The horrors of the Holocaust didn’t simply come to a stop after the liberations of the concentration camps spanning from 1943-1945. Those who managed to survive the camps were ailed with diseases and malnutrition, with no idea what had become of their families, friends, or homes. In the first weeks alone, tens of thousands additional survivors died from their epidemics, exhaustion, or overeating.
When you see the most unspeakable of terrors, it’s easy to lose a part of your humanity. Adrian Panek’s Werewolf (Wilkolak) follows the story of eight children after their liberation from Gross Rosen concentration camp, and their struggles to remain alive and keep the humanity they have left. Wladek (Kamil Polnisiak) seems to struggle the most, after doing what it took to keep the children around him alive in the camp. He’s complicit to unspeakable atrocities, and even tries to aid in the murder of one of their compatriots before the credits roll.
Throughout the film, we see the terrors of surviving SS officers and rabid threats, but we also get a glimpse of the mundane issues that the kids face. “Kraut” (Nicolas Przygoda) and Hanka (Sonia Mietielica) work together to ensure the kids are fed and ration their water appropriately. Some of these kids are so young that they were born into the terrors of the Holocaust, meaning that they’ve never handled silverware or seen a real meal.
If the battle for their lives weren’t difficult enough already, the small group of survivors quickly realize that the hunger and disease isn’t all they’ll have to contend with. Before the liberation of Gross Rosen, the SS soldiers released all of the dogs that they’d trained to kill the captives with acute precision. The kids aren’t the only things in the forest that are hungry, and the dogs seem to remember the stripes of their uniforms.
Despite the horrors that they’ve seen, the children show a humanity that the Nazis who held them captive had only heard of in storybooks. That humanity is what will keep them alive, and eventually bring them all together again to ensure their survival. Werewolf is a beautiful look at what people can do under the most gruesome of circumstances, with even young Wladek finding salvation amidst the grace of the other kids.