From novelists to historians and journalists, many have related the personal stories of Holocaust witnesses in order to convey the real magnitude of the event and to honour the memory of those who suffered at its hands. Destination Unknown was conceived when producer Llion Roberts had a chance meeting with the son of a Holocaust survivor. Roberts took it upon himself to travel around the world and gather the untold intimate accounts of the remaining survivors. After collecting material from the witnesses’ past and enquiring about their present lives, Roberts began working with director Claire Ferguson to create a full-length feature that would knit the interviews into one solid narrative.
There is no other voice in the documentary aside from the direct testimony of 12 survivors. They speak of what they saw in the concentration camps and relate stories of hiding, of reunions, of escape and permanent separation. Archive footage shows the places and faces they mention, giving a concrete shape to their words. There is also a rare interview with Mietek Pemper, the camp inmate who was forced to become the secretary of commander Amon Göth and who then helped compile Oskar Schindler’s list of labourers saved from extermination. Others who have met Göth and Schindler offer an insight into these men’s personalities and the way their actions affected the lives of so many, albeit in very different ways.
As the accounts overlap, one is reminded of the full picture and all the different people who were involved. The stories narrated in the documentary echo other Holocaust tragedies told before, and while they are not any less chilling or saddening, their main power lies in adding force to the avalanche of previous research that has served to point out the enormity of the crime. Beyond historical testimony, the issue that viewers are invited to think about is the permanence of the damage caused: for the 12 interviewees, the traumas left in the wake of the brutal experience – and perhaps the greatest struggle – began just as salvation came, when it was time to assimilate the brutal events.
The documentary adds new voices to the Holocaust testimony so it holds value from a historical as well as from a humane perspective. Apart from honouring the personal experience of the individuals involved, it serves a great purpose when seen as a reminder to those harbouring divisive ideologies in the present time that such thinking has led to unspeakable atrocities in the past. In the words of George Santayana, now inscribed at Auschwitz, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Destination Unknown is released nationwide on 16th June 2017.
Watch the trailer for Destination Unknown here: