Walking with the Enemy, which opens April 25 at theaters throughout the area, is an emotional, gripping film that portrays the atrocities of the Holocaust while focusing on the story of Pinchas Rosenbaum, a Hungarian credited with saving the lives of thousands of his fellow Jews.
“Inspired by the true story” is how the film is advertised, and writer/director Mark Schmidt acknowledged, “It is a film. It is not a documentary.” He spoke during a panel discussion following a screening at the United States Navy Memorial Burke Theatre in Washington on April 2.
The event was hosted in part by the Embassy of Switzerland, whose country is favorably portrayed in the film.
Rosenbaum, a young man when World War II reaches Hungary, is forced to leave his parents, brother and sister and perform hard labor for the Nazis. During an Allied bombing raid, he and a friend escape and return to their village, only to find devastation and non-Jews living in their homes. They learn later that everyone they knew was taken to Auschwitz and gassed to death.
Through talking to survivors and family members of Rosebaum, Schmidt pieced together the man’s life – admittedly taking liberties to fill in blanks and maintain the intense tempo of the film. Moviegoers see a young man, seemingly driven by totally altruistic instincts, determined to save as many Jews as he can, even though he gets many killed in the process.
Schmidt said he strove to create a film that showed the intense emotions of a
people being slaughtered and the realities of war, “but not too much so that people wouldn’t want to watch it.”
Wearing a Nazi uniform he took off a dead German, Rosenbaum (whose name is changed to Elek Cohen in the film) proceeds to take on the role of an SS officer, stopping convoys transporting Jews and halting mass shootings of Jews lined up against walls. He also works with those involved in creating false documents so that many Jews are able to pass themselves off as Swiss citizens.
Jonas Armstrong, the actor who portrayed Rosenbaum, said he didn’t know the history of Hungary during the war.
“It was all new to me,” he said, adding that he spent much of his free time during filming reading up on the facts and visiting some of the places discussed in the movie.
The movie “most definitely” had a huge impact on him, he said. “What drew me toward the film was that these were real events. Just the lengths this guy went to, I think he was only 19 at the time.”
Armstrong, who portrayed Robin Hood in the 2006 version of that story, said that his fellow actors “were all aware of how important a film it was. You have to have a certain respect” for Rosenbaum.
It was difficult keeping up the constant intensity of Rosenbaum, he said. “He was very alert and aware. His senses were sort of on fire all the time.”
“I looked wired in most of the scenes,” he added.
This film is the first from Liberty Studios, which aims to produce “true, inspirational stories,” said Schmidt.