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Herbert J. Cohen
Herbert J. Cohen

Kosher Movies: The Forgotten Battle

When is a war really over? I am writing this as a new variant of Covid has just made its appearance. We thought the Covid pandemic was almost over and then the Delta variant appeared. And now there is the Omicron variant. The vaccine was thought to end the pandemic, but now we still find ourselves battling it.

This kind of tentative victory over bad news is what we see in The Forgotten Battle, the gripping story of a tragedy that occurred after the Germans began retreating from the Allied advances in September of 1944. But there is a problem. Although the Allies have captured the port of Antwerp, the Germans still control the Scheldt estuary, preventing supplies from reaching Antwerp and the Allied forces.

The Allies launch Operation Market Garden, hoping to penetrate Germany via Arnhem in Holland. A glider from this operation is forced to crash land on Walcheren Island, leaving a handful of British troops trapped behind enemy lines. Meanwhile a Dutch teenager accidentally kills three Germans, causing a tragic chain of events. On the German side, a soldier starts to question where his loyalties lie. The film focuses on the stories of three people, who have different perspectives on the same historical event.

Teuntje Visser works in the office of the mayor, who collaborates with the Germans. Her father, a medical doctor, is not political and just wants to survive the war. He treats Germans as well as Dutch citizens. His son Dirk, a member of the Dutch Resistance, is arrested for throwing stones at the window of a passing convoy truck, causing German fatalities. He is sought after by the Germans who want to punish him and who want him to reveal names of other Resistance members.

Teuntje’s story parallels the story of Marinus van Steveren, a German soldier, who begins to doubt the morality of the Nazis, especially when civilian hostages are executed. The third concurrent narrative is about Sergeant Will Sinclair, a cocky glider pilot whose plane crashes in a flooded estuary behind enemy lines.

All three stories intersect as Teuntje tries to transmit photos of German artillery positions to the Allied command. It is ultimately a successful mission but with casualties. The coda at the end of the film states that the Allied victory at Walcheren Causeway opened a sea route for the Allied forces to the port of Antwerp and helped contribute to the liberation of the Netherlands on May 5th, 1945.

One overriding theme of The Forgotten Battle is living with uncertainty. The war seems over and the Germans are in retreat, but the war is really not over and the Germans are still in charge. How does one emotionally and mentally deal with the living contradiction? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offers a perspective on how to live with uncertainty: “Faith is the courage to live with uncertainty. Almost every phase of the exodus was fraught with difficulties, real or imagined. That is what makes the Torah so powerful. It does not pretend that life is any easier than it is. The road is not straight and the journey is long. Unexpected things happen. Crises suddenly appear. It becomes important to embed in a people’s memory the knowledge that we can handle the unknown. God is with us, giving us the courage we need.”

Sacks references the holiday of Sukkot when Jews live in fragile huts for a week. Dwelling in the sukkah plants in our collective psyche the notion that we can endure physical disruption when we know that God is with us. Sacks observes: “The sukkah symbolizes living with unpredictability. Sukkot is the festival of radical uncertainty. It tells us that though we journey through a wilderness, we as a people will reach our destination. If we see life through the eyes of faith, we will know we are surrounded by clouds of glory. Amid uncertainty we will find ourselves able to rejoice. We need no castles for protection or palaces for glory. A humble sukkah will do, for when we sit within it, we sit beneath what the Zohar calls the shade of faith.”

The Forgotten Battle may be a footnote to a long and painful war. However, in the eyes of those who experienced the uncertainty of victory, it was a battle that forever etched its lessons and memories on the soldiers and citizens who endured it.

About the Author
Originally from Mt. Vernon, New York, Herbert J. Cohen served in the pulpit rabbinate in Atlanta at the beginning of his career. After six years, he moved into the educational rabbinate and served for 23 years as Principal of Yeshiva High School of Atlanta. In 2010, he and his wife came on aliyah to Israel. His latest book, published by Urim Publishers, is "Kosher Movies: A Film Critic Discovers Life Lessons at the Cinema." He may be reached at rabbihjco@msn.com.
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