Holocaust: A children's version
The newly released film 'Surviving with Wolves' tells how an 8-year-old girl escaped the Shoah.
PARIS - The film "Surviving with Wolves," based on Misha Defonseca's autobiography by the same name, was released in France last week. The film tells the story of Misha, an 8-year-old Jewish girl who lived in Brussels in 1942.
Her parents, fearing deportation, pay a Catholic family to hide the girl in their home before they depart for an unknown future. When Misha's adoptive family treats her cruelly, she decides to escape to "the East," in search of her parents.
Misha packs apples, a bit of bread and a knife. She walks for four years, crossing Germany and Poland, and reaching Ukraine, while stealing food, clothing and shoes to survive. During a journey through the forest that nearly ends in her starving to death, Misha meets a pack of wolves and decides to live with them. She adopts some of their behavior, is protected like a member of their pack, and survives by consuming offal and worms. At the end of this protracted journey, Misha finds it hard to live among humans, whom she no longer trusts.
Historians doubted the book's veracity when it was first released in English. In 1998, Defonseca sued the American publishers of her book for breach of contract. She was re-awarded the copyright to her book, and she and her ghostwriter received damages totaling tens of millions of dollars. She released the book in France, where it was acclaimed by the press. Since then, it has been translated into 17 languages, including Hebrew (translated by Hagit Bat-Ada and published by Modan).
Director Vera Belmont says that she decided to make the book into a film immediately after reading it. "Many films have been written about the Holocaust," she explains. "But few are directed at children. I always wanted to create a film that would make it possible to expose children to the subject."
For this reason, she also avoided disturbing visual content. Instead, she hints at events "to prompt children to ask questions," she says.
Belmont, 76, who also produced the film, had experiences similar to Misha's, but with a happier ending. Belmont's parents, Communist Jews of Russian and Polish descent, joined the underground after leaving her with a family that hid her until the end of the war. Unlike the case of Defonseca, Belmont's parents returned to reclaim her at the end of the war.
French critics are divided about the film, but are of nearly one mind regarding the acting. Red-headed 9-year-old Mathilde Goffart, who plays Misha, has been showered with praise. Israeli actress Yael Abecassis, who plays the role of Jerusha, Misha's mother, has starred in two other films that were recently released in France.
Vera Belmont says she decided to cast Abecassis when she first saw her in "Go, See and Become," where she embodied "a real mother who emanated light."
Belmont says Misha Defonseca burst into tears when she first saw the movie.
"She said it was the most beautiful homage to her parents, who died anonymously. The actor who plays the father and Yael Abecassis truly resemble Defonseca's parents, and seeing them on screen was a spine-chilling experience for her."
Are you aware that historians doubt the truth of Defonseca's story?
"That is exactly like the people who deny the existence of concentration camps. This is a true story. Everything that happened during the Holocaust is unbelievable and impossible to grasp, and people therefore also find it difficult to believe this story."