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Documentary Review: 'I Am Here'

A holocaust survivor tells her story in powerful fashion in I Am Here.

By Sean PatrickPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

In 2019, a group of white nationalists in South Africa started engaging in Holocaust denial. One woman, a longtime resident of South Africa, responded not by meeting their hate and ignorance with more hate but by bravely asking these young men to meet with her and talk with her and hear her story. That woman’s name is Ella Blumenthal, she’s 98 years old and she survived stints in three different German extermination camps during World War 2.

Naturally, the cowardly, ignorant, white nationalists hid themselves away because they likely knew that there was no way they could stand up to someone who had actually been through something the way Ella has. The remarkable new documentary I Am Here gives Ella the chance to tell her story in forceful and vigorous terms, through Ella’s own powerful words. I am Here proceeds with a first person narrative as Ella narrates her story over exceptionally moving animated sequences and instances of archival footage.

I am Here tells us about 21 year old Ella Blumenthal living happily in Poland in the early 1940s. Happily that is, until the German army rolls into Poland and takes control. The war crimes committed by the German army in the Warsaw Ghetto are horrific and I Am Here pulls no punches regarding the horrors committed. Ella’s family was forced to hide underground and if that wasn’t miserable enough, once they were finally located, they were separated and Ella never saw members of her family ever again.

Taken to a concentration camp, Ella has her father and her niece Roma but this also doesn’t last. Eventually, the cold hearted cruelty and inhumanity of the Germans would take Ella’s father from her. Then, Ella and her niece are sent to die in a gas chamber, saved only by the fact that the German army were so officiate that they’d decided to kill only 600 Jewish people. Ella and Roma making up numbers beyond 600 are spared, and instead sent to yet another concentration camp.

Director Jordy Sank has Ella narrate her story in a series of meetings with members of her family and newfound friends she’s made, no kidding, on Facebook. Ella loves people and has used Facebook to build a community that, before the pandemic, would travel to see her and hear her tell her story. Naturally, there was a period of time when Ella did not tell her story and the heartbreaking reality behind that is a minor subplot in I Am Here.

The choice to use 2D animated sequences to illustrate underneath Ella’s powerful voiceover is a strong one. The animation doesn’t conceal the horror but makes it easier to endure and engage with. When we aren’t in 2D animation, we are looking at Ella, surrounded by the family she’s made over the years, a family that was almost never to be, as she tells her story with a forceful, quivering voice. Ella is 98 years old but her memory is as sharp as ever and she tells her story with powerful emotional energy.

Bubbling underneath I am here, and indeed any modern documentary on the holocaust, is the fact that we are on the brink of not having people like Ella around to remind us of the cruelty that people are capable of. In the all too near future, actual witnesses to the gravest tragedy in human history, the darkest moments in world history, won’t be here any more and the cowards she tried to meet with kindness and an education will find it easier to try and sell the narrative they’ve taken up.

That fact is sad but it also makes movies like I Am Here all the more powerful, relevant and necessary. I Am Here is a must see documentary, a powerhouse of history and humanity. More than just a chronicle of the holocaust, I Am Here is a declaration that no matter how much evil in the world, good can triumph, survive and go on. Ella Blumenthal is a person and a piece of living history, she’s a reminder of the remarkable ability humanity has to survive even the worst trauma and go on.

I am Here is a loving tribute to Ella’s indomitable spirit and a tribute to those who would have gone on were it not for the inhuman cruelty of a regime bent on proving their superiority while only ever proving their weakness. Their cowardly reliance on violence, fear, and intimidation only showing how truly weak they were. I Am Here opens in limited release theaters and on-demand rental on March 11th, 2022.

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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