THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN

(a film review by Timothy J. Verret)

What struck me most about this film about The Windermere Project, a 4-month “living again” rehabilitation of hundreds of children who were survivors of the Holocaust, was this exchange of dialogue between the director of Windermere, Oscar Friedmann, and an art teacher:

OSCAR FRIEDMANN: We need to remember that these are not our children.

ART TEACHER: How is what we feel going to help them?

I’d like to address Director Friedmann’s comment first by saying these children ARE our children. When one child suffers and struggles to make sense of inhumanity, that child IS our child. Much as I am fond of saying, if one animal suffers, that animal IS our animal. I think of the Bible verse, “The righteous man regards the life of his animal” (Proverbs 12:10). As we have dominion over animals, they are all OUR animals. Much is the same for children, i.e., they are all OUR children.

To address the art teacher’s question, “how is what we feel going to help them?,” what we feel is EXACTLY how we are going to help these children, because how we feel is what is going to allow these children to feel what they feel and heal from it.

THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN is a film about how we all heal when we allow ourselves to feel. It is not just a story about these tormented and dehumanized children of the Holocaust and how they are brought back to life but also how these same children heal us by allowing us to show love and compassion for them so that we are humanized, as well.

The film is about second chances when inhumanity has dealt these children of the Holocaust only one chance, and that one chance is to simply live to die. But that is, and was, too easy for the tormentors. Their torment of these children was about the “in between” of these children’s lives and conceivable death, and that “in between” was to have them suffer and be dehumanized and lose the will to live. The Windermere Project gave these children a second chance to understand their suffering, their dehumanizaton, and their not wanting to live. What happened as a result of this project was these children became human again. They became real in the face of derealization.

The film highlights 5 boys and 1 girl from The Windermere Project. They all have their individual stories and what freedom from the concentration camps would entail for each of them. And, yet, the film gives us a more conglomerate story about all these children. When all the children arrive, they are placed in individual rooms and they are all bathed and powdered for lice, their clothes burned and given new clothes, and then they gather at tables to eat. In one scene, when the staff of Windermere place bread before these children right after their arriving and grace is said, the children each grab a piece of bread and run to their individual rooms to either eat the bread quickly or store it. They do this because they were taught the life-and-death balance of receiving food in the camps and with facing the real possibility of having the food taken from them and/or never receiving this food again, they had to hold onto their piece of bread for dear life at Windermere to either eat it alone or store it alone in their rooms. That scene haunts. And, yet, these children didn’t understand how to live alone in their rooms and they didn’t know how to even walk outside by themselves alone. They knew companionship and togetherness was their only saving grace in the camps. They couldn’t comprehend that they could ever want or need to do anything alone.

After the 4 months of rehabilition, with the Windermere staff rightly concerned if these children were ready for the big world out there, the Windermere children were all placed in appropriate and loving homes and allowed to live again. At the end of the film, the 5 boys featured in the film return to Windermere as elder men to revisit the place where they came alive. Much of what these 5 men and all Windermere children experienced is what Jesus experienced, i.e., they were born, they lived, they suffered, they died, they went to hell, and then they were reborn again. Matthew 19:14, “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” takes on a totally new and profound meaning after we have met and empathized with and released the Windermere children.

Back to all children being our children and how we feel allows others to feel, THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN is a film about faith, hope and love….and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). It’s a film about how we will “turn out” when others have turned themselves out to help others. It’s about the gift of giving more and receiving even more when love orchestrates the giving and receiving. It’s about how we all will heal when we receive love, when we give love, and how we will feel free, maybe for the first time ever, when we have allowed ourselves to feel.

THE WINDERMERE CHILDREN is a film about all God’s Children, the ones young and the ones old.

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