As I watched Fugitive Pieces, I could not help but think of my many friends and family members who are the children of Holocaust survivors. When they discuss it at all, these friends often recall how difficult it was to be raised by parents who lived day in and day out with the wrenching guilt of having survived when so many others perished (sometimes being the only family member to have done so). Sometimes shut out of their parent’s heart, left inaccessible by immeasurable loss, they often feel unloved, resented for their lives, lived in relative comfort and ease, even as they are overprotected and cherished.
And how can they share something with their children that is nearly impossible to understand; something of which they themselves have yet to fully gain closure? There have been many, many films about the Holocaust, and about survivors, but Fugitive Pieces (currently showing in art house cinemas throughout the country) gives us a detailed character study of one man, haunted and driven by having survived, when his family did not.
Fugitive Pieces tells the story of Jakob Beer (played as a boy by Robbie Kass), who as a young boy in Poland observed from behind a closet door as his parents were murdered in their home, and his sister was dragged away by Nazi Storm Troopers. A terrified Jakob runs into a nearby forest, hiding in the freezing cold under piles of dead leaves. Seen by Greek archaeologist Athos (Croatian actor Rade Serbedzija), Jakob is rescued and smuggled out of Poland and into Greece, where Athos hides the wary and terrified Jakob for the duration of World War II. In a sense, Jakob has saved Athos, too, as his colleagues, still digging in Poland (for evidence of Nazi atrocities, we learn) are discovered and murdered. Both Jakob and Athos suffer the sort of guilt only possible when one has escaped due to fortune or circumstance, while everyone else has perished.