On September 5, 1942, a transport of a thousand Czech Jews arrives at the tiny village of Raasiku. Nazi officers immediately separate out several dozen young women. As their families board blue buses, the girls are required to help load the luggage onto trucks. When they finally reach the Jägala concentration camp, they are in for a shock. Their families, as the commandant announces to them after a thorough body search, have been sent to a better-equipped, heated camp...
The women sort through the deportees' luggage. From time to time, the commandant picks out a pretty girl, who is rewarded by being sent to join her parents. Yet the bewildered girls soon form an extremely tight-knit group based on mutual aid and bonds stronger than friendship: "We left homes where we were surrounded by large families and lots of love. And suddenly all that was gone... The older girls were our role models - we younger ones were looking for people to take the place of our mothers - so we clung to them. If you are 18 and someone is 23 or 25, that makes a big difference."
As the war progresses, the living conditions of the women - now taken to the Central prison in the Estonian capital of Tallinn - steadily deteriorate. Nonetheless, they refuse to admit this to themselves. They act in unison, almost like a single living organism, and their youthful optimism, humor and naivety enable them to overcome unspeakable hardships on their dramatic journey through concentration camps. They put a positive spin on every situation they encounter: "We went to fetch bricks, at the other end of Estonia... We enjoyed that very much. If we had been free, it would have been beautiful there."
In the port of Tallinn, put to forced labor, the girls meet ordinary Estonians, Russians and Germans. Friendships and relationships develop beyond the bounds of ideology and racial hatred. Swedish sailors even offer to smuggle some of the women out, yet escape is unthinkable - they have been warned that their parents will pay the price if they try to run away . . .
Those attempting to get away disappear, as in the case of an astonishing concentration camp Romeo and Juliet. The commandant of the Ereda camp falls in love with the beautiful Inge Sylten, completely changes his behavior and tries to leave the SS. Their love inevitably ends in tragedy.
On their long journey through concentration camps in Estonia and then Germany, the women are constantly surrounded by death and danger, yet almost miraculously they manage to avoid them: "The fact that we were always together was an enormous source of strength. That really helped save our lives. Nobody ever let any of the others fall..." Focused on their own group, they are almost oblivious to the Holocaust raging around them. Enclosed in a self-created protective bubble, they stubbornly ignore the horror, always believing they will be reunited with their family and friends. Only on September 5, 1945, at a party while they are convalescing in Sweden, does a priest explain the mystery of their families' disappearance...
For seven years, Lukáš Přibyl researched and filmed Forgotten Transports, a series of four unique documentaries based on the recollections of Czech Jewish eyewitnesses deported to virtually unknown concentration camps and ghettos in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and eastern Poland. The films have none of the grand narratives usually associated with movies about the Holocaust. Rather, they tell gripping stories without any commentary, through a montage of interviews with the handful of survivors - most describing what happened to them for the first time - and previously unseen photographs and film drawn from archives, the garages of former SS troops and a variety of other sources. Every detail is painstakingly documented with authentic visuals from the precise time and place. This approach is highly effective in bringing out the private perspectives and recollections of each individual, since the witnesses describe only about what they experienced themselves. Together, their limited points of view build into a surprising new picture of the Holocaust and different styles of survival. Edited down from 260 hours of raw footage, shot in over twenty countries on three continents, the complete project consists of four films (six hours in all) that can be screened individually or as a series.
Directed by Lukáš Přibyl
Forgotten Transports: To Estonia
Audience Award - ONE WORLD 2009 (Europe's largest International Human Rights Documentary Festival)