The Grey ZoneNovember 30, 2001
A Nazi doctor, along with the Sonderkomando, Jews who are forced to work in the crematoria of Auschwitz against their fellow Jews, find themselves in a moral grey zone.
Release Year: 2001
Rating: 7.2/10 (5,502 voted)
Critic's Score: 58/100
Tim Blake Nelson
Stars: David Arquette, Velizar Binev, David Chandler
The true story of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew chosen by Josef Mengele to be the head pathologist at Auschwitz. Nyiszli was one of Auschwitz's Sonderkommandos – Special Squads of Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis in the excruciating moral dilemma of helping to exterminate fellow Jews in exchange for a few more months of life. Together, the Sonderkommandos struggled to organize the only armed revolt that would ever take place at Auschwitz. As the rebellion is about to commence, a group from the unit discovers a 14-year-old girl who has miraculously survived a gassing. A catalyst for their desperate attempt at personal redemption, the men become obsessed with saving this one child, even if doing so endangers the uprising which could save thousands. To what terrible lengths are we willing to go to save our own lives, and what in turn would we sacrifice to save the lives of others?
Writers: Miklos Nyiszli, Tim Blake Nelson
(as Georgy Zlatarev)
Dr. Miklos Nyiszli
SS-Oberscharfuhrer Eric Muhsfeldt
SS-Hauptsturmfuhrer Josef Mengele
The Story You Haven't Seen
Lions Gate Entertainment |
Release Date: 30 November 2001
Filming Locations: Bulgaria
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $24,526
(20 October 2002)
(15 December 2002)
Did You Know?
Although Harvey Keitel plays SS-Oberscharfuhrer Eric Muhsfeldt, Keitel himself is of Jewish-Polish heritage.
When the Jews are ushered from the changing rooms to the "Shower" a women with a bikini top is visible for a moment in the background.
I used to think so much of myself… What I'd make of my life. We can't know what we're capable of, any of us. How can you know what you'd do to stay alive, until you're really asked? I know this now. For most of us, the answer… is anything. It's so easy to forget who we were before…
A must see film
Many Holocaust films present the ethical dilemna of trying to stay alive
the cost of allowing others to die or even sending others to their death.
few films might focus on the dreaded Kapos in the camps — or on the
Jewish Council members who helped organize the transport groups — or on
musicians/performers who entertained the Nazis — all of whom hoped that
they would be allowed to survived. But this film focuses on the
Sonderkommandos — the special workers — who ushered Jewish victims to
gas chambers and burned the bodies. They too hoped to survive. But they
must have known that they were going to be murdered eventually, if only
because they had become the most dangerous witnesses to the cold Nazi
horror. And the film begins by informing us that these groups of
Sonderkommandos were never allowed to live longer than four months.
There are several reasons you must see this film. First, it is based on
diary of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew chosen by Josef Mengele to be
the head pathologist at Auschwitz. And it dramaticizes the true attempt
Sonderkommandos to destroy the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Second, it focuses on ethical dilemnas faced by Dr. Nyiszli and the
Sonderkommandos who are trying to save themselves, their families, or …
just someone … anyone. To say that these men were "co-opted" by the
is to ignore the horror of the coercion, debasement and dehumanization
the Nazis inflicted — not only on their prisoners, but upon themselves.
One can imagine that some Sonderkommandos were selfish — just as some
were cruel and some doctors who assisted the Nazis were accomplices. But
the question remains — what would you have done in the face of such
coercion and duress?
Third, the film — based on Tim Blake Nelson's play — is not the typical
Holocaust film. There is very little redeeming behavior. There is no
uplifting ending. The grey zone of moral ambiguity is presented as a
unfeeling, horrifying place — where you are damned if you do, and damned
you don't — which means that they are all damned! For the first third of
the film, the script is obtuse, confusing, and disconnecting — as it
be, considering that we may as well be taking the point of view of someone
who just arrived on a train and entered the gates of hell. How can any of
this make sense? In the opening scene, the Doctor is asked to save the
of a Jew who attempted suicide. How absurd can that be — to save the
of someone who will sooner rather than later be murdered by the Nazis
In conclusion, the play/film contains dialogue and scenes that are
memorable. This is one of my favorites. One Jewish leader is demanding
that they destroy the gas chambers as soon as possible. But another
leader is still planning on escape, arguing that he has every right to
expect to live. The first leader replies, something to the effect that,
after what he has seen and done, he does not want to live!
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, April 18, 2004. Last night, after seeing
Holocaust documentary on Kurt Gerron ("Prisoner of Paradise") a friend of
mine asked me what I would have done? I told her that it would depend on
whom I was caring for — my wife and my daughters — my parents. It was
then that I realized that I would have probably done everything that every
Jew did during the Holocaust. I would have tried to save myself and my
family. I would have abandoned others — even betrayed others. I would
have killed. I would have fought the Nazis. And I would have probably
killed for it. I would have despaired — tried suicide — become
useless to everyone. I don't think I would have survived. I think the
question in that regard — and it shows how irrelevant the question really
is — is "how soon would I have died." That is why I remember Holocaust
Memorial Day — so that I will never forget — and I can help work towards
time when such a hell will not occur in Europe, in Africa, in the Middle
East, in the US, … anywhere.