Documentary ‘Soul Witness’ Sourced From Rediscovered Holocaust Oral Histories
On October 22nd, the Byrd Theater presents “Soul Witness,” a documentary sharing testimonies of the Holocaust. As Ian Stewart reports for Virginia Currents, the recollections were almost lost to history.
In 2018, a city employee in Brookline Massachusetts, discovered 140 videotapes in a metal storage locker. When he looked closer, he realized that these were interviews with local Holocaust survivors.
There were more than 80 hours of interviews. The footage was part of an earlier initiative called “The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project.” The material was supposed to be turned into a film. But they ran out of funding. Twenty years later the tapes landed in the hands of filmmaker Harvey Bravman.
Bravman: “It was almost like I could feel a physical reaction in my body, like waves coming over me. And for some reason, I knew that it was a seminal moment for me, that, my direction in my life was going to change. I guess as corny as that sounds.”
Bravman spent the next seven months working day and night to turn the tapes into a documentary. After immersing himself in the interviews, he decided his film should be told in chapter form.
Bravman: “So I wanted the audience to know what their lives were like in their view before the war, when hostility started, when they started sending them to ghettos, hiding from detection.”
Donia Mir: “It was a forest for hundreds of miles with all the big trees."
Donia Mir walked for miles with six members of her family.
Mir: "And then we had to hide. We had to dig, like a grave, a bunker."
The bunker was made using branches and soil. At night they had to lay side by side.
Mir: “This is a good place because here is a few trees missing.”
They stayed in that forest for 19 months.
Another survivor is Allen Shaw. When he arrived in Auschwitz, all the women and children were separated and put on trucks. Initially, he thought the soldiers were being helpful because all the men had to walk. But he realized later the Nazis were taking them away to kill them.
Shaw: “My mother, my wife, my wife’s sister, my wife’s mother. Her brother. About 20 people, related to me, were at that time, taken away.”
For filmmaker Harvey Bravman one of the most powerful voices from the tapes was Rose Murra’s. He said her seven hour long interview was the most incredible he’s ever heard.
Murra: “My husband when he was 19 or 20, he went to the army. And when he went to the army, he told me, he’s going to come back, he’s falling in love with me, he’s in love with me. He told me then. And I didn’t make nothing of it.”
Bravman: “Rose is very funny. This boy keeps coming to her and, and he's in love with her. And he, he finally says, just what gives, I'm in love with you and you're not reacting.”
Murra: “What do you mean it’s not a good time? Love is love. Bad time, good time. As long as we’ll be together, that’s what matters.”
They eventually got married, Murra got pregnant, and her husband went to fight with a Jewish resistance movement. But he never came back. Murra was confined to a ghetto, and their baby didn’t survive. When Murra made it to the States, she later re-married.
Murra: “And everybody used to tell me ‘you’re so lucky, you’re so lucky.’ I said, no. I don’t think I’m lucky. Those people were there, didn’t survive. I have to carry the pain.”
Soul Witness features the stories of 38 survivors. *Since it premiered, Bravman says it’s been screened 15 times. When the film is shown in Pittsburgh, Bravman says they are dedicating all of the funds raised from the screening and giving them to the three congregations affected by mass shootings last October.
For Virginia Currents, I’m Ian Stewart.
*This is a corrected version that is different than the one that aired.