- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

Admirably straightforward, edifying and stirring for the most part, the documentary feature "Into the Arms of Strangers," exclusively at the Mazza Gallerie, illuminates a sidelight of the Holocaust: a humanitarian refugee program that proved a lifesaver for about 10,000 beneficiaries, the children of mostly Jewish families in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Nevertheless, the program was predicated on family breakups that remind you that nothing commendable is cost-free. Rescue itself can be a mixed blessing.
A lingering personal incentive drew producer Deborah Oppenheimer to the subject matter. The subtitle is "Stories of the Kindertransport," and her late mother was one of the participants in the program, inaugurated by several refugee groups soon after the massive Nazi atrocity known as Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, 1938.
A comprehensive survey of a particular chapter of World War II heartache and loss, "Into the Arms" was anticipated to some extent by a book written by one its participants, Lore Segal. Her novel "Other People's Houses" recalled her experiences as a Kindertransport transplant to England, shunted among several households during the war. Her mother, Franzi Groszmann, also shares her recollections in the movie.
The extremes range from Lory Cahn, who was torn from a Kinder transport train by her father when he couldn't bear the thought of separation, to Ursula Rosenfeld, who feels that the death of her father, a Kristallnacht victim, became a cruel source of deliverance.
Miss Cahn remained in Germany but survived incarceration in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. The cherubic Kurt Fuchel was a prime adoption candidate at the age of 7 and spent a mostly contented exile with his adoptive parents, Mariam and Percy Cohen.
Mrs. Cohen also is interviewed. The conclusion of the war obliged Kurt to return to his parents, who had survived while hiding in rural France.
The older Alexander Gordon, a 16-year-old during Kindertransport, survived a harrowing misadventure after the outbreak of war resulted in all resident aliens between 16 and 70 in England being registered as enemy aliens.
He was transported to Australia on a ship called the Duntera, which was torpedoed and whose internees then were subjected to near-starvation. He eventually returned to England after volunteering to fight in the Pioneer Corps.
There are some soft spots and lapses in the interwoven chronicles. It seems to me that the filmmakers rely too often and elaborately on the evocative appeal of German children's songs to carry them over transitional passages.
There's also a stretch in which the interviews begin to flirt with monotony, probably because the voice timbres of the interview subjects become too similar.
The most common form of resistance to material of this kind is the feeling, usually exaggerated, that it has been heard many times before and obliges listeners to suffer interminably in a sorrowful echo chamber.
I don't think that's true of "Into the Arms" in more than fleeting respects. Most of the testimony is painfully specific. Nevertheless, it requires near-heroic kinds of vigilance to counteract the impression that Holocaust documentaries belabor the same old same old.

TITLE: "Into the Arms of Strangers"
RATING: PG (documentary recollections about Holocaust survivors and victims; archival footage depicts Nazi persecution and atrocities)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Mark Jonathan Harris
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
Three Stars out of Four.

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