Son of Saul

Monday Morning Musings:

“Art is the lie that helps us see the truth.”

–Pablo Picasso

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

–Elie Wiesel, Night

We went to see Son of Saul

It was International Holocaust Remembrance Day,

January 27.

On this date in 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau,

The Nazi death camp.

“Work will set you free.”

Free from living

That is,



Six million or more

The theater was not full,

But there were small groups of people

And one or two by themselves

More people than we usually see at “foreign” movies.

Many of them were elderly–

Meaning older than us–

And I wondered if any were survivors.

Would this trigger memories

Of past horors?

Some seemed surprised the film was subtitled,

And I hoped they knew what it was about.

Saul was a sonderkommando

One who ushered in new victims

Lead them to the “showers,”

Listened to their cries

Carted away their bodies

Sorted the objects they left behind

Shoes here

Gold there

Hair in the bags

A boy still breathes

The Nazi doctor kills him.

No one is to survive.

But how did it happen

That he escaped death?

The doctor wants to know.

I wonder how a doctor

Pledged to help others

Could be an executioner.

I watch the movie.

My eyes do not leave the screen

Though my body

Curls up protectively

Arms hugging chest–

Yet I know this is only a movie,

A depiction of the evil that was

But nothing like the reality,

Hell on earth

And if there is a devil

He surely was there

Watching humans destroy

The bodies and souls of others.

I wondered if my husband would say,

“What did you make me watch?”

But after, he agrees it was a powerful movie.

I keep thinking of the actor’s face,

Even now a month later.

Blank, stoic, yet haunted

How did he convey so much

While saying so little?

The sonderkommandos could not display emotion

Could not

Would not


Till they did.

The movie focuses on his face,

Much of the action is blurred behind him.

We hear speech and yells,

German, Yiddish, Hungarian

The barking of dogs

The camera does not show or embrace the violence.

Master directors know it’s not necessary.

Remember the shower scene in Psycho?

It is enough to hear the cries and banging on the door

To see the blood scrubbed from the floor.

We know what has happened.


The sonderkommandos really did plan

And execute an uprising.

Executed some Nazis.

Were executed themselves.

Some by other inmates upon liberation.

They were considered collaborators.

But I can’t judge them.

Who knows what we would do in their situation?

They left papers, recently found.

The Scrolls of Auschwitz,

Buried in a crematorium

Mostly from Crematorium III

There were several, you know

More than one necessary


The death factory ran full time,

Day and night.

Some pages faded with moisture and time

But others still legible

Record transports and mass killings


How people were duped

Record the planned uprising

Record the horror

And show that some hoped others

Would learn what happened there

So that it would not happen again.


I think of people here


In the present

“We like his plain talk,”

They say

Embracing the hate-filled speech

Of demagogues.

Build walls

Keep out the foreigners

Us, not them

Whoever they and them are.

I read the words of supporters

Tweeting out hateful messages against

People of color




Kill them

Rape them

Question the abolition of slavery

I shudder at the ignorance.

People who have no knowledge of history.

People who do not understand the Constitution

Or the role of the president

Do not understand

Separation of powers

Civil rights or

The hard fight for freedom

That they would destroy

In the name of what they call


Liberty to hate others

Is what it seems to me.

Crazy world

Crazy times.


Mass killings

Mass rapes






And more,

Killing fields

Endless numbers

Men, women, children



My husband and I do not go to eat

After this movie

It seems wrong

Disrespectful somehow

Our stomachs clenched

Our minds jumbled

Trying to comprehend

Mass atrocities

But we stop for coffee to talk

To discuss the movie

To decompress

To see the truth in art

To discuss life

To bear witness in some small way

To the survivors


To those who were killed

For no reason

Other than their religion,

Their sexual orientation,

Their ethnic origins.

It is still happening

And I don’t have an answer

Except to say

I stand against hate

Will you stand with me?

 “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred.”

–Elie Wiesel, Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999.  Read the speech here.

Son of Saul won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film last night.

Further Reading:

Fresh Air Episode discussing Son of Saul

Holocaust Art.

Auschwitz Scrolls



31 thoughts on “Son of Saul

  1. I do stand with you against hate and warmongering. And I do understand why you chose not to enjoy a meal after this film. Once I saw Elie Wiesel at the University of North Florida and remember his affecting speech.

  2. Thank you Merril, I stand with you and with all who stand up to oppression and hate mongering. My stomach is in a clench just reading this. I will see the film – we must be witness.

  3. Powerful, Merril. Thank you. I’m proud to join you and others in standing up to hate, fear I think, at its core. Though, until the fearful are ready to own it, I am at a loss what to do but to give them time. To argue is as futile as it is to reason with an addict. But a focus on the beauty that is still around me, the art, the kindnesses, the joy… And know that life goes on.

  4. Thank you for this review of a movie I probably will never see. I read comments and decide whether or not to buy a ticket. I am aware of the horrors and would be thoroughly happy if love ruled our planet. Love covers all with goodness.

