Film Commemorates Untold Holocaust Tale

“Who Will Write Our History” 2016
dir Roberta Grossman

The International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27 will offer a variety of choices for Baltimoreans who want to observe the holiday through engaging, thoughtful programs.

Beth El Congregation, in partnership with the Baltimore Jewish Council, Center for Jewish Education, Towson University’s Baltimore Hebrew Institute and the Jewish Museum of Maryland, hosts a screening of “Who Will Write Our History,” a documentary described as “vital” by The New York Times. Landmark Theatres in Harbor East also hosts a screening.

The movie is being shown across the globe that day — from Poland to Zimbabwe to Melrose Park.

“Who Will Write Our History” is the story of a group of journalists and academics trapped inside the Warsaw Ghetto who sought to record the lives of the 450,000 Jews around them as a way to fight back against the Nazis. Among them was Emanuel Rigelbaum, a historian who helped found the Institute for Jewish Research (Yivo), and Rachel Auerbach, a writer who’d later go on to work for Yad VaShem collecting Holocaust testimony and assisting the prosecution during the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

During the war, they were part of a group code-named Oyneg Shabes that led the charge to collect and create tens of thousands of documents, complete with drawings of daily ghetto life, maps of Treblinka, official Nazi documents posted throughout the city, photos and more. Interspersed with re-enactments, the movie features voiceovers from Joan Allen and Adrien Brody as Auerbach and Rigelbaum, respectively.

“The goal here is to bring the past to life while balancing against the high standards for veracity in a documentary,” director Roberta Grossman said. “To achieve this goal, we blended archival and dramatic footage, pulling from the tools of dramatic feature storytelling. While fully aware of the complexity of these techniques, I reached for these visual tools because ‘Who Will Write Our History’ tells the story of a place that no longer exists [the Warsaw Ghetto], about people who are long dead, and about a period of history captured primarily in black-and-white film and mostly by Nazi propaganda photographers and cameramen. I want people not simply to learn from the film, but to be engaged and deeply moved.”

“In 1999, three document collections from Poland were included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register: the masterpieces of Chopin, the scientific works of Copernicus and the Oyneg Shabes Archive,” she continued. “It is my hope that ‘Who Will Write Our History’ will change that in the way that only a film can do, by making the story accessible to millions of people around the world.”

Hana Bor, the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor and director of the M.A. in Leadership in Jewish Education and Communal Service at the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University, helped organize the event at Beth El, and will give an opening address and lead a discussion after the screening.

“I really believe it’s our obligation to bring the truth, the historic truth, to our community and teach the community about what really happened to our people during the Holocaust,” she said. “I think it’s a must-see documentary.”

The screening at Beth El Congregation, at 8101 Park Heights Ave. in Baltimore, runs 6:45-8:45 p.m. The event is free, registration is required at Landmark Theatres’ screening is Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. at 645 S. President St. in Baltimore. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at baltimore/harbor-east.

Also on Jan. 27, the Jewish Museum hosts “Refugees and America: Past, Present and Future,” the Sadie B. Feldman Family Lecture featuring HIAS President and CEO Mark Hetfield and Georgetown University professor Anne Richard, who served as assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration in the Obama Administration. The event starts at 1 p.m. and tickets range from $4-$10.

On Jan. 30, the Howard County Library System’s Miller branch, at 9421 Frederick Road in Columbia, hosts Morey Kogul, author of “Running Breathless: An Untold True Story of WWII and the Holocaust,” the story of his father’s struggle, defiance and survival of the Holocaust. The events runs 7-8:30 p.m. and registration is preferred by visiting classes-events/history-lives or calling 410-313-1950. JT

Jesse Bernstein is a reporter at the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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