A special screening of a work-in-progress film, Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project, will introduce the public to Holocaust interviews conducted over 20 years ago on April 19 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. The film is written and directed by R. Harvey Bravman.

While the special screening of this 65-minute version of the film is taking place in 2017, it’s been almost 30 years in the making. In the late 1980s, two Brookline residents, Regina Barshak, who was a witness to the Holocaust, and Leon Satenstein, who witnessed the liberation of the concentration camps during World War II worked to create a living memorial by interviewing other residents who had witnessed the Holocaust.

With the support of their community, Barshak and Satenstein and enlisted Lawrence L. Langer, Professor of English Emeritus at Simmons College, to conduct most of the interviews and supervise all the interviews. The team conducted approximately 80 hours of local witness testimony, mostly between 1990-1991. Critical support and participation in the interview project came from then Brookline Community Relations Director Steve Bressler, who also conducted some of the interviews.

In 2014, Brookline’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lloyd Gellineau, discovered the interviews in a metal closet. Gellineau then brought R. Harvey Bravman in to share his discovery.

“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.”

Gellineau and Bravman worked with Town of Brookline for two years and finally got permission for Bravman to drive the tapes to Philadelphia, so they could be digitized, which would enable Bravman to produce a documentary about the footage. Bravman then spent the next seven months making the film, fundraising and planning the special screening. He even planned a reception for the January 26 screening of the film so all the families could meet each other and share their experiences.

The film features approximately 30 of the 39 interviews. The film includes an originally composed theme.

“I poured everything I have into this film, and I feel blessed to have we have a great team of experienced, talented and dedicated professionals,” Bravman said. “Rob Kirwan was an incredible partner in all of this. His efforts exceeded his role as editor and co-producer. We would walk and talk for hours about the film; this was a true collaboration. Sound mixing was also important, Douglas Stevens worked tirelessly, these were all taken at an access station, there was ambient sound, and it seemed the audio for each shoot was set to different levels.”

“I completely immersed myself in the footage,” Bravman explaining the process of making the film. “Lawrence Langer conducted the most responsible interviews I’ve ever seen; the witnesses were comfortable with him because of his compassion and his knowledge of the subject matter. For the film, I tried to focus on just what the witnesses saw with their own eyes and what I felt they came to say. They wanted us to know that their experiences still affected them, that they still loved the ones they lost, and they never stopped thinking of them and don’t know why they’re only ones who made it out alive.”

“While I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the Holocaust, I’m not a historian,” Bravman continued. “Facing History and Ourselves was critical in helping me give the film proper historical context. For this version of the film I just tried my best to be a vessel for those who shared their experiences with us 25 years ago. I hope the film is a vehicle that helps us put ourselves in the shoes of those in harm’s way. I’m confident the audience will feel a bond with the people they see on screen. These people were Holocaust witnesses, survivors, refugees, immigrants and our neighbors. The majority of those interviewed lived walking distance from the Coolidge, where the special screening is being held.”

The April 19 Special Screening is founded and hosted by 501C3 nonprofit, 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. All told over 40 local businesses, individuals and non-profits have so far stepped forward to help finally unearth these lost treasures.

The Special Screening is a non-profit venture. All contributions – personal and business – are tax deductible. Some tickets for the April 19 special screening are still available.

Tickets for the event can be purchased here.

Check out videos from the January Screening.

By Tanner Stening