‘Süskind’ is fact-based Shoah thriller

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

The Dutch war film “Süskind,” most accurately described as a thriller, is even more gripping because it is based on actual events. The film, directed by Rudolf van den Berg, tells of the life and heroic work of Walter Süskind and is set in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.

Süskind, convincingly portrayed by Jeroen Spitzenberger, was a highly successful industrialist pressed into service on Amsterdam’s Judenrat, or Jewish Council. This panel of Jewish leaders was set up by the occupying Nazis to sadistically use Jews in major cities to decide “who will live and who will die” by formally deciding which groups would be designated for deportation. 

Many of the Jews who served on such councils were denounced as collaborators in the murder of their own people, but “Süskind” makes clear that some council members were able to do what they could to resist the occupying Nazis and actually save many of their fellow Jews from certain death.

Like Oskar Schindler, who helped saved Jews from death during the Holocaust, Süskind was a complex and multilayered person. He initially joined the council to buy time for his own family,  who were spared immediate deportation by reason of his participation in the grim process. He soon discovered that he could work his gentlemanly and German charm on the weak and homesick SS officer in charge of the transports. There is also a fascinating side story about an all-Jewish brothel in Amsterdam, which “bought time” by servicing Nazi officers stationed there.

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Süskind’s efforts secured the release of 600 children who were smuggled to the Dutch countryside. While the film is indeed suspenseful, it moves rather slowly in spots. Nevertheless, the power of the subject matter and the heroism of the main character balances this minor issue. 

‘Süskind’

2 p.m., Thursday, June 12

In Dutch with English subtitles; Running time: 1:57