Note: Should go without saying, but spoilers ahead. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Story over everything and the purpose of the Holocaust project is to share stories.
Director: Jochen Alexander Freydank
Screenplay: Johann A. Bunners & Jochen Alexander Freydank
Producer: Jochen Alexander Freydank Music: Ingo Ludwig Frenzel
It’s only fitting that Toyland is the film to start the conversation about the Holocaust. The film marks the beginning of a gargantuan tragedy, but the tragedy is not in sight because the people knew little about what awaited them after they board the train to a concentration camp. In the film, the genesis of the genocide is buried under a child’s innocence, while a mother’s kindness gives hope in a world that’s soon to dissent into savagery.
The title Toyland has dual connotations. One – extermination camps; two- a child’s immaculateness. Set in Nazi Germany, Heinrich Meißner and David Silberstein – an Aryan and a Jew, respectively – are neighbors, best friends, and take piano lessons together. With jews being deported to concentration camps, the fate of the Silberstein family is evident. On this premise, Heinrich’s mother, Marianne, tells her son that his friend, David, and his family are shifting to a new place called Toyland. Heinrich buys the story, owing to his innocence. All of this occurs off-screen and the film begins with Marianne finding her son missing the morning David and his family are deported. She suspects that her son may have joined his best friend, since he believes they are going to Toyland, and promptly starts searching for him.
The very first shot of the film, a close up of a piano – focusing on the linear, horizontal pattern of the keys as two kids play a tune – intercuts to a toy train track. This is the film’s most important shot, considering how it uses piano and train as metaphors for coexistence and hatred, respectively. It’s to be noted how piano – made of both black and white keys – is used to represent unity and solidarity, while railway tracks, which stand for uniformity, are used to represent revulsion rising from the difference.
Toyland talks about the importance of indifference and co-existence, without uttering a word. To Heinrich, it makes no difference whether his friend is an Aryan or a Jew. So does his mother. In the nick of time, Marianne arrives at the railway station to prevent her son from being mistakenly deported, but she realizes Heinrich is not present on the train. It is revealed in a flashback that Heinrich tried to join his friend but was restrained from doing so by a German officer. Using the moment, she instead claims David is Heinrich and saves him from being deported and the impending death. Marianne raises David along with her son and both the friends – again, an Aryan and Jew – grow old together. All attributed to the innocence of the child and the kindness of the mother.
Had Heinrich not believed the story of Toyland, he wouldn’t have tried to join his friend, subsequently not alarming his mother, which in turn, would have meant the deportation and death of David, along with millions of others. It’s a story of how the naivety of a kid saved a life. Towards the end, the piano makes a reappearance showing two older men, David and Heinrich, playing a tune, perfectly in synchronization with each other, proving that kindness and compassion pave the way to coexistence.
Watch Toyland here: