SURVIVING HISTORY







Time-codes & Captions

Dialogue

 

 

 

00:00:01:08

OPENING CREDITS:


Living Imprint

presents


A Woolfcub Production

 

00:00:08:14

TITLE:

Surviving History

 

 

00:00:15:19

NARRATOR

the city of vilnius, once known as the jerusalem of the north, was a thriving centre of jewish life. of the 240,000 jews in lithuania before the holocaust, less than 200 remain.

 

00:00:29:22

NARRATOR

and i have come here to trace the imprint of that jewish heritage in the archives and synagogues, in the cemeteries and mass graves and in people’s stories and memories. my journey begins in punar.

 

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NARRATOR

this is where 100,000 people – most of them jews – were murdered.

 

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NARRATOR

they were marched here on foot or herded into lorries and railway cars, placed in a waiting area, told to undress, their valuables removed, then led – blindfolded, naked – to the edge of the pits where they were shot until they fell in.

 

00:01:12:24

NARRATOR

those who did not die immediately were buried alive.

 

00:01:17:14

NARRATOR

at the end of the day’s shooting, the pits were covered with a layer of sand. sometimes, this task was completed by jews themselves who were then murdered by the lithuanian firing squads.

 

00:01:33:12

NARRATOR

the massacres took place on an almost daily basis, BETWEEN July 1941 and July 1944 and were carried out by the German ss and their lithuanian riflemen.

 

00:01:47:02

NARRATOR

yet today, the 30th of August 2008, the scene at punar is tranquil, a slight breeze fluttering through the trees. there are no birds overhead.

 

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NARRATOR

beneath my feet, the earth is soft, almost trembling.

 

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NARRATOR

the foliage, i notice, has an unusually vibrant hue.

 

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NARRATOR

I think of all those whose bodies have seeped into this soil and nourished it and coloured this grass such a deep rich green.

 

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NARRATOR

not 100 yards from here, children play with a water hose, a small dog runs across the track, teenagers gather outside the station. they are oblivious to the horrors that have taken place in their village, unaware of the stain of complicity that has soaked through their country’s past.

 

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NARRATOR

Chasia, who is 87, is among the very few to have escaped the vilnius ghetto alive. her husband, boris friedman, was the first to take up arms and head for the forest. when i meet her, she tells me about the night he left.

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

On the 14th of April 1943. Half an hour before midnight my husband came home, and said… I am leaving. I’m going to take revenge. So I stayed with my husband’s mom and dad. With Sofochka, my niece. And with my son Velveleh. Suddenly I was summoned by my husband’s people… They told me they had no news form my husband, Boria’s group. That they didn’t know what happened to them. There were rumours that they had been ambushed. They told me that the second group was ready to leave. His last orders were that no matter what… they had to take me out with the second group. They said, If you choose to come with us… you must leave right now… Either you leave with us or you go back home. I was agonizing, What shall I do? To leave the parents and children behind and save myself… or maybe I could try and save them… and find some people who could take them. But if I stay all of us would die. They told me, Decide now. Yes or no. And I went with them. I closed my eyes and I said, Yes I go with you.

 

00:05:27:02

Shivaun Woolfson

And if she it had to do over, would she make the same decision?

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

If you had it to do over, would you make the same decision?

 

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FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

I wouldn’t go.

 

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Translator

I wouldn’t go.

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

Because it stays with me and tortures me all my life.

 

00:05:45:24

Translator

Because it stays with me and tortures me all my life.

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

It tortures me all my life.

 

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NARRATOR

eight days later, the ghetto’s liquidated. Chasia’s mother and father in law, her niece sophia, her little son velveleh, were murdered. she asks me what I think of her decision, if i judge her. i am a mother of two grown sons. i cannot imagine leaving them to die, but as i listen to her, i am filled not with contempt for her choice but with loathing for the men who remove from her all other choices.

 

00:06:28:13

NARRATOR

we visit Berl next. he’s one of the only remaining orthodox jews in vilnius.

 

00:06:36:01

NARRATOR

even though he’s 84, blind and lives alone, he has insisted on preparing lunch for us.

 

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Shivaun Woolfson

Hello.

 

00:06:43:24

Berl Glazer

Hello.

 

00:06:44:12

Shivaun Woolfson

Hello.

 

00:06:45:03

Berl Glazer

Hello.

 

00:06:45:19

Shivaun Woolfson

Hello. [INAUDIBLE] coming now.

