“The Birthday Party” chronicles the now-elderly survivors of the Nazi program Ghetto Children’s Action, which took Jewish children from Lithuania and sent them to the concentration camps. Only 25 out of 130 boys survived the war, and many of those still celebrate May 5 (the day of the liberation of Auschwitz) as their birthday.
Ruth Walk’s documentary introduces us to the remaining survivors. Most of them are in Israel, but one is a professor at Berkeley and he refuses to have anything to do with his fellow survivors (he cites the unwillingness to recall bad memories).
The stories detailed here are tragic, to be certain, and the elderly men who appear on camera are all articulate in their recollection of the horrors they faced during the 1940s. One man uses his artistic talents to present an original drawing of what concentration camp life was like for him. The fact these men were able to go on to normal and prosperous lives is a testament to their strength and intelligence.
Unfortunately, Walk’s filmmaking skills are abominable. The editing is haphazard, the storyline never seems to go in any particular direction, and the film achieves the worst possible effect in becoming repetitious as the survivors tell what is basically the same story over and over. “The Birthday Party” never adds depth to the already crowded genre of Holocaust-related documentaries. In fact, its ineptitude dilutes the power of the story it is trying to tell. And the lethargy of the production makes the film feel much, much longer than its compact 64 minute running time.