A new film by a new director and a new production company, Walking with the Enemy, officially releases later this month. This feature is based on the true story of Pinchas Rosenbaum, retold in the character Elik Cohen. Reminiscent of Queen Esther’s bravery in Persia, Elik leverages his circumstances and looks to save as many Jews as possible in Hungary under Nazi Germany’s power. Elik forgoes his safety and wellbeing countless times in order to save as many of his people as possible. Walking with the Enemy ranks among the best heroic stories of loss and hope amidst inconceivable and inhumane Shoah suffering.
The film won best picture at Fort Lauderdale’s International Film Festival last year. Shot on state–of-the-art RED equipment, the cinematography is phenomenal. The acting is good, particularly with the inclusion of Ben Kingsley. As far as structure, most viewers will not need the hour that builds up to key plot points, as many are already familiar with World War II history. Amongst the action, drama and visuals, characters in this good-versus-evil struggle fall a bit flat and non-relatable; a stronger female lead would have been appreciated. The writing could be better. Each character is solely good or solely evil, brave or frightened. Ultimately though, the film honors Rosenbaum, particularly in a beautiful flash-forward scene set in post-war New York City at the very end of the film.
In the backdrop of today’s headlines, the idea that our Jewish people could be required to self-identify again in Eastern Europe is hauntingly real. The focus on politically-driven anti-Semitism in Ukraine brings new light to the events of Rosenbaum’s actions, over 70 years ago. Jewish suffering is still with us today. Walking with the Enemy brings a fresh resurgence of emotion and pain that accompanies remembering the Holocaust.
Those who are already put off by yet another Holocaust story will likely not appreciate this film, whereas those who are less reactive about its depiction in film will be encouraged. Granted, Jews for Jesus has released a Holocaust-related short film this April, That Jew Died for You, also meant to ultimately convey hope. It has seen similarities in audience polarization. For any Jewish person, the Holocaust is a difficult issue. It is incredibly trying to imagine where God was in these events, both then and now. Forcing ourselves to do so, however, produces a kind of life-giving hope to which even some Holocaust survivors have subscribed.
This subject is incredibly difficult. Our people have various views on the reason God would have allowed the Holocaust. Some Jews are inclined to believe the reasons have a spiritual core, while unearthing them can be excruciating. Evil itself is fully visible in crimes by people and against people, but something even deeper, beneath that surface, occurred.
Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael Brown writes in “A Jewish Believer in Jesus Explains,”
Consider the image of a despised German Jew, stripped naked by the Nazis and then mocked, tormented and beaten, before being taken away to die in a very public, humiliating death […] Then consider the image of Jesus our Messiah, flogged and beaten beyond recognition, ridiculed and mocked by the Roman soldiers as they push a crown of thorns deep into his scalp, then stripped of his clothes, nailed to a cross, and raised up to die a slow, agonizing, and very public, humiliating death, hanging naked alongside two criminals. And then hear him express the pain of his people the the ages, ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?'[…] The horrors of the Holocaust should draw us to the side of the suffering Servant [of Isaiah 53] rather than drive us away from him. He can identify with us in our pain. And out of the death (the Holocaust and the cross) came resurrection—the State of Israel and the raising up of the Messiah. There are some similarities here (27, 30-31)!
If you are looking for further information on the sensitive topic of hope and the Holocaust, Dr. Brown’s booklet is available to you for free here.
In keeping with this season of reflection and remembering the Shoah, Walking with the Enemy will be in select theaters starting April 25th. The following Monday, April 28th, is Holocaust Memorial Day. A week later, May 6th, is Israeli Independence Day.