In 1940, the Nazis sealed 450,000 Jewish people in the Warsaw Ghetto. A clandestine group of journalists, scholars and community leaders decided to band together and fight back. Led by Emanuel Ringelblum, the Oyneg Shabes used the power of the pen to resist the Nazis, resulting in an archive of documents that lives on to this day. The remarkable story of the Oyneg Shabes archive is brought to life in the documentary Who Will Write Our History, written and directed by Roberta Grossman. The Jewish Center of the Hamptons will present a screening of the film on Holocaust Remembrance Day this Sunday, April 28 in East Hampton (44 Woods Lane).
Grossman, a documentarian who majored in history at University of California, Berkeley, believes that the film carries a vital message. “This story is important to tell in this day and age because the story of the archive is about a group of people willing to risk their lives for the truth,” she says. There is, in this era of “fake news,” an unwillingness by some to accept facts they simply don’t like the sound of—and that has led to a scary rise in intolerance. “I think what I’m experiencing is not just the rise of antisemitism but intolerance for the ‘other,’” Grossman says. “There’s a general intolerance that’s been let loose in our country and the world, and a swing to the right that I find very terrifying, and antisemitism is part of that package.”
Rabbi Joshua Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons echoes Grossman’s thoughts. “I mean, clearly there is a surge in antisemitic incidents that are going on across our country, let alone the world—France in particular, there’s a heightened level of danger,” he says. “There’s been recent polling that shows a real unfamiliarity among Americans about the Holocaust. A large chunk of the population thinks the number [of deaths] is exaggerated, and that’s scary.”
The idea that the Holocaust is being downplayed by some is indeed a scary sentiment. Franklin hopes the film will help foster interest in learning about the Holocaust. “We always want to do something that captivates the community and remember the Holocaust each year,” Franklin says. “We thought, the way the film is directed, the way it’s shot and the story it tells…it’s something people haven’t heard. It also emphasizes the importance of keeping memory alive. We’re looking forward to sharing with our community.”
Before the screening of Who Will Write Our History, there will be a candle lighting honoring those lost in the Holocaust. “Jews light memorial candles to commemorate the deaths of loved ones,” Franklin explains. “When a soul departs this world it leaves behind a void of darkness. These memorial candles symbolically rekindle the memories of life that were snuffed out during the Holocaust.”
Franklin hopes that as Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches, everyone will remember an important message. “I would emphasize that one of the most profound commandments is the idea to remember,” he says, emphasizing that few Holocaust survivors are still living. “It’s all about remembering and keeping that narrative going.”