The Survivor, a biographical drama film directed by Barry Levinson, is a moving account of the Holocaust, one of humanity’s most repugnant acts in history. It is based on the true story of Polish man Hertzko Haft, a boxer who briefly competed in the United States after surviving the Auschwitz concentration camp. The Survivor focuses solely on the man’s narrative, even though it does not depict every aspect of Haft’s existence or how he managed to survive the Holocaust. Most of the time, this benefits the piece, and The Survivor is an overall thought-provoking movie.
The Survivor Plot Summary
Four years after the end of World War II, in 1949, the movie picks up with Hertzko Haft residing in New York. Hertzko, sometimes known as Harry in the English-speaking world, is a professional boxer, but his former life is still inextricably linked to who he is as seen by the terms “Pride of Poland” and “Survivor of Auschwitz” that he uses in his pre-fight introduction. In order to learn more about the location of his beloved Leah, Harry frequently attends a social assistance organisation that helps people make amends with their family members and friends who were separated during the war. Since there hasn’t been any sign of the woman yet, the agency is unable to assist in her search. He encounters Miriam Wofsoniker, a young woman, during a contentious argument at the agency. Miriam expresses concern and sympathy for the man. Harry comes to the realisation that instead of looking for Leah, he should try to make his name known so that she will see it and visit New York. Harry can only accomplish this by attempting to set up a boxing bout against legendary boxer Rocky Marciano, which would be publicised in daily publications. However, as Harry’s agent claims, it is difficult to convince Marciano because Harry’s record in the ring is still insufficient to persuade such a prominent talent. Emory Anderson, an American journalist, had approached Harry at this time about writing a piece about Harry’s past, specifically how he had escaped Auschwitz. Harry finally sits down with the journalist and briefly discusses his past, despite his brother’s desire that he never discuss the circumstances that allowed him to survive the Holocaust and his own initial reluctance.
Warning: Major Spoilers
How Had Hertzko Haft Actually Survived The Holocaust?
One day at the concentration camp, Hertzko, who had been taunted and abused, hit a Nazi guard in the face. Hertzko would have been quickly executed for such a crime, but one Nazi official noticed him and instead spoke with him in private. Dietrich Schneider, the officer, forced him to fight other detainees after training him to do so in a ring. Hertzko mistakenly believed that the contests were held solely to amuse Nazi authorities, but he soon discovered that the fights were also a heinous and nasty method of exterminating Jews because the losers were put to death right away. Harry’s past of killing brothers of his own religion and misfortune becomes wildly popular once Anderson publishes this story with what appears to be his own creative touch. Harry’s disclosure of his background has deeply offended his own Jewish community, including his brother, but this actually works in the man’s benefit when Rocky Marciano accepts to a fight. Harry now recalls his days of survival inside the camp, as he beat one prisoner after another, effectively driving them all to death. Even while he made his preparations. Hertzko had little choice because Schneider had made it quite plain from the start that the only rule of the fight was the survival of the victor, which meant that if Hertzko lost a fight, he would also be shot to death. The Nazis set up more fights for him as his winning streak grew, sometimes even against famous non-Jewish detainees who were boxers or fighters. The Nazis would wager on these matches, and Schneider’s reputation and money quickly increased as a result of Hertzko’s unbeaten streak. The two were alone in an unguarded area of the camp one evening during this time, giving the man the chance to kill Dietrich Schneider. However, Hertzko refrained from acting due to his fear of what might happen next and Schneider’s insistence on his helplessness (the officer had noticed that Hertzko was pointing a gun at him). In addition to the fact that Hertzko had no way of escaping the camp after killing Schneider and would be shot dead right away, Schneider still stands as the last hope for Hertzko’s safety at this point. Hertzko might have been gassed to death if the Nazi officer had not orchestrated battles. The officer’s horrifying and inhumane remarks—saying that Jews were in such a state because they never fought back—lived on in Hertzko’s mind despite the fact that he did not harm Schneider that evening.
