LOCAL JEWISH FILM FEST 2007
'Displaced' tells true story of survival
BY CATE MARQUIS, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT
"Displaced: Miracle At St. Ottilien" is a little-known "Greatest Generation" true story, about a couple of ordinary American G.I.s who showed extraordinary courage, persistence and intelligence to save some concentration camp survivors — after the war had ended.
This short documentary is narrated by writer Studs Terkel, and features interviews with the former American soldiers, two army privates named Robert Hilliard and Edward Herman, and a group of Buchenwald survivors in a displaced persons camp.
But what happened next to those survivors?
The Allied Commander was too busy, with mopping up after the war, hunting down the Nazi stragglers and putting the broken countries back in order, to really pay much attention to the barely-living concentration camp survivors who had been liberated. Those well enough could make their way home could but the sickly and weak, some far from home, or with no home left, were herded into displaced persons camps, often to be neglected or forgotten.
St. Ottilien was one such little camp, a former monastery, where a group of survivors huddled on the brink of starvation.
Army privates Robert Hilliard and Edward Herman were disturbed by this treatment and began smuggling food to the refugees.
When sickness broke out among the neglected survivors, the commanders thought of fencing them in, lest disease spread to the general population.
This was too much at last for Hilliard and Herman. They set out to do something about it, using their wits to circumvent the system, with a letter writing campaign. Eventually, their efforts got the attention of President Harry Truman.
The documentary's story is told through interviews with documents and archival stills.
The story is told step by step as it unfolded, leading up to the clever twist that did the trick. Survivors are interviewed along with the soldiers themselves.
The combination of cleverness, resourcefulness and determination to do the right thing, to save these strangers, makes this short documentary a heart-warming, inspiring winner.
I am continually amazed at the remarkable moral character and sense of right and wrong coupled with the brainiest and creative wit in being able to circumvent obstacles that marked this generation that grew up in the hardships of the Great Depression.
Maybe it was FDR's message of "we are all in this together" that cemented this determination to rescue the weakest and leave no one behind.
Displaced: Miracle At St. Ottilien is a wonderful little tribute, a bit belated, to some ordinary guys who did something extraordinary, just because it was the right thing to do."