April 13, 2024
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‘Plan A’ Brings Holocaust Revenge to the Screen

“What if I told you that your family was murdered? Just imagine for a minute: Your brothers, sisters, parents, your kids—everyone murdered for no reason at all. Now, ask yourself: What would you do?”

A man’s voice floats over the image of a body slowly sinking in a pool of water. This is the opening scene of Menemsha Films’ “Plan A,” based on the true story of Nakam (Avengers), a group of Holocaust survivors and partisans who took justice into their own hands at the end of World War II. It is the challenging question that sets up the premise of the film.

Directed by Israeli filmmakers Yoav and Doron Paz, the joint Israeli-German production opens in Manhattan on October 7 at the New Plaza Cinema.

The film follows Max (August Diehl), a German Holocaust survivor who returns to his rural home only to find it occupied by the neighbors who had betrayed his family to the Nazis. Filled with rage and seeking revenge, Max makes his way to a displaced persons camp. There, he finds the perfect outlet when he meets and joins members of the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, soldiers from Mandatory Palestine under British Army command. Here is another group of avengers: As the war winds down, the band of Jewish soldiers assigned to the DP camp set out to locate, “try,” and execute Nazi higher-ups. On one such excursion, the group’s intended victim is found hanging from a tree with a sign reading “Nakam” around his neck. On another mission, Max meets the vigilante group when he is saved from a Nazi by Anna (Sylvia Hoeks), a member of Nakam.

Before the Jewish Brigade is sent home to Palestine, Cpl. “Michael” (Michael Aloni) explains to Max that Nakam’s actions might jeopardize international support for the establishment of the State of Israel, and asks Max to report to him any suspicious behavior by the group. Max follows Nakam to bombed-out Nuremberg, where it becomes apparent that they will not find redemption in the upcoming Nuremberg Trials.

Led by the charismatic and controversial Abba Kovner (the real-life leader and escapee of the Vilna Ghetto), Nakam puts together “Plan A,” an audacious revenge operation seeking “an eye for an eye,” by poisoning the drinking-water supply in Nuremberg and several other major German cities. While Kovner sails for Tel Aviv to procure the poison, Max and the rest of the group manage to infiltrate the Nuremberg waterworks posing as engineers and laborers.

Now Max faces a dilemma: Resolve his personal suffering and grief by murdering civilians, or join fellow survivors who have emigrated to Palestine to make real the adage “Living well is the best revenge”?

Directors Doron and Yoav Paz first heard the story of Nakam 10 years ago from a friend whose grandfather survived the war and carried out an act of vengeance before resettling in Palestine.

“He lost all his family in the Holocaust and took the time after the war to find the neighbor who told the Nazis where they were and he shot him on the spot,” Doron said. “We thought, ‘This could be a very cool angle to talk about: revenge in the Holocaust.’ But then we started to research about revenge and Jewish revenge, and we found out about ‘Plan A,’ which wasn’t personal revenge—it was national revenge. This was something told before in documentaries, but never in a feature film.”

The resulting project was inspired by “Vengeance and Retribution Are Mine: The Yishuv, the Holocaust, and Abba Kovner’s Avengers,” a 2019 book by Prof. Dina Porat, chief historian at Yad Vashem—The World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, who also served as a consultant.

The Paz brothers were able to interview veterans of both Nakam and the Jewish Brigade. “These were fascinating discussions about the idea of revenge because we knew all the historic facts, but what we were fascinated about was the way they were thinking,” Yoav said. “Why did they try to execute this kind of plan? We were especially fascinated by the idea that right after the war, when they had lost everything, how could they keep on living surrounded by Germans, working with Germans—the people that they were actually trying to kill and to get back at?”

For the main part of the story, the Pazes recreated Nuremberg as it looked just after the war, but couldn’t find a suitable landscape in Germany. Instead, they transformed the main street of Lviv, Ukraine (before COVID and the Russian invasion), with the help of Moshe Mishali, director of photography for the Israeli Netflix series “Fauda.” “We tried to build the chaotic world after World War II that feels like an apocalypse, like chaos, to give it a lot of contrast and an expressive kind of look,” Doron said. “A lot of Holocaust movies are very soft-lighted, which is very realistic. We wanted to treat the movie like a horror movie.”

Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” might be surprised to see August Diehl in the role of Max—a far cry from his portrayal of a Nazi officer in the earlier revenge-fantasy film. The Paz brothers were just as delighted with the casting. “The most difficult part was to find our protagonists, Max and Anna,” Yoav recalled. “We saw August in another film; he gets many scripts each year and usually says no but when we sent him our script, he read it, he loved it, and he just wanted to meet us. He knew a lot about the subject and about the story and he convinced us that he was the right one and we are so lucky to have him. Then we reached Sylvia Hoeks, and she always dreamt of playing across from August, so we were very lucky there as well.”

With the large repertoire of feature and documentary films on the Holocaust, why were the Pazes compelled to add to the genre?

“Growing up in Israel, we never heard this story; we never heard about Jews trying to take revenge after the war,” Yoav said. “For so many years, it was kept a secret and it was important to us to put a light on it. The ‘Avengers’ themselves started to talk about it only in their last years, and Dina Porat’s book was published recently, so now was the right time for this complicated story to be told. For us, it was important to understand this minority of survivors who went so deep into the idea of revenge, because for the majority, revenge was to keep on with their lives. We wanted to throw the question to the audience, we wanted to start a discussion: What would you do?”

Footnote for the curious: “There was a ‘Plan B’ by the same group, and we had it in the first versions of our script, but it’s a whole complicated story, and too much to tell in one feature,” Yoav said. “We hope people will read books and watch documentaries and go deeper into the subject.”

“Plan A” opens on October 7 in Manhattan at the New Plaza Cinema, and on October 14 in multiple cities and on view-on-demand platforms. For more information: www.menemshafilms.com/plan-a 

To view the trailer: https://youtu.be/WFmPouzQvAQ

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