My Knees Were Jumping (1996)





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Movie Info

During WW II, between 1938 and 1939, Allied forces launched a courageous rescue mission to save 10,000 children from certain death in the concentration camps. These children were of Jewish or Gypsy descent or were otherwise marked as undesirable. This documentary looks at what happened to these salvaged children. To tell their often sad stories and chronicle the psychological effects of the traumatic events (although it was planned that the children would eventually be returned to their parents, over 90% never saw their parents again) the film uses interviews with survivors and rescuers, archival footage, and old photographs. Though filmmaker Melissa Hacker keeps the focus on others, her own mother was one of the children saved from the camps.
Documentary , Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
IFC Films

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Joanne Woodward
as Narrator

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Audience Reviews for My Knees Were Jumping

Why Can't Anyone Tell the Story Well? This is the second documentary I've watched on this subject. This one feels more comprehensive--and comprehensible--than the other one, but it's still not a very compelling telling of what is a fascinating story, really. It's pretty much true that there are more documentaries about the Holocaust than just about any other subject, probably far more than there need to be. It's also true that the Holocaust is seen to be awards bait, that it's assumed that movies about it have a better-than-average chance of winning Oscars. To the extent that Kate Winslet apparently once played herself on a TV show making a movie about the Holocaust so she could finally win an Oscar--and that the movie for which she did, indeed, win Best Actress was about the Holocaust. However, that seems to mean that people making movies on the subject don't try as hard, assuming their subject matter will do half their work for them. This story, however, was personal to director Melissa Hacker. In part, it is the story of her own mother. Through a combination of antisemitism and isolationism, many countries had strict immigration quotas in the years between World War I and World War II. The known practical effect of this was that many Jews who wanted desperately to get out of countries which would be controlled by the Nazis during World War II were unable to emigrate to countries which would not be so controlled. However, the UK was willing to take in what eventually came to nearly 10,000 children, mostly Jewish and all unaccompanied by their families, from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Hacker's mother was one of them. Almost all of the children survived the war, but few of them had any family left at war's end. They struggled to fit in, to find a place to belong, to come to terms with what happened to them--and, almost as important, what didn't. Notable about this telling is the examination of both the overall history and the specific stories of some of the [i]kinder[/i], including how it later changed how they treated their own children in turn. I did not feel the other documentary I've seen about it gave a very good overview of the story, as I recall; my review implies that it told various individuals' stories and not the framework in which they happened. This movie uses the stories of the people interviewed to explore details within the larger history, and I think that's the best way to go, given that this is not a well-known event in history. I think most people are unaware that it happened at all; in fact, I think most people are unaware of the entire immigration situation in the years between the wars. There seems to be this assumption that everyone was basically caught napping, and everyone was completely surprised both when the Nazis invaded and when the oppression of Jews started, that no one left the various countries because they weren't expecting what happened. The truth, alas, is much more complicated. One of the things the movie discusses which I think is also less well covered is the emotional reactions of the younger survivors. Few of the [i]kinder[/i] themselves understood what was happening, though their parents must have if they were sending them away, and they relate last memories--the last time one saw her family, the last letter another received from her father. Possibly the last letter her father ever sent. One had a younger sibling who was too young to be considered for the transport, another was too old to easily find a foster home upon reaching the UK. And when they had their own children, there was always the fear that their children would in turn be lost to them. One woman expresses uncertainty if she would have sent her own children away, if faced with a similar choice. The children's lives were saved, certainly, ten thousand spared out of millions of Jewish children, but they bear the emotional scars as much if not more than other survivors who were actually in the camps. Even in the UK, the children mostly weren't really wanted. The US, a larger and more populous nation, didn't even take in ten thousand. The secret shame of the twentieth century is that the answer to the question, "Why didn't people leave?" is, in most cases, "Because they had nowhere to go, nowhere that would take them in." It isn't merely true of the Holocaust, either. In many cases, people who wanted to escape war, ethnic cleansing, and dictators could not find another country to go to even if they managed to get out of their own. Obviously, the best answer is to fix what's wrong in the country you live in. However, these children weren't able to. They and their families were caught up in a tide of history, and it was the children's luck that they had somewhere to go. And the response to that shame, over and over, has just been to pretend that nothing could have been done. For these children, something was done; for millions of others, it wasn't enough.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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