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Film brings WWII Jews `Long Way Home'

Probably foremost among the greatest stories never told about World War II are the efforts of thousands of Holocaust survivors to establish a new Jewish homeland in Palestine.

However, that subject finally receives an intelligent, if relatively subdued, treatment in "The Long Way Home," a fairly straightforward feature-length documentary from filmmaker, journalist and award-winning children's author Mark Jonathan Harris.Admittedly, at nearly two hours, the film feels a bit too long. And there will no doubt be some grumblings about its one-sided nature (pro-Palestinian sympathizers and fans of former U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton may be most upset). It's such a good story (one that resonates with modern-day tragedies such as those in Bosnia) that most audiences won't mind, though.

Harris begins his tale just after the end of the war. In Central and Eastern Europe, thousands of starving, half-dead death camp survivors were freed from Nazi persecution. However, they still were not free from all persecution. Five Jews were found murdered in Lithuania, and the "displaced persons camps" set up by U.S. and British authorities as a temporary home for the refugees were nearly as bad as the concentration camps themselves.

And while thousands of Jewish refugees languished in these camps, the British government restricted the immigration of Jews to Palestine, where they hoped to found a spiritual homeland. In desperation, many refugees were forced to immigrate illegally and dangerously, which resulted in the ill-fated "Exodus 1947" at-sea disaster.

Ultimately, the refugees were allowed to immigrate, mostly through the efforts of President Harry S. Truman, other American volunteers and U.N. officials - but only after more tragic losses of life.

For this well-researched documentary, Harris interviewed several survivors and organizers, as well as sympathetic former U.S. Army chaplains and witnesses. And for those who could not read their own journals (many of whom are now dead), he enlists actors Ed Asner, Martin Landau, Michael York and others to read them in their places.

Also helping is the compelling narration by actor Morgan Freeman. But let's face it, Freeman would probably be compelling if he simply read the local telephone listings.

"The Long Way Home" is not rated, but would probably receive a PG for scattered profanities and photographs of nude Holocaust victims.