Two new documentaries offer an eye-opening lesson in how the path of moral certitude doesn’t always lead one out of the darkness. I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal is a homespun portrait of the diligent and revered Nazi-hunter. The more ambitious Six Days uses arresting archival footage to examine, with fresh insight, how the 1967 Arab-Israeli war remade the Middle East, setting the stage for the world we inhabit today. Taken together, these films shine a light on the very thin line between justice and self-defense, especially when they appear to be the same.
In I Have Never Forgotten You, Wiesenthal, the Austrian-born Holocaust survivor who began his global quest to locate escaped Nazis in 1946, says that he’s “not a Jewish James Bond,” and that’s a vital corrective to the image one may have of him. He was a courtly gent, and most of his legwork took place in offices. (After he had fingered Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, it was Mossad agents who took the former Nazi down.) I Have Never Forgotten You salutes this bureaucratic detective as the man who first insisted that war crimes are sins that won’t die unless they are dragged into the open.
The fascination of Six Days is that it was that same thirst for historical justice that fueled Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War, though with far more ambiguous results. A tense, taut diary of a high-stakes military chess game, the film presents Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, in intimate photographs, provoking the war out of his too-close-to-the-sun dream of pan-Arab nationalism. It also looks closely at the anxiety and bravura of the Israeli leaders, who knew that they could smash the Arab war machine. Six Days, though, makes the potent case that in taking over all of Jerusalem, Israel turned its greatest military triumph into a Pyrrhic victory. A debatable thesis? Yes, but also one that asks the price of certainty. I Have Never Forgotten You: B; Six Days: B+