 

00:06:47:11

Berl Glazer

[FOREIGN DIALOGUE].

 

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Shivaun Woolfson

Yes, she’s coming now.

 

00:06:49:13

FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

00:06:53:11

Shivaun Woolfson

Hello. How are you? Good?

 

00:06:55:14

FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

00:06:58:20

Shivaun Woolfson

Yes, do I get a kiss [INAUDIBLE]? Yes?

 

00:07:02:20

Shivaun Woolfson

Hello.

 

00:07:03:23

FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

 

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SUBTITLE:

I am 84, and already close to God. I had so little joy in my life. I had so little happiness in my life. But I thank God I’ve lived to 84 and that is something. I have to say my happiest years were when I was a taxi driver. Among people I could forget about… my worries and think only about my work and providing for my family. Only bad and negative thoughts are coming to me. It’s not pleasant to see marches in the street where they’re shouting, Jews Out! And the police were protecting these fascists. Isn't that something to worry about? On the one hand it’s good that I survived but… so many others perished. And in such a brutal way. Do you know, in my town they buried people alive and built a warehouse on top of them.

 

 

00:08:36:21

SUBTITLE:

Every day men from my village had to march four kilometres to forced labour. They were ordered to build some warehouses, and to dig a deep pit. They were told, this would be like a tunnel where food could be stored. When the pit was ready, they threw them in, poured earth on them, and buried them alive. Nobody speaks of this. The pit should be dug up and the bones reburied.

 

00:09:16:05

Shivaun Woolfson

But he did survive.

 

00:09:18:08

FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

00:09:20:21

Berl Glazer

Yes.

 

00:10:14:15

NARRATOR

i asked Berl how he spends his days since he has lost his sight and no longer works. he answers me with one word – the synagogue.

 

00:10:26:00

NARRATOR

each morning, a woman arrives at his door to walk him a few hundred yards down the road. it takes 45 minutes.

 

00:10:35:01

NARRATOR

in rain and hail and snow, he makes the same journey.

 

00:10:41:07

NARRATOR

there were four rabbis in his mother’s family, he tells me proudly, and when i enquire how he keeps going, when the community is so diminished and his own health so frail, he says simply “I go because i must”.

 

00:11:24:24

NARRATOR

i say kaddish for my mother and father, both of whom i have just lost.

 

00:11:31:11

NARRATOR

saying kaddish in vilnius is unlike saying it anywhere else.

 

00:11:37:13

NARRATOR

the men below me repeat it in a never ending cycle of grief. in this city, the process of mourning cannot cease. there are still too many souls to ease into restful sleep.

 

00:12:14:06

NARRATOR

the men who make up this congregation are in their 70s, 80s and 90s. they recognise that they are part of a fading people.

 

00:12:28:21

NARRATOR

they come here morning and evening to pray, to remember… to hold onto the vestiges of their community.

 

00:12:39:22

NARRATOR

with every passing year, there are fewer and fewer of them.

 

00:12:46:11

NARRATOR

i wonder, when they are gone, who will take their place?

 

00:13:09:02

NARRATOR

our first weekend here, vilnius day was celebrated. from beneath our balcony on [INAUDIBLE] avenue, the aroma of smoked sausage, the sound of music playing and children laughing drifted up towards us.

 

00:13:24:00

NARRATOR

across the street, i noticed a small boy playing with a potter’s wheel, his hands deep in clay.

 

00:13:32:23

NARRATOR

it occurred to me as i watched him that this was a celebration of culture, of life being allowed to happen, of a boy allowed to be a boy.

 

00:13:45:09

NARRATOR

for the men and women who share their stories with us, these simple joys have been erased and the memories are still so raw.

 

 

00:13:56:19

SUBTITLE:

The time came when they decided to liquidate the ghetto. The SS men came. Everyone understood this was the end. It was 1943. They rounded up everyone in the ghetto. On one hill was a cemetery where the Germans… set up their machine guns. They started searching from house to house. They were shooting into the windows. Lucky were the ones who got a bullet. So they entered my house. There was a basement you could get to… through the floor in the kitchen. My father told us to go to the basement and he said… I will go to the attic. The entrance was through the ceiling. I will keep a look out for the Germans and when… there are less of them we will try to smuggle out of the ghetto. We went to the basement. My father and mother stayed behind. My mother said… I will not go with you because I have a cough... and I will give you away to the Germans. The Germans came into our house and searched… they took everything out and… threw things onto the floor. They took pillows and tore them open. They themselves covered the entrance to the basement. I heard somebody saying… Come, come here… and then I heard shots. This was my, my parents. I started crying but the others held me back. The Germans went form one house to another… searching, searching and killing… and then they set the ghetto on fire.

