Emanuel Ringelblum (left), Rachel Auerbach (third from the left) and other Jewish intellectuals in Poland, 1938. (photo from whowillwriteourhistory.com)
Many Vancouverites will remember the 2008 traveling exhibit hosted by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre called Scream the Truth at the World: Emanuel Ringelblum and the Hidden Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto. It provided an overview of Warsaw historian Ringelblum and a secret group, Oyneg Shabbes (Joy of Sabbath), who during the Holocaust worked to document and preserve material relating to their experiences. The artifacts they buried in milk cans and metal boxes – some 30,000 items – were found in the rubble of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1946.
Now, Katahdin Productions is raising funds to make a feature documentary about Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabbes archive. The film, Who Will Write Our History, is based on the book of the same name by historian Samuel Kassow.
Writers, artists, scholars, journalists, poets and diarists, more than 60 diverse people, handpicked by Ringelblum, collected and recorded as much as possible about every aspect of life in the ghetto – poems, paintings, photographs, underground newspapers, essays on hunger, smuggling, the Jewish police, clandestine schools and literary evenings and more. Their common goal was to ensure that the truth would survive even if they did not, as was the case with Ringelblum.
Only three members of Oyneg Shabbes survived the war. Among them was Rachel Auerbach, a prolific writer who would spend the rest of her life memorializing Ringelblum and Oyneg Shabbes. It is Auerbach’s writing and point of view that will provide the narration and narrative structure of the film. She will be voiced in the film by Academy Award-nominated actress Joan Allan.
In 1946, before Auerbach left Poland for Israel, she and the other two Oyneg Shabbes survivors led rescuers to the location of the first cache of the ghetto archive. The rescuers unearthed 10 metal boxes that had been buried on the eve of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A second cache of two milk cans was discovered when Polish construction workers were building new apartment buildings on the site of the former ghetto. The third cache was never found and is believed to be buried under what is now the Chinese embassy in Warsaw.
Directed and produced by Roberta Grossman with Nancy Spielberg as executive producer, Who Will Write Our History (whowillwriteourhistory.com) will make the story accessible to millions of people around the world. Katahdin Productions’ documentaries include Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, which won the audience award at 13 film festivals, was broadcast on PBS, nominated for a Primetime Emmy and shortlisted for an Academy Award; Hava Nagila (The Movie), which was the opening or closing night film at more than half of the 80 film festivals where it screened, and was released theatrically; and Above and Beyond, about Jewish-American pilots who volunteered to fly for Israel in its War of Independence, which earned 20 audience awards and critical acclaim. (For an article on the latter, visit jewishindependent.ca/spielberg-opens-film-festival.)
The goal of the Indiegogo fundraising campaign is to raise $100,000 to fund 10 days of shooting in Warsaw in fall 2015. On average, each day of shooting costs $10,000. Some days are much less expensive; for example, shooting exteriors of streets in Warsaw involves only a small crew. Other days are quite involved. For example, shooting recreations of key events in the story with props, costumes, actors, lighting, sets, stages, etc., requires a crew of 20+ people and costs as much as $20,000 per day. If the $100,000 goal is not reached, it will mean fewer filming days in the fall; if it is exceeded, there will be more, as needed to complete production.
For more information, including a video about Who Will Write Our History, visit indiegogo.com/projects/who-will-write-our-history-production#/story. There is about a week and a half left to contribute to the campaign.