The German feature film, Naked Among Wolves, plumbs the depths of Nazi cruelty and depravity. Now available on the Netflix streaming network, Phillip Kadelbach’s movie unfolds in the Buchenwald concentration camp mainly in the last months of World War II as some inmates take desperate measures to save a Polish Jewish boy from certain death.
Naked Among Wolves, adapted from a novel by Bruno Apitz, is a remake of a 1963 East German film. I haven’t see the original one, but the latest version is workmanlike.
The film focuses on a group of German communists who’ve been consigned to Buchenwald because of their political beliefs. They’re a cohesive and disciplined lot, but their collective solidarity is sorely tested by an unusual occurrence.
One of the inmates opens a suitcase and discovers a boy inside. He’s Stephan, whose parents were murdered in Auschwitz. Stephan, having been smuggled out of Auschwitz by Polish Catholics, is brought to Buchenwald on the off chance that he may survive in his new surroundings.
Stephan’s presence in the camp pits two factions against each other. Some prisoners, acting out of kindness, want to hide and protect him. Still others believe he should be sent away, fearing for their lives and assuming he’ll get in the way of a planned revolt.
One can readily understand why they’re planning an uprising. Buchenwald, where 50,000 inmates perished, is an awful place. And the Nazis manning it are cruel, sadistic and heartless.
Naked Among the Wolves looks realistic enough in terms of its sets and plausibility. Crowded barracks line the grounds in neat formations. The inmates, worn down by hunger, disease and trauma, are subjected to beatings and shootings by their SS tormentors. But even in the darkest moments, the prisoners think of liberation and vengeance.
In the meantime, they do their best to keep Stephan well hidden from prying and unfriendly faces. One of the SS officers stumbles upon their secret, but he decides to turn a blind eye to Stephan. With the American army advancing on Buchenwald, his self-preservation instincts kick in. He thinks he may be treated better after the war if he lets Stephan live.
The film achieves a fairly high degree of authenticity thanks to its use of archival footage. Clips of American armour rolling through the German countryside in 1945 are juxtaposed against clips of SS chieftain Heinrich Himmler and his entourage inspecting a concentration camp.
The cast of German actors acquit themselves credibly in scenes that are by turns gritty, tense and heart-rending.
In short, Naked Among the Wolves evokes the horrors of a time and a place burned into the consciousness of Germans and Jews alike.