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The gates of Auschwitz appear early in Getting Away With Murder(s). Then a drone camera rises into a simple, devastating aerial shot. The obscene scale is made new. The death camp seems to go on forever. As a metaphor, the moment fits a film that argues that there can be no end to the Holocaust when so few of its perpetrators ever saw a courtroom.
Some of what follows may be familiar — the infamy of the ratline, high-ranking Nazis spirited to South America. The deeper focus of writer-director David Nicholas Wilkinson is more haunting still — the untold number of “ordinary” Nazis and collaborators who killed Jews and others in their millions, then slipped into new identities or simply resumed life under their real names, growing old in pretty hamlets and upstanding suburbs.
“Here there is no why,” Primo Levi reported being told by an Auschwitz guard. The film unpicks that affront. Some of its answer is rooted in specific postwar history, in grim realpolitik and tainted judges. It speaks too of gross human expediency. (The financial cost of prosecution often arises.)
Wilkinson crosses the world to talk to Holocaust survivors and legal scholars. In Delray Beach, Florida, he meets Benjamin Ferencz, now 101, a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials. On a sunless Lithuanian headland, he and British journalist Robin Lustig find the place where Lustig’s grandmother was killed in the manner of sport by the SS.
The weave of material is giant too (the film approaches three hours). But the throughlines are clear — both the central injustice and the dreadful ripple of implications. At Nuremberg, Ferencz warned of the lesson drawn from immunity for those who murdered as part of murderous states. Should that be allowed to happen, he said, “man must live in fear.” We might cast our gaze around the geopolitics of 2021 and ask how we should feel.
In UK cinemas from October 1, gettingawaywithmurders.uk