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The Television Film Escape from Auschwitz: A Portrait of a Friendship (USA, 2001, directed by Josh Springer)

At the center of the made-for-television movie Escape from Auschwitz is the friendship of the two concentration camp survivors Max Drimmer and Herman Shine, who are linked by their childhood, camp imprisonment, and joint escape from Auschwitz.


At the beginning, the camera accompanies Max Drimmer as he visits Herman Shine, and thus the film is given a framework plot in which the two men mutually “refresh their memories.” Alternately, the two contemporary witnesses—obviously interviewed separately, however—talk about their arrest and deportation, first to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, later to the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. Their statements are supplemented on the one hand by a commentator who provides historical background information, and on the other by an expert, philosophy professor John Roth, whose role is to contextualize the statements of the two contemporary witnesses from a scholarly point of view. The stories of the two men are spliced and blended. Their experience of torture, punishment, and arbitrariness is “documented” on the image plane with interlaced historical photographic and film material, whose origins, however, remain largely unexplained.


In between, John Roth remarks on the function and uniqueness of survivor testimonies, but places the focus primarily on the incredible survival story of Max Drimmer and Herman Shine, whose helper Józef Wróna shows, Roth says, “how human people could be in the midst of inhumanity.” Thus the film follows a narrative that seeks to universalize the Holocaust.


The tendency to give a positive interpretation of history, to uncouple it, so to speak, from the extermination machinery of Auschwitz by emphasizing the experience of benevolence and support, runs throughout the film. Auschwitz is introduced as an emotional overlay, and an atmosphere of vague menace is created, also by the use of emotionally laden string music. The joint story is split into two plot lines: Herman’s acquaintance and love affair with Marianne Schlesinger, and Max’s acquaintance with the man who later aided them in their escape, Józef Wróna. Both threads of the plot are pursued in parallel and united again in the description of the escape. In the process, the actual course of events is glossed over in some places to support this culmination of the action, as when the train trip to Gleiwitz during the escape appears in the film as a train trip back to Berlin: a journey of greater symbolic weight, but one that took place only after the liberation. Similarly, numerous obstacles before and even after the liberation by the Red Army go unmentioned, and the story line resumes only with the double happy endings of the love stories in the postwar years, the double wedding of the couples—Herman Shine and Marianne Schlesinger; Max Drimmer and Herta Zowe—and their subsequent emigration to the United States: Cuts were made here for the sake of a compelling story. In the closing credits, accompanied by Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” the film returns to the lives of the two men today, with the golden wedding anniversary and the reunion with the man who saved them, Józef Wróna, as the highpoint. Max Drimmer and Hermann Shine are seen against the Pacific Ocean at sunset, while the commentator concludes, “Max Drimmer and Herman Shine have an amazing story. And they are best friends.”

(SP; transl. KL)


Title: Escape from Auschwitz: A Portrait of a Friendship

Country: USA

Year: 2001

Direction: Josh Springer

Cast: Max Drimmer, John Roth, Herman Shine, Marianne Shine

Produktion: kcsm-tv

Length: 57 min.