Long ago, I watched a black-and-white movie that I cannot find anymore — it has been lost somewhere in the winds of the past. The story is set in a Nazi concentration camp.
In this camp, there was only one pavilion where all the prisoners were settled. As in every concentration camp, they lived in dreadful conditions, and they were weak and hungry. The man in charge of order and discipline, the so-called "capo", was not a German solder but one of their own flesh and blood, a man who was one of them not so long before. He was a huge fellow with a nasty look in his eyes — someone who would torture people with a smile on his face as if he enjoyed every minute of it. Once he was a boxer, a champion, and although they knew his name they simply called him "Champ." He was someone they had admired and cheered for but there, in that sad and dark place, he was their tormenter, their demon.
Being punched when you are well is one thing, but being punched by that huge "block of stone" when you are weak and starved, completely another. There wasn't a day that passed that they hadn't thought it would have been a lesser evil if they could have been tortured by the German soldiers; at least they would not have that internal guilt of being tortured by their own kind.
At night, while they licked their wounds, they counted those who were not among them anymore and cursed their luck; they were praying as well, praying for some kind of salvation.
On the other hand, "Champ" was drinking with the Germans every night, and as good masters do with their dogs, they would have fetch him drinks and food, and sometimes he would even get a kiss or two from some very free lady of the night, lost and clueless about the place where she actually was.
One day, a new shipment of fresh "meat" arrived. With this shipment, someone else arrived, an unexpected gift, and prisoners immediately spotted someone they had known for a very long time. Although he had lost a few pounds and he looked properly beaten, he was still a big guy, almost the same size as "Champ." As a matter of fact, he once fought "Champ" for the title but he lost by just a few points. Still, he was a very good boxer.
Slowly but surely, an idea emerged: "What if...?" But they shook off the idea as something silly — how could they even think about that kind of thing!?
But some ideas are more persistent than others, and this one kept coming back. During the days of constant torment, the idea was returning like a boomerang, and eventually one day one of the poor souls said what was already on everyone's mind: "Can he beat the Champ? If he could beat him, at least the beatings will... stop."
Someone else said, "Yes, but he is weak, and every day he is becoming weaker."
Another shrugged, "Yes, that is true."
But then someone else suggested, "What if we give him our food?"
They started thinking and after a while unanimously they decided "Yes, we will do it!"
So, every day after they gave him half of the very thin piece of bread they were getting and half of the watery pigwash they were being fed. They were almost dead anyway and there was not much to lose, they thought.
They saw the will in his eyes, and they recognized his determination and wish for revenge.
So they spoke with him and revealed what was on their minds, waiting for a reply with trepidation. To their relief, he immediately accepted, thankful for the opportunity. He started practicing every single day. When the lights were out and no one was looking or listening, he was doing sit-ups, push-ups, and many different kinds of exercises. And, during the noisy Nazi parties, he was practicing punches on the bed mattress.
Gradually, he became stronger and stronger. In everyone's mind the day of the "match" was closing by.
On a Sunday, after the previous night's wild party, "Champ" was still dizzy as alcohol was still crawling through his veins, although being dizzy did not stop him from being mean. It seemed that the hangover just amplified his bad mood. As soon as he lumbered in through the door, he started harassing and beating people. When he got to his rival, he raised his fist to punch him. At that moment, as in a very good match, the rival struck back. In a split second the match began, but it did not last long.
At the time, when Nazi soldiers came in with hounds baring teeth and growling, all they could find was "Champ" lying down, unconscious, with bruises and blood all over his face.
. . .
What happened next?
There was no significant fuss about it within Nazi lines. For them, it was just a minor disturbance. They just replaced "Champ" with the rival, and now the rival was the man in charge.
And for the prisoners, well, something else unforeseen followed. As soon as the rival got his new position, and as soon as he stepped into the role of jailer, he, very much like his predecessor, became as brutal and oppressive.
In the final scene of this twisted reality, the prisoners looked at each other and looked at "Champ" sitting in the corner battered and bruised, and then... again, with bowed heads, they started giving up their portion of the food in the hope that this time it would be...
And somewhere, in some perpetual parallel universe, this story is still repeating.
When I saw this movie for the first time, I could not get it out from my mind, and I could not stop thinking about three questions:
Did the prisoners have any other choice?
Could they have done something else?
Is there any other solution for this?
What about you - can you imagine another ending?