Hertzko eventually managed to escape his group and the Nazis on a death march through rural fields as the war was coming to an end after a guard killed a prisoner and raised a noise. Running into a forest, he is quickly pursued by Schneider, who initially engages him in combat before attempting to position himself as Hertzko’s saviour and the only reason the guy is still alive. Hertzko barely pays heed to such blather as he swiftly escapes the area in search of his own freedom after shooting the officer to death. From there, he travelled to the United States in search of safety and to start a new life. He had a brief but incredibly loving and caring time with Leah just before being taken to Auschwitz, but he was unable to get in touch with her. While secretly asking the women Schneider sent to him as prostitutes whether they knew about Leah and offering to leave notes for her if they ever met her, he had tried every strategy in the book to get close to her. But none of it was successful, and even after moving to the US, Hertzko never managed to find his beloved Leah.
Harry’s boxing battle with Marciano, which takes place in the present, attracts a lot of attention from the public, but that does not further their relationship. Following the bout, Harry decides to discontinue his boxing career after being soundly defeated by the more experienced boxer. He confesses to his brother that he now has no doubt that Lea is deceased and that he is left inside with an empty space. But shortly after, he becomes good friends with Miriam, who had come to see him before the match and supported him by being there when he was fighting. She had also been engaged before the war, but her intended never came home. Finally, embracing and honouring the memories of each of their lost partners, Harry asks Miriam to marry him. Miriam consents, and the two decide to get married and have a family. Harry and Miriam opened a grocery business in New York City several years later, in 1963, where they also resided with their three children. He still struggles with horrible memories, including one from his time fighting in Auschwitz when he had to face a close buddy in the ring. He discusses this memory with Miriam. Hertzko’s companion insisted that he kill him in the ring rather than have the Nazis execute him as the loser of the battle, despite the fact that Hertzko was very reluctant to hurt his friend. Hertzko choked his companion to death inside the ring while reciting the holy Kaddish. Miriam continues to work as hard as she can to assist Harry with his memories and help him feel less guilty for his past deeds, but Harry seems to grow more distant from her and more severe with his children, to whom he has yet to disclose his past. Then one day, the journalist Emory Anderson knocks on his door and delivers him a piece of paper with Leah’s address and phone number—she purportedly now resides in Tybee Island, Georgia—who is purported to have moved there.
The Survivor Ending Explained: Do Harry And Leah Finally Get To Meet?
Harry takes his family by car to Tybee Island, where he plans to put them up in a hotel before going in pursuit of Leah. Miriam is aware that her husband must be looking for Leah even if Harry insists that their trip to Georgia is only a family vacation. At Leah’s address, where she now resides with her husband, Michael, and their children, Harry brings his oldest son, Alan, along. Harry sits with Leah for a private reunion after speaking with Michael earlier on the phone. The two talk about their respective husbands and how much they love them, and then Leah says that throughout the worst times in the concentration camp, it was her memories of Harry that gave her the strength to endure. She expresses gratitude to Harry for loving her and acknowledges seeing the advertisement for Harry’s fight with Marciano the morning following her marriage to Michael. Harry also sobsically recounts to her all of his efforts in looking for her and how he always had hope of running into her again. He never anticipated that the meeting would be a farewell since Leah is currently afflicted with an incurable illness, possibly cancer. After leaving the house, Harry and Alan drive away. While driving, Harry introduces his son to young Leah and tells him how she helped him survive. The father had previously been extremely strict with his son and had avoided discussing his past with him. Harry now makes a commitment to give Alan the whole truth about his life and starts by acknowledging that he has spent time in a concentration camp. At the hotel beach, where they later rejoin their family, Harry sits down with Miriam and reconciles their differences. As the movie ends and the screen goes black, we learn that Harry and Miriam continued to live together until Harry’s passing many years later.
In the history of cinema, there have been several attempts to discuss or depict the hardships of Holocaust captives and survivors. Although The Survivor uses this setting as its backdrop, it only tells the story of its main character. The character interactions’ subtle, incremental adjustments and depths are what make the movie work best. Perhaps Hertzko Haft’s memories of pain and sadness are not all that dissimilar from those of the countless Holocaust victims, but The Survivor succeeds in telling the story of his interactions with people around him. A scene near the conclusion in which little Alan is promised by Harry that he will tell him everything about his life touches a special place in my heart since in actuality, it was Alan who grew up to write and publish a memoir about his father’s survival at Auschwitz. The Survivor is a very emotional and thoughtful watch thanks to a strong direction from Ben Foster and a superb performance from him as the lead.
Barry Levinson is the director of the 2022 drama biopic film The Survivor.