Come and see how beloved Israel is before God; for wherever they went into exile the Shekhinah went with them. When they were exiled to Egypt, the Shekhinah went with them, in Babylon the Shekhinah was with them, and in the future, when Israel will be redeemed, the Shekhinah will be with them.
The closing sequences of two recent films set during the Holocaust, Korczac and Jakob the Liar, 1 are similar in one respect: both of their directors refuse to end their stories (the former historical and the latter a fable) with the death of the Jews whose deportation they narrate. Both films end with the train stopping before its destination, a death camp. In Korczac, the orphaned children, Janusz Korczak and the other adults caring for them, tumble in serene slow motion from the train into the fields as if to play. 2 In Jakob the Liar, deliverance unfolds in just the surreal manner Jakob had promised them it would: the liberating Soviet troops stop and surround the train, playing exuberant American jazz from the open tops of their tanks. The lies that were Jakob’s stories of comfort and consolation become the audience’s fantastic truth. In both of these films, the audience experiences a redemption from death, even while conscious that, historically, these particular deliverances did not and could not have occurred. An empty train reversed out of Auschwitz.
There will be those who regard such films as taking unwarranted artistic licence with history; as the seduction and reward of an audience about to leave the cinema by an ending that can only uplift because the horror is left out of shot. But in neither of these two films does the stopping train represent a facile ‘happy ending’ or an admission that the terminus of the gas chambers is cinematically unrepresentable (which is almost undoubtedly the case). Theologically, the train had to stop to signify that there was something about the story of those Jews which was wholly interruptive and transcendent of the means and processes of their death.