In AS A YOUNG GIRL OF 13, Holocaust survivor Simone Lagrange recounts in detail her life before the war, her deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and her role in bringing Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie to justice.
Essentially an extended conversation interspersed with archival images and earlier footage of Lagrange, AS A YOUNG GIRL OF 13 is an engaging portrait of a woman determined to never let her spirit be broken. As a schoolgirl, she threw an inkwell at a teacher who singled out the Jews in her classroom. At Auschwitz she squeezed ink out of the identification number tattooed on her arm. In an anteroom to the gas chambers, potentially moments from death, she refused to stand for a the camp commandant, so infuriating him that he slapped her and had her taken out of his sight—thereby saving her life.
Born in 1930 in St. Fons, Simone, like the rest of her family, saw herself primarily as French rather than Jewish. After the German invasion, her family took in Jeanne, a girl slightly older than Simone who had fled the Nazis. Later, she would betray the family, who were not only Jews but also involved in the Resistance, to the Gestapo.
In vivid detail, Lagrange describes the horror of the cattle cars transporting Jews to the death camp, and the "horror within horror" of life at Auschwitz, where her mother was killed for smuggling cabbage leaves to prisoners with scurvy. Her father would die after the camp had been abandoned, shot in the head moments after Simone recognized him in a line of prisoners.
Simone Lagrange's story echoes that of many Holocaust survivors. But what truly makes this documentary outstanding is her perceptiveness and the sharpness of her memory. She remembers the notorious Dr. Mengele - Auschwitz's "Angel of Death" - as a gap-toothed man in baggy pants who taunted her about her mother's impending death and whistled a tune from Tosca before dropping an infant to its death in front of its mother. Klaus Barbie seemed harmless when she first met him because he was stroking a cat. She also vividly conveys the feelings of dehumanization she consistently fought in the concentration camp.
Years after the war, Lagrange was one of the Holocaust survivors who recognized Klaus Barbie. AS A YOUNG GIRL OF 13 includes footage of her testimony at his trial, and a television appearance in which she says she has no doubt he is the same man who tortured her. Today, Lagrange says Barbie's sentence of life in prison was irrelevant—the true value of the trial was in telling the story of what happened to her and others during the Holocaust.
It is a story that she tells eloquently in this remarkable film.
"Highly recommended...Technically, the film is outstanding, with excellent cinematography, smooth editing, fine audio, and excellent use of archival clips and images. Without doubt, this is the well-documented testimony of a courageous woman—truly a “woman of valor.” Surviving the horrors of the Final Solution and confronting her tormentor, she achieves justice not only for herself, but for those who did not survive." —Educational Media Reviews Online
Audience Award, 21st Festival of History Films (Pessac, France)
"One settles in to watch...wondering what new or unfamiliar dimensions of terror can possibly be learned, what "lessons" can be gleaned?...Lagrange's story disperses these questions in feelings of sorrow, admiration, and inspiration." —Cineaste
"Although many Holocaust documentaries tend to be the same, Lagrange’s personal abuse at the hands of two of the Holocaust’s worst perpetrators gives this film a unique touch." —Canadian Jewish News