‘The Commandant’s Shadow’ Review: The True Story Behind ‘The Zone of Interest’ Examines Auschwitz From Both Sides of the Wall

Octogenarian Hans Jürgen Höss reminisces, “I had a really lovely and idyllic childhood in Auschwitz,” in the first of countless startling moments from Daniela Völker’s deeply moving documentary, “The Commandant’s Shadow.”

It’s a better recollection, at any rate, than his father’s: “The life and death of the Jews is truly a riddle I have not been able to solve,” Rudolf Höss wrote in his memoirs. By then, he was awaiting his fate at the Nuremberg trials, after serving as the powerful camp commandant and mastermind of Auschwitz. The man responsible for millions of deaths had, in fact, solved his own empty riddle as determinedly as any other human in history.

If the elder Höss’s name sounds familiar, that’s likely because his story has just been told in Jonathan Glazer’s fictionalized Oscar winner, “The Zone of Interest” (itself based on Martin Amis’ novel of the same name). But his grandson, a Christian pastor called Kai, isn’t satisfied with fiction — he wants to grapple, finally, with the hideous truths that his family has been sweeping under the rug for decades.

Indeed, Hans Jürgen and his sister Brigitte adamantly refuse to accept the actuality of their Edenic childhood — that it was set on the other side of a crematorium designed and run by their beloved father and tacitly accepted by their adored mother.

The siblings’ denial is strikingly contrasted with the inescapable experience of the film’s other subject, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a 98-year-old German Jew who watched her whole family die in Auschwitz. (She survived only because she played cello in the orchestra assigned to death marches.)

Both Kai and Lasker-Wallfisch’s daughter, Maya, encourage the reluctant Hans Jürgen, now a frail 87-year-old man, to confront his family’s complicity. As they push and he resists, the process is unsettling and unsatisfying for everyone.

But somehow it unfolds that Anita, an extraordinary character and the film’s true heart, sees Hans Jürgen most clearly. Whether her preternatural practicality is born of trauma or a survivor’s instinct, she understands that people believe what they’re taught and do what they must to protect themselves. So when she and Hans Jürgen finally meet, their remarkable conversation is all the more powerful in its understatement.

“The Zone of Interest” certainly had its share of unforgettable moments. But as Anita reminds us, there is no experience more surreal than reality itself.

Watch the trailer for “The Commandant’s Shadow” here:

The post ‘The Commandant’s Shadow’ Review: The True Story Behind ‘The Zone of Interest’ Examines Auschwitz From Both Sides of the Wall appeared first on TheWrap.