Over 30 years ago, Holocaust survivor Regina Barshak and fellow Brookline resident, Leon Satenstein, who witnessed the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, spearheaded an effort by the Town of Brookline to memorialize the Holocaust through testimony interviews. This living memorial would come to be known as the Brookline Holocaust Witness Project.
To create this living memorial, Barshak and Satenstein enlisted the help of Brookline’s Human Relations Director, Stephen Bressler; world-renowned Holocaust testimony expert Lawrence Langer; Facing History and Ourselves; and the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimony.
This living memorial would be about listening to people who had been silenced for more than 40 years. After World War ll, people in the United States, including those within the Jewish community, did not want to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors. Barshak and Satenstein, with the help of others who shared their sensibilities, tried to pave the way for their community to finally listen to their neighbors.
The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project was about listening.
Listening is not easy. If someone tells you otherwise, don’t listen. Listening is hard work. If you think about it, who are the most important people in your life? Is it not the people you believe in listening to you? The people who will lend an ear? Your spouse, your closest friends, the teacher you never forgot, mentors, your parents, I hope, all listen. The people in our lives who we believe truly listen to us are those of whom we bestow our greatest gift: our trust. We trust the people who attend to us with our truth, our insecurities, our worst fears, and our most fragile moments. We believe the people who listen to us when we need to share our pain and humiliation when we’ve been hurt.
Leon Satenstein, Lawrence Langer, Stephen Bressler, Regina Barshak, as well as production crew after production crew from Brookline Access Television, listened.
They listened to 36 Holocaust Survivors and three Holocaust Liberators.
They listened for more than 80 hours throughout six years. Interviews ranged from 45 minutes to seven hours because there were no constraints placed on their listening. Members of the Brookline Holocaust Witness Project team listened for as long as their neighbors wanted to share.
What they did was nothing short of epic.
Due to lack of Town of Brookline funding, Leon and Regina’s advancing age, and factors I cannot explain or understand, Brookline’s Living Memorial to the Holocaust never came to be.
The tapes ended up in a metal closet for more than 20 years.
The documentary film, Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project is based on the testimonies recovered from that closet in 2016. The film is almost exclusively testimony.
Recently we added new interviews conducted in 2018 from those that took part in the original project as well as descendants of those who gave testimony. We also improved the film’s quality-presentation and sound.
I am the director and the producer for Soul Witness. I tried my best to be a vessel and pour every bit of my talent, energy, and humanity into the film to do justice to our Holocaust survivor neighbors who gave their testimony, their families, Leon, Regina, Stephen, Lawrence and my community’s faith in me.
The film will be at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on February 28. All proceeds will go to the nonprofit Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.