Yesterday afternoon we watched what Enoch said was 'the saddest movie I have ever seen.'
The Book Thief tells of Liesl, a German girl who is placed in a home of a middle aged couple as Germany veers into the full horrors of the Nazi years and the war. There is a lot of death. In fact, the narrator is Death himself. Based on the novel by Markus Zusak, the film takes a beautiful look at a very ugly time.
Take a look at the shot above. The scene is the dirty grey steps outside her lower-middle-class home. In the war. But Liesel looks gorgeous. The colours are full of promise. The clothes plum (literally).
Yes, there is beauty in despair. Yes, candles shine brightest in the darkest places. Yes, the film did not shy away from showing some of the horrors of the war and the terrors of Nazism.
My eyes were wet with tears at seeing the horrible actions of the German people to those they called 'sub-human.' Liesl's agonising run in the midst of a column of Jews headed for the concentration camps cut to the heart. Sorrows come in battalions. And then some.
It's all the more real for me since my mother was a young girl at the same time in the same place. Christa Fischer was born in Leipzig in 1937 - 5 or so years younger to Liesl - when Hitler and his henchmen (and women) were at the height of their power. As the war escalated to large scale bombings she was sent away to her relatives in the Black Forest.
Her parents remained in Leipzig - my grandfather too small and because he supplied coal - too vital to be sent to the front. My grandmother worked hard along side him. I am told that they listened secretly to the BBC to hear the 'real news' of how the war was fairing. As far as I know they hid no Jews - but their simple deep faith meant that they were more than kind to the allied prisoners of war who were drafted to help them in the coal business. An elderly relative that I met many years later from their generation washed her hands off the Nazis by telling me that 'Hitler was actually not German at all'...
There are stains on all our hands.
Credit to the film. Very little fairy-tale ending. Many many deaths. But an exquisite celebration of life. With each life shown to be so precious.
So what jarred about the film? I go back to the beginning. The sheer beauty of every shot. And the sub-text that you can be good without God.
I can't even pretend to comprehend the vast evil that has come to be summarised by the four letter word "Nazi." But I do know that there were real life people who did stand up. Men like Deitrich Bonhoeffer and others in the Confessing Church - some of whom were executed in the concentration camps themselves like Bonhoeffer was just days before the Allies took over Germany. Women like Corrie Ten Boom, whose family served as a place of refuge to dozens of Jews when the Germans overran Holland - and who lost her father in the concentration camps - and who later was able to forgive some of the very men who had been her nemises during the years in the camps.
I wish I could talk to my grandfather about what he thought. What his decisions were. How his simple faith in Jesus had taken him through the dark years. And what he would have done differently in hindsight.
But this I know. That truth must be told. That forgiveness and justice can embrace. That life is very ugly many a time.
The four of us looked at each other with tear-stained eyes yesterday (Yohan was asleep). We talked a bit about what we had seen. We prayed. We need to keep talking.
Death is real. But certainly not a kind-sounding gentleman as the film characterises him. There is a fundamental shabbiness to death.
But there is an alternative to the 'pie-in-the-sky-in-the-sweet-bye-and-bye.' It all happened 2K years ago when a brutally executed and tortured man was laid in a freshly cut tomb - only to leave it on the third day. Fact.
I humbly serve the man who took our pain upon Him. To Him I look for hope. Because death could not hold Him back. He knows the deep sorrow that death brings to so many - and He can carry us through.
I have a lot to talk about with Willi and Roslie Fischer. We will have a lot of time when I join them in the new Kingdom where death has no place.