  5. Yes, Merril. I will stand with you. Proudly. This is very much a crazy world and crazy times.
    I have added the film to my Netflix queue (for when it is available on DVD) since there are no theaters nearby that show foreign (or small, independent) films. Reading your reaction to it reminded me of my own reaction when I visited the Holocaust Museum in D.C. I simply cannot wrap my head around what must take to be able to do that to people, to hate that much.

  6. Derrick says it well above, Merril. Yes, I will join you. Our words can be used for transformation, and standing with those who stand against hate is a very important way to make the world less cruel.

  7. Thank so much for sharing this, Merril. While this is heavy, I believe we need to be mindful of the dark side, the sins of humanity, the shocking rather than turning our backs and focusing on happiness and feeling good without taking any kind of social responsibility. I will try to get to this movie.
    I stand with you against hate. While this seems obvious, I still find gaps creeping through. I guess I get a bit concerned about who my kids are friends with and have an open mind but at the same time, want to protect them and keep them focused. Actually, I’m trying to de-focus my son from Minecraft at the moment.
    xx Rowena

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Rowena. Yes, it is difficult to turn off judgements that we all have (although sometimes valid), and of course, one wants to protect one’s children. I don’t know anything about Minecraft, so can’t help you there. 😉

      • Minecraft is a computer game both my kids play. It’s supposedly quite good for the brain, creativity etc but a lot of kids are addicted, including my son. It’s a hard call for me because he is quite social chatting with these people online and he seems happier these days but my husband says that when you’re an alcoholic, hanging out with your drinking mates, isn’t a good idea when you’re trying to get sober. It’s been quite hot so it’s also been about as much as any of us are capable of. I had a nap today and spent the day writing about the visit to the chocolate shop. It was a real feel good story.

      • I knew Minecraft was a computer game, but nothing about it. My girls didn’t really play computer games, and I don’t think that was around when they were younger.
        We can tell spring is on the way here, but we’re actually supposed to get a bit of snow tomorrow–then next week it will be in the 70s (F)! Crazy!

      • I’ve been reading about people’s gardens starting to come back to life. Daffodils etc poking their heads out of the ground. Our grass is brown and dry. I’ve even had trouble driving with the intense sunny haze.
        Enjoy your Spring! xx Rowena

      • Sorry, Merril to get with with my Australianisms. Sunnies and sunglasses and swimmers and your swimming costume, cossie, togs etc. Not sure what you call them over there.
        My daughter asked me why we speak English here the other day when we don’t live in England. I explained that we speak Australian English to which she replied that we should speak Aboriginal. She also asked me why we haven’t had an Aboriginal Prime Minister. She’s very sharp!
        By the way, even though it’s Autumn here now, it was still so hot we went to the beach at dusk. By the time we’d had our dinner, it was a little later than I’d hoped but the sun has been so strong and we’re all very pale.

      • Nothing to be sorry about, Rowena. It is funny how English in the US, Australia, and England are so different. And of course, there are regional variations within each, too, I imagine. We don’t say “cossie” either. We just say bathing suit, or for men, sometimes swim trunks. Or there are specifics, such as bikini. We say sunglasses, although I guess there are slang terms that go and out of fashion.

        Is there one Aboriginal language in Australia? Here, there are many native American languages. You probably have heard how Navajo was used for code during WWII.

        A twilight swim sounds delightful, but sorry it’s so hot there.

  8. The post slipped by me, but it is fitting to read it this morning, the morning after the violence at the cancelled Trump rally. For months now, my SO and I have talked about how scary it is watching the violent rhetoric increase, not just his supporters, but Trump himself. I thought him to be Mussolini (long before he quoted him), but now he is moving toward the Hitler realm.

    You post so wonderfully brings home one important facet that people try to avoid looking at: it could happen again. It could happen here in the US. Most of the German people who supported the Nazi regime were no different than the “patriotic good old (white) boys” who support Trump. And step by step, they get closer to putting on the brown shirts.

    The other day the WSJ poll showed Trump had a 63% disapproval rating nationwide. He has a small fanatical following, not enough to win a general election. But even that seems like a bitter positive note, for these people will still be part of this country, in the woodwork, where they were before Trump brought them out into the light and gave them a strongman to rally around.

    • Thank you for your very thoughtful comment. I agree that even if (thankfully) Trump does not have overwhelming support, many of his followers are crazy fanatics. His rallies are looking more and more like Hitler’s (or Mussolini). (Did you see that pledge?) However, Cruz is just as scary, and he seems to want to make the U.S. a theocracy, ruled by Christian law. He is against LGBT rights, and he would definitely try to change equality laws. It’s all very scary.

      • Cruz is a Christian Mussolini, he is just smart enough not to step over the edge that revs up the leftist base. That would change in the general election I believe.

        But yes it is very scary, but this is the monster the Conservative Elites have created, and now they have lost control of it. Sounds like a movie…

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