Survival and resistance: Destination Unknown

Twelve survivors, twelve families torn apart by the Holocaust, twelve people striving to build a new future after the war.

Blending unique and intimate testimony with immersive archive, upcoming documentary Destination Unknown unveils the human stories underlying the events of the Holocaust. These include one of the few escapees from the terror of Treblinka, and an exclusive interview with Mietek Pemper, who helped Oskar Schindler compile his list.

The film traces the narrow paths to survival, whether in hiding, fighting as partisans, or through enduring the camps such as Kraków-Płaszow, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. While a few managed to escape, most had to try to find a way to stay alive until the end of the war. Their stories do not end with liberation. We see how they had to survive the chaos that came afterwards, and their attempts to build new lives.

Curzon Cinemas manager Sean Parnell reviews the film for us, ahead of a very special DocDays screening that includes a Q&A with one of the film's subjects, Holocaust survivor Ed Mosberg. 

Holocaust survivor Ed Mosberg, one of the protagonists of Destination Unknown

The collective sense of trauma is woven into a mournful tapestry of remembrance in Claire Ferguson and Llion Roberts Holocaust documentary, Destination Unknown (Gigatel Productions). Within this fabric of memory and pain lie familiar stories of resilience and resistance during one of humanity's darkest hours, illustrated and voiced by those who experienced it first-hand; an ode to their lost brothers and sisters, a legacy for future generations. Simply told through interviews and supported by archive footage and photographs of the survivors, the oral history of these individuals allows audiences to engage with stories which often seem incomprehensible in the civilised world in which we believe we live, and yet stand as testimony to the horrors that can be committed by society against our fellow human beings.

Destination Unknown develops a thorough insight into many different experiences of the Holocaust, combining survival stories with gripping stories of resistance. Familiar characters emerge such as Oskar Schindler and the brutal Amon Göth (both famously depicted in Steven Spielberg's 1993 drama Schindler's List), as well as locations that remain in infamy, such as Treblinka and Auschwitz. The raw emotion of these survivors and the experiences they have lived through amount to what many would consider a literally unspeakable tragedy. The courage they show in telling their stories is one of the outstanding aspects of the film, and an indication of Ferguson’s skill with the narrative and and Roberts' approach toward the interviewees.

An obvious task of the filmmaker in the representation of historical trauma is to reflect or reveal the inner struggle of those that choose to share their experiences in a sincere way, and this role of mediator between the past and present demonstrates the challenges faced of deeply personal recollection of memories and ones past. In Destination Unknown, the survival stories of these people are voiced simply and are not embellished to provoke an overt emotional response from the audience (as it were, the stories provoke enough of an emotional response to allow them to speak for themselves) and this results in a film that remains delicately restrained and brutally honest throughout.

Holocaust survivor Stanley Glogover, one of the protagonists of  Destination Unknown

Holocaust survivor Stanley Glogover, one of the protagonists of Destination Unknown

Legacy and trauma are the two prevailing themes in Destination Unknown. Ferguson and Robert's representation of trauma within their interviews demonstrates the necessity for memories to be recovered and not forgotten or suppressed, whilst her representation of legacy demonstrates continuity and preservation of a people and culture. Ferguson’s film examines both of these crucial themes, as any film that addresses the Shoah should.

Later in the film, in an admission of defiance to Nazism, the fate of the Jewish people is summarised by a survivor who notes that his “grandchildren are [his] answer to Hitler’s final solution.” A visceral homage to his community and the preservation of his family in spite of the Holocaust and that horrific period of time. Within the creation of Destination Unknown exists Ferguson and Robert's own legacy as an ode to these people's memory, and to those who so bravely tell their stories in order to educate future generations on the mistakes of the past.

[Sean Parnell]

Ed Mosberg at Curzon Soho with the  Destination Unknown  poster.

Ed Mosberg at Curzon Soho with the Destination Unknown poster.

Destination Unknown screens as part of our DocDays strand at Curzon Soho on Thursday 15 June at 6.30pm, followed by Q&A with Ed Mosberg, Holocaust survivor of the Płaszów concentration camp, whose testimonial is featured in the film; Claire Ferguson, the film's director and Llion Roberts, the film's producer.