- 20 Feb - 26 Feb, 2021
The Windermere Children
- 25 Apr - 01 May, 2020
The most powerful moments of The Windermere Children come in the final few minutes when the drama stops and the teenage Polish actors playing Holocaust survivours brought to Britain after the war are suddenly replaced by the survivours themselves – real people, still alive, talking about their happy and fulfilled lives.
In 1945, the British government agreed to accept about 750 children rescued from Auschwitz and Belsen; 300 of them were brought to Windermere for a period of rehabilitation before being found permanent homes. The children are taken to sleep in factory workers’ barracks, which from the outside look disturbingly like concentration camp sheds. They find it hard to believe that this is not going to end badly.
It is not clear that four months in the beautiful surroundings of the Lake District will be enough time to help them begin to rebuild themselves. The younger children move around in a pack, sleeping huddled on the floor beneath the beds they have been allocated; they are petrified by a pet dog they meet while walking. When Marie Paneth (Romola Garai), a pioneering art therapist, encourages them to draw whatever they like, they paint images of corpses and barbed wire. The older boys are distressed by the whistle their PE teacher uses during football training and his shouted commands that they do press-ups. Apart from a preoccupation with food, what they mostly care about is finding out when the Red Cross will arrive with information about the fate of their parents and siblings. The news when it comes is not good. And yet somehow, incredibly, they start to recover.
“You have forged a new family of brothers and sisters, who will be with you for the rest of your lives. Take care of one another,” one of the therapists tells them as they prepare to leave. “Be open to the wonders that life can offer.” And then there are shots of laughing children running through the idyllic landscapes, sentimental music blaring, and it teeters on being an implausibly saccharine resolution until the arrival of the real Windermere boys as they are now.
It turns out they did forge a new family, and have been taking care of each other, meeting every year for decades.