 

00:16:36:08

NARRATOR

as i walk through this city, their stories walk with me.

 

00:16:40:15

NARRATOR

Chasia’s fateful decision, Berl’s unending loneliness, gita’s haunted memories. with all they’ve seen, why stay?

 

00:16:52:10

NARRATOR

even now, more than 60 years on from the atrocities, the threat to jewish people lingers. on the 11th of March 2008, hundreds of neo nazis took to the streets of vilnius.

 

00:17:06:24

NARRATOR

they waved swastikas and chanted [FOREIGN DIALOGUE] ‘jews out’.

 

 

00:17:11:16

SUBTITLE:

OUT, OUT, OUT. JEWS, OUT, OUT, OUT.

 

 

00:17:20:13

SUBTITLE:

Lithuania for Lithuanians! Lithuania for Lithuanians!

 

 

00:17:29:05

SUBTITLE:

Russians out! Lithuania! Lithuania! Lithuania!

 

00:17:46:07

NARRATOR

three things stand out for me as i watch.

 

00:17:50:05

NARRATOR

one, that most of them are young.

 

00:17:56:05

NARRATOR

two, that the police did not stop it but instead escorted it.

 

00:18:02:13

NARRATOR

and three, that these are ordinary everyday folk, the kind of people who decades earlier turned on their jewish neighbours and murdered them. so what, i wonder, has kept them here? one after another, they tell me that they stay for the cemeteries. they will not leave their loved ones behind.

 

00:18:25:06

SINGING IN FOREIGN DIALOGUE

 

00:19:02:10

NARRATOR

for some, the act of remembrance is quiet and still and private.

 

00:19:10:12

NARRATOR

a whispered prayer, a stone placed at a graveside, a silent reflection.

 

00:19:18:13

NARRATOR

but for others, remembering is a far more active, emphatic and public process.

 

00:19:28:18

NARRATOR

tucked behind a back street and almost impossible to find is the greenhouse, a small jewish museum and perhaps one of the only places in the country where the true story of the lithuanian [shoa] is revealed.

 

00:19:45:18

NARRATOR

it is to tell this truth that rachel Kostanian rises each morning and treks across the city, up the steep incline, to what she calls her second home.

 

00:19:58:06

NARRATOR

she has been making this journey every day for over 20 years.

 

00:20:03:21

NARRATOR

when i ask her why she does it, even now, approaching 80, she says simply “for my family in punar”.

 

00:20:14:14

NARRATOR

keeping jewish culture alive has become her life’s work.

 

00:20:21:19

Rachel Kostanian

One day into the streets going to work and I see on the path a big [INAUDIBLE] and my first thought, my first reaction was… tremble. What is that? They send us to a camp?

 

00:20:42:17

Rachel Kostanian

Next second, I run up, I see the word exhibition [SIGHS] then I felt better, much better, and it will be Jewish books and Jewish items, whatever, published for the first time after dozens of years. I didn’t see the word printed ‘Jewish’ or ‘Jew’ somewhere officially.

 

00:21:06:08

Shivaun Woolfson

When you saw, when you went to that exhibition and you saw those Jewish artefacts and those books, can you describe a little bit how you felt?

 

00:21:13:24

Rachel Kostanian

Yes, I was so excited to see candle lighters, to see the [INAUDIBLE], to see the Kiddush… glasses, to see Jewish books. Of course, the books is what mainly touched me, is books and pictures and art. It was something outstanding, it was such an event in my life. The culture behind it, it’s the regret and the pain that we couldn't have had it, that I couldn't have had it for my son before, that… they made us nameless… homeless, because the culture is home, rootless. The culture is home, is the roots.

 

00:22:16:13

Rachel Kostanian

Name. A name, a family name. Things that we could be proud of. Writers, our writers, our artists, scientists, Nobel Prize winners. For the first time I encountered it. It was a great… it was such excitement, it was such a joy, it was such a, you know, type of a revenge. You see, you see we are something, [INAUDIBLE] are great people, it cannot be that we are despised. It’s not true, it’s not just, it’s not… cannot be. It cannot go longer.

