Is There Any “Triumph” in the Holocaust?

The first film to be shot on location at Auschwitz, “Triumph of the Spirit”  is based on the true story of Salamo Arouch, a Greek-Jewish boxer.  Arrested while attempting to help his family and friends escape the Nazi juggernaut, Arouch (played by Willem Dafoe) is imprisoned in Auschwitz and slated for death. He manages to survive–and to serve as an inspiration for his fellow inmates–by literally boxing for his life. He does this at the orders of his SS captors, who gamble on the outcome of Arouch’s bouts. With each victory, Arouch is rewarded with extra bread rations, which he passes on to his family.

Menorah presents “Triumph of the Spirit” on Saturday, November 19 at 7:00 pm at the Boulder JCC as part of “Movers: Art and Conscience.”  The film examines a crisis of conscience for Arouch, a man who faces a moral dilemma when forced to use the art of boxing as a means of survival. He knows that if he refuses to fight his fellow prisoners, his family will be punished; if he wins, he will be given extra rations which he can share with them; if he loses, he will be sent to the gas chamber.

The film was also chosen in anticipation of OPA: Celebrating the Jews of Greece on December 3 at the Boulder JCC, an evening that includes a concert, a Greek feast and a short film.

The Greek Jewish middleweight boxing champ of the Balkans , Arouch survived his two-year internment in the camp by winning more than 200 bouts arranged by his Nazi captors. Arouch, who went on to run a shipping firm in Israel, served as a consultant  on the film.

In its review, The New York Times praised the performances of Dafoe (“harrowingly good”) and Robert Loggia (“a memorably physical performance”). Director Robert Young, who is Jewish, manages to take a grim story and make it compelling rather than repellent.

Join us as we discuss the film and its provacative title – a reference to and repudiation of the notorious Nazi propaganda film by Leni Riefensthal, “Triumph of the Will.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Kathryn has spent her professional life writing about, teaching, and presenting the arts. Founding Director of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival, Kathryn was Director of Menorah and ACE at the Boulder JCC from 2003 through August, 2019. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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