Continuing to review this piece by reporter Vladimir Veretennikov. As mentioned, Russian movie star (now Director) Konstantin Khabensky has a new film out, timed with the 75-anniversary of the Sobibor escape. I have not seen the film. Maybe I’ll go see it, maybe I won’t. I’m not getting my hopes up. Because, for starters, I don’t expect any original thoughts coming out of the likes of Khabensky.
Also, frankly (in my opinion), most films produced in Russia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union are just so much dreck. Oh, the production values are good, Hollywood style. But most of these movies are just copies of Hollywood themes, action movies, blockbusters, full of contrived drama and fake emotions. These films don’t really have anything new to say. Even the Holocaust would be just so much grist to the mill. Most of modern Russian culture, in fact, is just artifacts of the pseudo-intelligentsia’s love affair with everything American. So, why should I go see a crappy Russian movie, when I can see a crappy American movie, like the latest Star Wars B.S., or something like that? In the words of Griboedov:
Несчастные! должны ль упрёки несть
От подражательниц модисткам?
За то, что смели предпочесть
(“Why should we be criticized for preferring the originals to the copies?”)
But I digress…. It is time to turn to the truly original personality of the hero of this saga, Alexander Pechersky.
Not A Hollywood Super-Hero
There was nothing all that special about Pechersky, according to Veretennikov. His job title in the army was “Technical Assistant of the Second Rank”. By blood he was Jewish, but that was never a big deal with him. His biographer Lev Simkin wrote about him: “He thought of himself as a Soviet man. He was of that pre-war generation of Soviet Jews who grew up with the Soviet government and adopted the ideas of internationalism as pure coin. Pechersky was not an observant Jew, the only time he ever thought about his Jewishness was when he was taken prisoner by the Germans. They separated him from the other POWs and sent him to the death camp.”
After the war, Pechersky (who survived the ordeal) encountered many Soviet Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. His own wife Olga urged him: “Let’s leave. You’ll be a hero there [in Israel], you’ll be able to tell the world everything that happened.” According to Simkin, Pechersky wouldn’t listen to such talk, he considered himself to be a Soviet man, this was his homeland, and he would tell his story to the Soviet people.
Khabensky got this point completely wrong, according to Veretennikov. [Of course he did.] Khabensky stated that his purpose in making this film was to show “that breaking moment when a Soviet man transforms into an ordinary man.” Which, in fact, turns everything completely on its head. Since Pechersky’s story is that of an ordinary man who became a Soviet hero when one was needed. But the Russian kreakle ideology requires the opposite transformation: The hero must come to realize, that all of the Soviet training and experience is a pure lie. They have been lied to all their lives! Egads!
The defining feature of a Russian kreakle is his narcissism. The kreakle believes that he is the pinnacle of God’s creation; he is Prospero and everybody else just some Caliban striving to be more like him. Mr. Khabensky, yeah I’m talking to you, what is the definition of a Soviet man? A worker, a lathe operator, an engineer, a soldier, a scientist. People who deal with actual real things; materialists who work with the actual molecules of reality. And what is the definition of an “ordinary man”, in your opinion? An ideologue who trades in the coin of false consciousness? A sinner clutched in the serpentine coins of his own vanity? Who, as Pushkin noted, worships celebrity precisely because it reflects his own vanity? A pointy-headed pseudo-intellectual who worships the West and despises Russia? Once again, one must resist the temptation to morph into Chatsky and go on a rant.
In conclusion: The movie version of Pechersky is less like the real Pechersky and more like the real Khabensky’s image of Khabensky: A restless intellectual, a deep-thoughts Hamlet agonizing over the choices he has to make. Totally ignoring the fact that it was the practical-minded Soviet education and training, not to mention the wartime experiences of a Soviet officer, that helped the real Pechersky organize the real escape. I daresay no kreakle would have been able to perform such a feat. For starters, you need the testicular fortitude to buck the establishment.
But where did Pechersky acquire this firmness of character? Not to mention his fabulous organizational skills? There is little in his pre-war biography that indicated he was made of such stuff. Up to the age of 30 Pechersky did literally nothing out of the ordinary. He wrote of himself in his own autobiography:
“I was born in 1909 in Kremenchug in the Poltava region. In 1915 my parents moved to Rostov-on-Don. I completed 7 years of schooling and music school as well. I worked as a common servant and directed amateur theater and musicals.” Pechersky’s love of theater and music was his only defining feature at that time. His ambition was to become a director, but he was not able to accomplish anything in that arena. However, one could say that his training as an amateur director helped him later, in the organization of the escape. After all, theater directors, just like generals on the field of battle, have to possess great organizational skills, and be able to plan everything down to the last detail…
Next: The war breaks out…
[to be continued]