A piece of Brookline history, missing for decades, will finally be thrust into the spotlight next month.
A documentary film featuring a collection of interviews of local Holocaust survivors will be screened on Thursday, January 26 beginning at 7 pm at the Coolidge Corner Theater, one day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Entitled Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project, the motion picture is a product of more than 80 hours of raw interview footage discovered by the town’s chief diversity officer Lloyd Gellineau in 2014.
The majority of the interviews were conducted in the early 1990s and featured residents who had witnessed the Holocaust. They were primarily carried out by Lawrence L. Langer, Professor of English Emeritus at Simmons College, and Gellineau’s predecessor, Stephen Bressler, then Director of Human Relations-Youth Resources.
Gellineau said the tapes had been sitting in a closet for nearly a quarter century.
“[Bressler] was clearing his office one day when he showed me these tapes,” said Gellineau. “I didn’t think much of it at first. Then I actually watched one, and thought, ‘Oh my.’ This was history, and it’s been in the closet all these years.”
The film is written, directed and produced by R. Harvey Bravman. Since 2011, Bravman has hosted an annual event he founded, the Brookline Youth Awards, now going into its seventh year. Gellineau began working closely with Bravman after The Town asked Bravman if it could help sponsor and assist with the Youth Awards, subsequently approaching him with the tapes.
“He basically had the same reaction when he saw them, too,” said Gellineau. “The reason I picked Harvey was because I think he has the sensitivity and the vision to make something important.”
Brookline residents Regina Barshak, who was a witness to the Holocaust, and Leon Satenstein, who saw the liberation of the concentration camps during World War II, proposed that the Town create a living memorial through these interviews in the 1980’s. They were the driving force behind a Town committee, set up with the goal of documenting and preserving the testimony of Brookline residents who were witnesses and survivors of the Holocaust. Stephen Bressler’s Human Relations Department worked closely with Leon and Regina to aid them in their efforts. Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit educational group, then introduced Langer to Barshak and Satenstein, who have since passed away.
The original Holocaust Memorial Committee, which has since been resurrected for the purpose of the film, identified and interviewed 39 survivors. The 65-minute film will feature roughly 30 of them.
Bravman has since reached out to the family of the survivors. Before the event, BrooklineHub.com, the main sponsor of the film, is hosting a reception for the families so that they can meet and bond with each other.
The experience of meeting with the families was rewarding and affirmed the long hours put into producing the film, he said.
“Survivors never talked about being heroes, they just tried to endure from one moment to the next,” said Bravman. “But sitting in a studio and sharing not only what happened to them but how what happened to them affected them is the most extreme act of courage and heroism I’ve ever personally experienced. The words from our Brookline neighbors 25 years ago provide an important message for our community.”
Jenny Amory, executive director of the Brookline Community Foundation — an important supporter of the project — said: “We are very moved by Harvey Bravman’s work and see this as an incredibly important film.”
In anticipation of the screening, Gellineau said he is “absolutely excited, really happy and a little bit relieved.”
“These people put their souls on tape, and I think we should respect that,” he added. “There is a tremendous interest in this material. It is pertinent that we listen to what they have to say.”
The documentary is intended for a general audience with an advisory for children under 13.
The evening will include a video tribute to Regina Barshak and Leon Satenstein. Following the film, Adam Strom of Facing History and Ourselves will moderate a question and answer period with Langer and Bravman on conducting the original interviews and the making of the film.
The event is founded and hosted by Brookline Hub, Inc. Principal sponsors for the event are The Town of Brookline, Facing History and Ourselves, the Brookline Community Foundation and the Coolidge Corner Theater.