In 1985, Soviet filmmaker Elem Klimov made a movie about the Nazi occupation of what was then the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. The film, called “Come and See,” is renowned as a gritty, realistic masterpiece.
Be warned, the film is heart-wrenching. Told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who joins a Soviet partisan cell, you watch the child age as the movie goes on, and he experiences the reality of Nazi occupation.
Even more harrowing is that the story is based on real events, and parts of the film come from accounts of genocide survivors. The German army intended to wipe out the population of Belarus to fulfill Hitler’s promise of lebensraum, or “living space” for the German people. The film depicts this horrifying reality.
Klimov was only 9-years-old when his family fled Stalingrad in 1942. The writer of the film, Ales Adamovich, actually aided partisan fighters in Belorussia. To add to the realism of the film, they shot it in Belarus, hired villagers as extras, used actual Nazi uniforms instead of costumes, and fired real bullets over the actors’ heads.
“Come and See” shows a rarely remembered area of Nazi war crimes during WWII. Often overlooked by history, the German occupation of Belarus was just as brutal as the film depicts. The Nazis intended to kill three quarters of the Belorussian population, and allow the other quarter to live as slaves.
According to a site funded by the Belorussian government, they were successful in annihilating more than 600 villages, destroying more than 5,000 Belorussian settlements, and killing more than 2.2 million civilians. The entire Jewish population of the country was eradicated, shot by the Nazis.
Unlike most war movies, “Come and See” has no battle scenes, no heroism, and no great sacrifice for the good of the unit. This film shows what happens when war comes to your front yard.The film was a critical and box office success in the Soviet Union and is still hailed as one of Russia’s greatest war films.
Elem Klimov never made another movie.