“What if I told you that your family was murdered for no reason at all? Now, ask yourself, what would you do?”
This heart-piercing question opens the Holocaust revenge drama “Plan A,” based on a true story. This film, set in 1945 in recently-defeated Germany, tells the unimaginable — and untold — tale of 45 young Holocaust survivors who realize they have lost everything and therefore have nothing to lose. Despite their immense loss, the world expects them to turn the other cheek and move on — and they certainly don’t intend to do that.
“Plan A” is an Israeli-German co-production directed by Yoav and Doron Paz, the Israel-born brothers behind the 2015 indie zombie horror hit “Jeruzalem” and 2018’s “The Golem.” The cast includes leading German and Israeli actors such as August Diehl and Sylvia Hoeks alongside famous Israeli actors Michael Aloni (“Shtisel”), Oz Zehavi and Ishai Golan, who plays Abba Kovner, the poet and charismatic leader of the Nakam group. The film is based on real-life testimonials and the book “Nakam” by Dina Porat. It premiered at the 2021 Haifa Film Festival in October 2021 for 500 enthusiastic viewers, and received the festival’s top prize for artistic achievement.
The story of these brave Jewish “avengers” was unknown for many years. “There were so many of you in the camps. How come you didn’t fight back and went like sheep to the slaughter?” asks Menash (Oz Zehavi), a young Jewish Brigade solider, of Max (August Diehl), a Holocaust survivor who lost his wife and son. This question shows how difficult it was for the Yishuv (Jewish leadership in Palestine at the time) to understand these survivors and what they went through.
This gripping need for revenge is forcefully stated by Max when he confronts Michael (Michael Aloni), commander of the Jewish Brigade, claiming “I want my revenge. I deserve it.”
I spoke to Yoav Paz, co-director of the movie, about how two young directors immersed themselves in this Holocaust story, which is so different from their previous films.
This conversation has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get to know the story of the Avengers, and what made you want to write and direct a film about them?
A friend of ours had told us about his own grandfather who, just before leaving for Palestine, took his revenge on the man who gave away his family to the Nazis. Later on, we started investigating the subject of Jewish revenge and were amazed to learn about the Avengers, whose story was silenced for years. In Israel, we have a Holocaust memorial day every year, but not even once had we heard about this. As a matter of fact, when we started working on this film 10 years ago, there were at least two other projects dealing with this subject — one of them was a documentary — which showed us that the time had come to break the silence.
How did people react to the film?
The issue of revenge is universal and brings about a wide range of reactions. For example, when the movie was released in Japan, we received a lot of positive, and some philosophical, feedback. In Germany, the movie was screened just once before the COVID-19 crisis started, and we were told that viewers sat quietly and didn’t leave the theater throughout the credits. Some people in Germany claim that the Nazis were not “real” Germans, but the older generation knows that the Nazis came from within them.
In what way is this movie different from other Holocaust-related movies?
First of all, it relates to the philosophical question of revenge. Our attitude as filmmakers was to search into the human soul. Our intention was to stir up a discussion on the subject of revenge and whether it should be limited by reasoning or conscience. Many Holocaust survivors consider having children and starting a new life to be their revenge. The Nakam group members were not ready to settle for that and were willing to pay a heavy price for their revenge. While many Jewish refugees were making their way to Palestine, they chose to stay in a hostile environment, surrounded by Germans. Moreover, they had to work side by side with the people they intended to kill. This burning need for revenge got hold of them and, in a way, dragged them down.
We made the movie from a Zionist point of view so that a person from Oklahoma who knows nothing about the Holocaust could understand the importance of having a Jewish state.
The movie is an Israel-Germany co-production. How did this affect your work?
In order to get the budget required for this kind of historical production, we had to rely on the German budgets, hence the German cast alongside the Israeli actors. However, it is also due to this film being a co-production that many people all over the world are able to watch it.
How much is real and how much is fiction in this film?
The character of Abba Kovner, the leader of the group, is relatively famous. He is the only “real” character. The other members of the group are fictional, based on the interviews we held with the surviving group members. Since the story is still rather sensitive, we wanted to protect them and their families by not exposing their identities.
The first part of the movie presents the way Jewish Brigade soldiers conducted their acts of revenge against war criminals, something that every person can identify with. But later on we create an escalation with the revenge plan designed by the Nakam group, intending to poison the water system and kill six million Germans. Therefore it was important for us to create a character, Anna (Sylvia Hoeks) who shows a different attitude towards the question of revenge.
Why was the film called Plan A? Was there a Plan B?
In fact, there was. However, the plot was already thick enough and our intention was for the film to deal not only with the act of revenge, but with the idea of revenge as a philosophical question.
It was definitely the right of the Avengers to seek revenge, yet what would have been the costs of that revenge? This is the question “Plan A” tries to answer.
“Plan A” was scheduled to be released in North America in February 2022, but COVID-19 has delayed the release until June. Follow updates here.