‘The Invisibles’ Tells the Amazing Tale of Four Holocaust Survivors
When death knocked at her door, Hanni Weissenberg refused to answer it. Living in Berlin in 1943 — when the Nazis tried to wipe out every last Jew — she evaded them, dyed her hair blonde, and assumed a new identity as a widow.
On Sunday, the 94-year-old spoke about her experience after a screening of the film “The Invisibles” at Landmark 57 in midtown Manhattan.
“For the longest time, I thought that I was the only one who dared to do this,” she told the audience through an interpreter.
She wasn’t. It is estimated that 7,000 Jews hid in Berlin, and that between 1,500 and 1,700 survived. The film focuses on Weissenberg (her last name is now Levy) and three others: Ruth Arndt found a job as a housekeeper for a German who hosted parties for Nazis; Cioma Schonhaus worked as a passport forger and hid in the Afghan embassy; and Eugen Friede became involved in the resistance by helping to create anti-Nazi leaflets — he pretended to be a relative of the family he moved in with.
Director Claus Rafle, who also spoke after the film, said that he decided to do a docudrama, combining survivor interviews with re-enactments by actors so that it would be more engaging.
In most cases, such an attempt becomes flimsy. Here, however, it works well.
Though all of the film’s actors are on point, Max Mauff stands out as Cioma, a nerdy looking guy trying to be a big shot. In one scene, he holds the hand of Stella, an attractive Jewish woman he wants to sleep with, and offers to bring her back to his hiding place. She accepts the offer, but asks him if he thinks it’s really a good idea. Eventually, he decides not to take her. It ends up being a wise decision. Stella Goldschlag, played by Laila Maria Witt, was allowed her freedom by the Nazis in exchange for ratting out fellow Jews. In this case, she spares him.
“She was really a dangerous person, looking in cinemas and cafes … where Jews might be,” Rafle said of Stella. “She survived because she was protected by the Gestapo. The Russian Army took Stella and sentenced her to 10 years in jail. She committed suicide many years later at 75 or 76. She could not go on living with this guilt.”
As opposed to remaining in one hiding place for the duration of the war, these four Jews walked at times in plain sight, going to the movies and often changing their hideouts. In many cases, their acting skills protected them.
Hanni Levy said that there was one thing that made her believe she could make it through: “My feeling was always that my father, who was dead, already protected me.” Her father died of illness before the Holocaust.
The four were also helped by gentiles who risked their lives to save them, often by housing them or giving them passports that could be forged. Levy said that she owed a great debt to those who helped her, including a woman at the box office of the theater she went to.
“I only found out about the horror I escaped by staying in Berlin after the war,” Levy said. “My main goal later was to be thankful to the people that had taken risks to help me. When I survived this ordeal, afterward I considered every day as a gift. It was a great gift that I could get married and raise my children. My message is stay alert, be careful, watch out, [and] make sure that this will not happen again because it [now] looks very much like it looked then.”
The film is a psychological thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat, even if you know that the four survived.