December 8, 2019 – During World War II, the largest of all Jewish ghettos in Europe was in Warsaw, where 400,000 Jews were imprisoned by the German Army in an area of less than two square miles. Jewish leaders decided to record their own history of that time and hide these historical documents in the ghetto for safekeeping.
This documentary film, comprised of historical footage, interviews and reenactments of historical events is largely drawn from material found after the war in those hidden archives. Most of those who wrote the hidden history of the Warsaw Ghetto had perished in extermination camps by the time the archives were recovered. This film tells the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oneg Shabbat Archives.
Ringelblum (the voice of Ringelblum in the movie is that of actor Adrien Brody “The Pianist” reading what Ringelblum wrote during the war) was a historian in Warsaw, who headed up the group of historians, religious leaders, journalists, scholars and community leaders, codenamed Oyneg Shabbos (modern spelling is Oneg Shabbat) who compiled the history of the Warsaw Ghetto, then hid the archives for future generations. They saved leaflets, flyers, newspapers, handwritten accounts and they also interviewed eyewitnesses to events both inside and outside the Ghetto from 1939 to 1943.
The film follows a number of people involved in creating and hiding the archive, many of whom died during the war. One survivor, Rachela Auerbach (played by Jowita Budnik in reenactment scenes, and voiced by Joan Allen of “The Upside of Anger”) worked in soup kitchen in the Ghetto, fighting a losing battle with malnutrition. She is shown after the war, looking at a recovered archive (two of the three archives were recovered after the war).
Emaciated, starving children and adults in the historical footage looks as awful as you might imagine. Photographs and written accounts read by actors paint a picture of what it was like in the Ghetto. There is some footage of battles during the Warsaw Uprising, but for the most part the only triumphs over evil in this story are the survival of those two archives, which give voice to those brutally murdered long ago.
There are those, of course, who don't like to be reminded once again of this history. There are those who deny these events ever happened. Once again, white nationalists, white supremacists, racists and antisemites are on the rise in this country and in Europe. They grow bolder and more influential by the day. So yes, this is a story that needs to be told again and again. This film rates a C+.
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