the war. Some have accused him of ignoring the Holocaust by escaping into life in the seminary while others argue that he defied the Nazis by smuggling false papers to Jews, helping to put on pro-Jewish plays, and defending those he could. Hanna, for one, is convinced that he was a part of the Polish resistance, and the secret package she was told to deliver to him, in her mind, serves as proof.
But, ultimately, Hanna’s admiration for the Catholic leader stirs up her deep-rooted questions of identity and faith. Inside she always felt like a Jew, but when she took her first communion, Hanna says, the “Heavens opened.” Then one day, after having spent years in the convent, a strange man confronted Hanna, saying, “It’s you. You are Hannkeh Mandelberger– a Jew. You’re coming with me.” Terrified, she replied, “No, I’m a nun.” Her own quick response surprised and upset her, almost as much as the stranger did. For a long time, she had been following the practices of a nun — going to daily confessions, receiving Communion, and praying. But, nonetheless, she felt like a liar.
Hanuszka captures the deep-rooted conflict between religious faith and personal identity that children like Hanna had to confront, and that has stayed with them into adulthood, a little-explored but persistent legacy of the Holocaust.