3.5 Stars
Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 57 minutes
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Just when you think filmmakers and historians have explored every possible facet of W.W.II and uncovered every single human interest story that cataclysmic conflict created, somebody comes along with something new. In this case, it’s the tumultuous saga of the largely unheralded European Jewish scholars who fled Hitler’s Germany for a life teaching at traditionally black colleges in the segregated American South. “From Swastika to Jim Crow” combines rare archival footage with moving and articulate interviews of several of these now-retired professors and their deeply appreciative former students to illuminate the refugee scholars’ unique and ironic situation. Though themselves victims of hatred, violence and extermination on an unprecedented level, these Jewish intellectuals found themselves in limbo in an apartheid America. While many blacks initially connected the white Jewish refugees with their redneck oppressors, many of these same anti-Semitic whites treated their Jewish neighbors with open hostility. Eventually the immigrant scholars won over their suspect charges, making a huge difference in their student’s lives while carving out rewarding careers of their own in America. Lori Cheatle’s moving film covers a surprising amount of ground in just less than an hour, encompassing the years just prior to World War II through the Black Power movement of the early 1970s. While an impressive, informative and deeply moving film, it thankfully steers clear of the potential for maudlin overkill. It’s clear that no matter what their initial misgivings, these students today hold their similarly persecuted teachers in high regard. Conversely, one need only look at the former students’ impressive careers and positions in today’s society to comprehend the scholars’ impact on these previously oppressed black Americans’ lives. “From Swastika to Jim Crow” is ultimately an uplifting tale about mutual respect and admiration between two poignant and tragic bedfellows.

Posted on April 3, 2000 in Reviews by

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