Directed by Tim Mielants, Netflix’s 2024 film, Will takes us once more back to those terrifying times when humanity was lost in oblivion, and Nazi forces were propagating their philosophy of hate wherever they could. Will is based on a novel written by Jeroen Olyslaegers, but it is not based on a real-life story. Though the characters are not based on real-life people, there are a lot of events happening in the film that take inspiration from real-life events. From the White Brigade operating in Antwerp to the persecution of Jews and the demolition of synagogues, there were a lot of things that actually happened in the early 1940s. The characters of Wilfried Wils and Lode Metdepenningen did not exist in real life, but personally, I think there would have been many such soldiers serving in the local police force who would have faced such dilemmas. I mean, how could you not when you see such discrimination happening and people being subjected to such atrocities? It was a horrifying time, and we can’t imagine what the minorities would have gone through.
As shown in Will, around 1942, the systematic persecution of the Jews had become widespread, and very soon, it became a very normalized practice to raid Jewish homes and kill them as and when a Gestapo or even a normal German soldier wished. We saw the state of the Lizke family and how they were secretly hiding because they knew that if Gregor or anybody else found them, they wouldn’t even think a single moment before pulling the trigger. There was no rule of law that existed in occupied Belgium, and the Nazi regime had its own way of dealing with things. A scene in the film showed us how, after the “feldgendarmerie” was killed, a lot of Jewish people were taken into custody, and without being given a fair trial, they were shot dead. That was how the Germans dealt with issues. The fascinating thing was how they could compartmentalize emotions in their own minds. At one point, they were feeling enraged and empathetic for the death of their colleague, and the very next second, they could shed all emotions and be as barbaric as they could with the Jewish people. It told us the extent to which they were manipulated and how much hatred they had inside them that they didn’t consider the Jews as humans. It sends shivers down my spine when I think about standing in front of a man who is in such a position that he can determine my fate, and as a matter of fact, I know that would give me a very painful death at the first opportunity and additionally allow me to seek pleasure out of it. The people of Belgium and even of other occupied territories were told in the beginning that they would be treated fairly under the rule of the Fuhrer, but obviously, that was never on the agenda. The local police force was divided into two halves: there were people, as we saw in the film, who were against whatever was happening, but then there were a few, like Verschaffel, who believed that the execution of the Jews was in the best interest of the nation.
The media was completely controlled by the Nazi forces, and nothing was allowed to be printed without prior permission. That was the first and foremost thing the Nazis did in their own land and also in every occupied territory. The media was the most significant tool through which they brainwashed the masses, triggering them to the point where they were ready to kill the Jews. In the film, we saw a scene where Verschaffel went to watch a propaganda film together with Will, and it aroused certain negative emotions inside the crowd, after which they went berserk and caused widespread damage to life and property. That was the sole agenda of those films. There were intellectuals back then, too, who knew what the Nazi regime was trying to do through those films and news items, but their numbers were far less. And the sad part is that the situation hasn’t changed much today, either. We saw in the film that the frenzied crowd attacked a synagogue, and these things did happen in real life. Hurting somebody’s religious sentiment is the first thing a fascist regime does. It is the best way to create a divide, where you separate people on the basis of where they go to pray.
We saw in the film that Chaim Lizke was being forced to work, and when he refused, the military police personnel were sent there to teach him a lesson. As a matter of fact, this “forced deportation” did happen in reality, and because the people knew how deplorable and horrifying the working conditions were there in Germany, they hid from the authorities and did everything to save themselves from being sent there.
The White Brigade of which Will, Lode, and Yvette, all three of whom became a part in the end, actually existed in real life. It was a resistance group that came into being on July 23, 1940, and whose headquarters were in Antwerp. Apart from this, a fascist group named the Black Brigade also existed, and they provided support to the Nazis and helped them in whatever way they could. The White Brigade had their one newspaper, and they counterattacked the bizarre things that the German-controlled media houses said. The White Brigade did whatever they could to save the Jewish people, and as shown in the film, they tried to get secret information about which houses were going to be raided by the German forces. They worked closely with many intelligence agencies and groups and tried to prove them with as much information as they could. But the German troops always got the better of them, and though they were able to have some impact on the scheme of things, it was never enough to free the country and put an end to the atrocities. Most of the members of the White Brigade were caught and prosecuted, and whoever remained had to go into hiding as the war progressed.