Amos Menin’s Jude is a powerful documentary short narrated by his grandfather, John Fieldsend, who was sent to England along with his brother to escape the Holocaust. Having heard Fieldsend speak about the experience many times, Menin had him recount the story again, this time drawing on his childhood feelings. Along with the simple yet striking imagery, Menin has produced an affecting and memorable piece that deftly weaves the personal tragedy of a child torn from his parents, with the almost unimaginable horror of this period of history.
As a young child, John Fieldsend lived in Dresden with his brother and their parents. He describes his father as quiet and thoughtful but loving, his mother as more gregarious and passionate about photography. This passion serves a purpose in the film, as we cycle through more than twenty photographs of the family. At first these are simply evocative snapshots of Fieldsend’s childhood, but as the film goes on we realise the tragic fact that of all the people pictured, only two survived. It serves as a powerful reminder of this inconceivable loss of life, and helps illustrate how important it is to have physical reminders of this tragedy. Another reminder, brutally conspicuous in this black and white film, is the yellow star that Fieldsend has kept.
The antisemitism faced by Fieldsend and his family started small, but grew quickly. He recalls how other children attacked them, and how a doctor refused to stitch a cut on his head. Then, in the middle of the night, the family drove to Czechoslovakia. Sometime later, the boys were put on a train to England without their parents. Fieldsend was too young to fully understand the situation, and remembers that under the fear was excitement: seeing an army on the move, taking a trip with his brother; these moments emphasise how confusing an experience it must have been for a child, and allow us to imagine some small part of the horror and grief their parents must have felt, knowing that they would never see their children again.
Menin decides for the most part to let his grandfather’s words speak for themselves, but underscores his story with snatches of evocative sounds: birdsong, children shouting, a military band, and finally the rumbling of a train on a track. Towards the end of the film, as we follow the inexorable progress of the train to its destination, Fieldsend reads a letter from his parents, wherein his mother explains that, over the course of a year, their friends and family have been taken: January, June, September, October, November; as the months move on, so does the train. This is a powerful motif. It perfectly captures the horrific speed and ease with which the Nazis were able to act, and also reminds us that, just as a train can stop at a station, there were opportunities to stop this.
Jude is at once a look at the Holocaust through a child’s eyes, and a reminder of where bigotry can lead us if we will not stop it. In the letter to his children, Fieldsend’s father thanks “all the good people who have accepted you so nobly.” Menin’s film has allowed another survivor to tell his story, and while it is historical, it is also prescient. It demands that we take the good and noble stance and refuse to allow the current rise of fascism to reach the levels that destroyed so many lives so very recently.
Jude screens as part of the BFI Future Film Festival from 18-21 February, free on BFI Player: