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'The Invisibles' Looks At Some Of The Jews Who Survived The Holocaust In Berlin


"The Invisibles," a German film about Jews who hid from the Nazis in wartime Berlin, opens today here in the U.S. The documentary drama is based on the real-life accounts of four survivors. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley met one of them and sends this report.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hanni Weissenberg, now Hanni Levy, survived the war by hiding in the capital of Nazi Germany. Early in the movie, we meet her as a 17-year-old, sitting in her Berlin apartment with the Gestapo pounding on the door.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (Shouting in German).

HANNI LEVY: (Through interpreter) That's when I knew it was now or never. It was time to disappear. When they knocked like that, usually you had to open. But I didn't.

BEARDSLEY: Levy slipped out of the apartment and escaped the roundup that day. She had been living alone after her parents died of illness, working in a factory sewing parachutes. In February 1943, the Nazis rounded up and deported the last Jewish forced laborers like Levy. After her escape, she found refuge with friends of her parents, removed the yellow star the Nazis forced Jews to wear, dyed her hair blond and began a new life as Hannelore Winkler.

LEVY: (Through interpreter) You just had to push away your fear and become someone else. I had to try to lose myself in the masses and forget that I was scared and that I had been subject to the Nazi race laws. I had to act like a regular Berliner, and this is what saved me in the end.

KELLY: Barbara Schieb is a historian with the German Resistance Memorial Center. She says in occupied countries Jews often went underground and were sometimes helped by resistance movements. But for Jews in Berlin, where potentially everyone was a Nazi and there was no organized resistance, people hid in plain sight, relying on the help of German friends.

BARBARA SCHIEB: They just said, I'm somebody else. They invented a new Aryan-sounding identity. And for this, they needed helpers. They needed a home, something to eat, money, of course. They needed false documents. They were visible. You see it in the film quite well.

BEARDSLEY: "The Invisibles" director is Claus Rafle, a veteran filmmaker.

CLAUS RAFLE: I made this film because I thought these stories of people who have to hide them self in their own town and to have to climb into different identities, these stories are so full of tension and emotions because every day is full of risks.


BEARDSLEY: As the film ends, Hanni Levy takes the stage for Q-and-A with a rapt audience.

LEVY: (Foreign language spoken).




BEARDSLEY: And she poses for pictures with Michael Muller, the mayor of Berlin.

MICHAEL MULLER: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: "It's great to have Levy's optimism and energy," Muller says. "She helps us account for our difficult past and learn for the future."

MARIANNE ENZENSBERGER: I adore this lady, that she can forgive everybody. I would never be able to do that.

BEARDSLEY: That's 72-year-old Marianne Enzensberger, who is not Jewish. She's just watched the film with her friend, Marianne Rosenberg, whose father was Jewish and survived Auschwitz. Both women say they're worried about the rise of the far-right in Germany and Eastern Europe today.

ENZENSBERGER: I'm very angry - angry about what's happening in that German people, I mean, they say, it's so many years ago it happened. But it's not true. Some people, of the youngsters, they don't know about anything.

MARIANNE ROSENBERG: Yeah. And most people don't want to talk about this time.

ENZENSBERGER: They think it's boring and - don't start again.

BEARDSLEY: The women say this film is important, but they doubt young people will go see it. But 26-year-old Sophie Achenbach was stunned by "The Invisibles." She says she knew about the horrors of Auschwitz, but she never imagined the daily injustices that led up to the Holocaust.

SOPHIE ACHENBACH: If you watched the movie and you think about the daily lives they had, the Jews couldn't go to the doctors, they couldn't use the public transportation. Like, all these things. And this, I never thought about.

BEARDSLEY: Like most Jewish survivors, Hanni Levy left Germany after the war, and she has lived in Paris since 1946. Achenbach says it's wonderful to see her come back to Berlin and receive such an emotional welcome. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: January 28, 2019 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous headline and Web introduction to this story said that 7,000 Jews survived in Berlin while it was occupied by Nazis. In fact, approximately 1,400 Jews survived in the city during that time.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.