 

00:23:06:23

NARRATOR

joseph levinson returned to lithuania after the war and immediately went back to his home [INAUDIBLE] of [vessia].

 

00:23:15:13

NARRATOR

there, he was greeted by stories of mass murder.

 

00:23:20:10

NARRATOR

standing by the grave where his father, his cousins and many of his neighbours had been executed, he made a silent vow – that one day he would do something to mark their deaths so that the world would know what had happened there.

 

00:23:38:08

NARRATOR

it took 50 years before he could realise that promise. when lithuania gained independence, he travelled the country up and down three times over, visiting each mass grave and erecting a jewish memorial to honour those who had perished on that soil.

 

00:23:56:24

NARRATOR

on one of our last days in lithuania, he offered to take us to the site of that long ago pledge.

 

00:24:04:01

NARRATOR

over 10 hours in our company, joseph never once broke. it was only when we stood in front of the mass grave, where his father and relatives are buried, and he named them one by one and read in yiddish the inscription, that just for a moment grief washed over his face.

 

00:24:46:10

Shivaun Woolfson

Thank you for bringing us here.

 

00:24:53:21

NARRATOR

nowhere is the spirit of jewish resilience and remembrance more alive that in Fania brantsovsky, a former partisan. she’s 86 and the librarian at the vilnius yiddish institute. she helps ghetto and camp survivors, teaches yiddish, conducts tours of jewish vilnius and takes people to the forts where she was part of the jewish resistance.

 

00:25:17:23

NARRATOR

moments before the ghetto was liquidated, on the 23rd of September 1943, Fania slipped unnoticed through a gate and watched from across the street as tanks rolled in. she made her way out of the city on foot, through the forest to the partisan forts.

 

00:25:38:08

NARRATOR

today, these forts are slowly sinking into the earth and with them will disappear the history of those whose lives were saved here.

 

00:25:51:19

NARRATOR

Fania left behind her mother, her father, her sister and all her extended family. when she emerged from the forest, she looked for them everywhere.

 

00:26:05:01

NARRATOR

one day, she met a woman who told her that her sister rifka was still alive.

 

00:26:11:22

NARRATOR

every day for a month she went to the train station and waited.

 

00:26:17:16

NARRATOR

finally, she met the woman again and said “I haven’t found Rifka yet. i THOUGHT she was alive”.

But who told you that?” the woman asked.

 

00:26:30:11

NARRATOR

when Fania tells me this story, i ask her if she could meet her family again, what would she say to them? she tells me this.

 

 

00:26:41:15

SUBTITLE:

First of all they would see me, see who I am. I would say that I fought for them and I took revenge. That I love them. That I have never stopped thinking of them. There is a saying, ‘hope dies fast.’ For a long time I hoped and I believed.

 

00:27:09:09

NARRATOR

i came to lithuania in search of fragments. what i found was far greater – a group of people whose compassion, resilience and astonishing courage have touched me deeply. i asked what they want their legacy to be. they answered “kindness, goodness, love for others”. this is what i take with me.

 

00:27:48:13

CAPTION

In Loving Memory

Solomon Sefton Woolfson

1943-2007

 

 

00:27:53:24

END CREDITS:

Directed by

Jesse Quinones & Daniel Quinones


Produced by

Shivaun Woolfson & Frances Tay


Written and Narrated by

Shivaun Woolfson


Lithuanian Co-ordinator

Ruta Puisyte


Director of Photography

Daniel Quinones


Editor

Daniel Quinones

Jesse Quinones


Composer

Josie Phelan


Sound Recordist

Jesse Quinones

Steve Townsend


Dubbing Mixer

Steve Townsend


Colourist

Daniel Quinones


Translator

Ruta Puisyte

Ekaterina Elina


Stills Photographer

Frances Tay

Daniel Quinones


Driver

Leonid Volynskiy


Photo Archives

The United States

Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Shtetl Foundation

Avraham Kariv, Herzl Press

Josifas Levinsonas, VAGA Publishers


Film Archives

Vidmantas Balkunas, Lietuvos Rytas


“My Life”

Haig Yazdjian

TMC Music


With Special Thanks:

Berl Glazer

Chasia Spanerflig

Gita Geseleva

Isroel Galperin

Rachel Kostanian

Josef Levinson

Fania Brantsovsky

 

00:28:23:18

END CARD:

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