The Search

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The Search is a 1948 film directed by Fred Zinnemann which tells the story of a young Auschwitz survivor and his mother who search for each other across post-World War II Europe. It stars Montgomery Clift, Ivan Jandl, Jarmila Novotná and Aline MacMahon.

One oft cited feature of this film is that many of the scenes were shot amidst the actual ruins of post-war German cities, namely Ingolstadt, Nuremberg, and Würzburg.[1]



The film begins in documentary style at a railway station. Trains bring homeless children (Displaced Persons or DPs), who are taken by Mrs. Murray (Aline MacMahon) and other United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNNRA) workers to a nearby transit camp, where they are fed and cared for. The next morning, the children are interviewed by UNNRA officials to try to identify them and reunite them if possible with their families.

A young boy named Karel (Ivan Jandl) responds "Ich weiß nicht" ("I don't know") to all questions. He grew up in a well-to-do Czech family. The Nazis had deported his sister and doctor father, while the boy and mother were sent to a concentration camp. They eventually became separated. After the war, Karel survived by scavenging for food with other homeless children.

The next day, the children are split up into groups and loaded into trucks and ambulances to be transferred to other camps. The children in Karel's group are at first terrified because the Nazis often used ambulances to gas victims, but are eventually coaxed into the vehicle. During the trip, the smell of exhaust fumes causes the children to fear they are being gassed. They panic; Karel's friend Raoul manages to open the back door, and the children scatter in all directions. Karel and Raoul try to swim across a river to escape from two UNRRA men. Raoul drowns, but Karel hides in the reeds.

Later, Karel encounters an American army engineer, Steve (Montgomery Clift), who takes care of him. He starts teaching the boy English. Because Karel cannot speak at first, Steve names him Jim.

Once Jim feels more secure, he starts to remember his mother and the last time he saw her, near a fence in the concentration camp. He runs away one evening thinking the fence is nearby. Jim finds a fence at a factory, but cannot find his mother among the workers going home. Steve eventually finds Jim and tells him that his mother is dead (Steve has reason to believe she had been gassed) so he will stop searching for her. He also informs Jim that he is going to try to adopt him and take him to America to start a new life there.

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