Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project will screen at the Criterion New Haven Cinema on May 17 at 7 pm. The work-in-progress documentary film has sold out several screenings in the Greater Boston area. Soul Witness is based on over 80 hours of Holocaust testimonies, conducted over 25 years ago by world-renowned testimony expert Lawrence Langer. The general public is seeing these testimonies for the first time through the film.
In the late 1980’s, Leon Satenstein, a member of President John F. Kennedy’s administration, spearheaded an effort to create a living memorial to the Holocaust and composed testimony interviews for his community of Brookline, Massachusetts. The interview project took six years to complete and included over 80 hours of testimony from 39 witnesses.
After each interview was conducted, a copy was sent to the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University for research. But unfortunately, Brookline’s copies were never used to create a living memorial of Holocaust testimonies and have not been shared with the public for over 20 years. The goal of Soul Witness is to finally bring the voices of these survivors to the general public.
The documentary features a collection of interviews of Holocaust survivors, conducted in the early 1990s, which are part of the Fortunoff Archive. Witnesses describe their lives before the war, growing intolerance; their lives during the war and the effect their experiences still had on them at the time of the interviews. Some of these witnesses survived death camps, some hid, others fought in resistance movements and many saved the lives of others.
“This film is important both for the stories that survivors share, but also for the way their voices are presented,” said Mark Skvirsky, vice president and chief programming officer of Facing History and Ourselves about the film. “The structure and tone of the film ‘humanizes’ these individuals who might otherwise be perceived simply as victims.”
“These interviews contain some of the most epic and noble words I’ve ever heard,” said director R. Harvey Bravman about the film. “The stories and lessons from those who survived this unimaginable tragedy and who bravely shared their experiences 25 years ago provide an important message for our society. In many cases they talk directly about issues of intolerance, racism and genocide, as well as their immigrant and refugee experience.”
Bravman explained the process of making the film; “I completely immersed myself in the footage. 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.”
The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies is the principal sponsor of this special screening. Following the film, Fortunoff will sponsor a question and answer period with the film’s writer, director and producer R. Harvey Bravman and Holocaust testimony expert, Lawrence Langer.