|Directed by:||Margaretha Heinrich & Eduard Erne||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||1994||Running Time:||59 mins.|
|Language:||German (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||SignandSight.com discussion||Category:||Hist & Rem|
Forced to dig their own mass grave, approximately 180 Jews were slaughtered by a drunken gang of average Austrian citizens and Nazis a mere ten days before the conclusion of WWII – and the location of the grave site has been a secret kept by the local citizenry ever since. Wall Of Silence explores the campaign to uncover this massacre by locating the elusive burial ground so that the victims of this crime may finally be offered a proper Jewish burial – an effort frustrated by an inexplicable silence from the local citizens in Rechnitz, Austria.
“The Jews have their Wailing Wall and we have a wall of silence,” says an outspoken Rechnitz gentleman. Like the Wailing Wall, which memorializes the destruction of Jerusalem, this metaphorical wall of silence also implies mourning.
The Rechnitz massacre is said to have taken place after a soirée held at the countess Margrit Bathhany-Thyssen’s castle. The inebriated local chief of the gestapo was in attendance and issued an order to kill the Jewish slave laborers who’d been brought to Rechnitz after being stolen from their homes in Hungary. The executioners were so drunk that they neglected to shoot some Jews, mistakenly burying them alive, one local woman who lived through the ordeal insists.
One man has embodied the modern efforts to bring honor to these dead. Holocaust survivor Isidor Sandorffy was determined to give these innocent victims of murder a proper burial in a Jewish cemetery, citing the Jewish belief that the greatest mitzvah one can do is a mitzvah for the deceased. “It would soothe me if I could find them and bury them according to Jewish custom. It would lighten the weight on my heart and soothe me, spiritually,” Sandorffy says in the film. Sadly, Sandorffy passed away in 1993 but, following his death, Rabbi Simon Anschin took up the torch. Although the mass grave has yet to be unearthed, Anschin is hopeful, proclaiming, “There is no time limit — this is an obligation.” With candid interviews of Rechnitz citizens and stunning pastoral footage, Wall Of Silence gives an insider’s perspective on what Sandorffy and Anschin are up against in their search for the grave.
The campaign to excavate the Rechnitz grave comes in the wake of threats and a string of murders against those local citizens who would reveal its location. Those who spoke out about the killings are said to have been silenced by Nazi sympathizers, who are still at large in the Rechnitz community –- decades after Hitler’s reign.
While many locals are too afraid to testify, others refuse to cooperate simply out of a sense of communal guilt. When the documentary crew visits a Rechnitz shop owner, he responds hostilely, declaring that he was only five years old during WWII. Clearly, he was a mere child and could not have been complicit in the murder of Jews in Rechnitz; nevertheless, he regards the search for the mass grave as an indirect accusation. His unease may stem from a long-hidden secret: some Rechnitz citizens were allegedly involved in the slaughter. The participants in the firing squad were never brought to justice and it remains unclear who had a hand in the events. “Yes, I’m sure people from Rechnitz took part,” one woman who was alive at the time of the massacre painfully admits.
Filled with shocking testimonies, Wall Of Silence reveals how the final chapters of Holocaust atrocities are still yet to be told, hidden deeply away by a complicit local citizenry that refuses to acknowledge its crimes. Until they do, the truth behind the deaths of nearly 200 Jews buried somewhere in Rechnitz will continue to elude us.