Sunday, June 07, 2020

Reviewing: “The Podkamieners,” five short films, created by Sarah Kamaras, available at no cost at http://thepodkamieners.com/, 2018.

According to Time magazine, there are 100,000 Holocaust survivors alive today. The Jerusalem Post estimates a decline to a sparse 26,000 by 2035. If you think that’s small, even fewer will be left of the minority who were not transported to concentration camps. “Out of the 1,000 Jews that lived in Podkamien (Galicia, Poland) pre-WWII, only 60 or 70 of those Jews survived,” said Sarah Kamaras, a film producer and editor, who just released a series of five short films interviewing relatives, collectively entitled “The Podkamieners.”

Kamaras related that she wanted to “animate the past [by] creating something new from something old, something bold, something that could bring a new generation into a world they could have never imagined.”

Employing a combination of interviews, documentary footage and animation, Kamaras artfully directed The Podkamieners series as a portrait of this small group of Holocaust-era Jews who hid to survive. Kamaras initially decided on animation as a more accessible medium for millenials who are bereft of grandparent or great-grandparent survivors. “Thinking about how to bring an understanding of the Holocaust to a younger audience was my first inspiration to use animation,” she said. Animation was also necessary “due to the lack of available stock footage of Podkamien, Poland.” She noted, however, that there is some stock footage of surrounding Polish towns in the films, used to establish scenes artistically.

“The narratives were so compelling that I knew I had to illustrate them in a way that would justify how unbelievable these stories were. I felt that animation was the best way to visualize these narratives, infusing them with incredible, realistic detail and bringing to life stories that could otherwise only be told through words,” she said.

The most poignant realization about the Holocaust, Kamaras noted, came through recognizing the reticence and sometimes reluctance of certain survivors to discuss their experiences in the war. “Out of the five survivors that I interviewed, four had barely—or in some cases never—spoken about their experiences in the Holocaust in a personal or public forum. We are told to ‘never forget’ and yet there are survivors who would rather forget their experiences, move forward and continue to live their lives.”

Determined to commemorate, safeguard and immortalize the lives against the ignorance of the next generation, Kamaras explained that “recognizing why survivors have stayed silent about the Holocaust opened up a new conversation that in turn allowed my family members to share their stories. I know that I would not have been able to capture these stories if I didn’t acknowledge and respect these sensitivities.”

The predominant impression throughout all five short films is miraculous endurance. The films, “Sarid Family,” “Mark,” “Fay and Josh,” “Isidore” and “Benny,” target an audience that will likely never witness a survivor present his or her story at a school assembly or record European genealogy with elderly relatives. “It’s important to reimagine how we tell the stories of the Holocaust in a way that will inspire and engage the next generation to continue sharing these stories,” Kamaras said.

These mini films seek to ensure millennial remembrance, as well as first-time awareness, and serve as a softer, yet just as potently meaningful, delivery that summer camps might want to display on Tisha B’Av. “The use of animation helps make certain scenes more palpable for a viewer who may have been deterred from stock footage or recreations that could be too physically and emotionally graphic to bear,” Kamaras related.

Aside from the easier confrontation, the animation, similar to Art Spiegelman’s “Maus,” allows youth to make meaning of those lives now only found in textbooks. The black and white serpentine figures, images and captions generate resonant emotion in both the survivor and the viewer. As an interviewee’s voice began to falter, relating torturous detail, the screen less sharply illustrated those traumatic experiences to provide some form of understanding, countering our instinctive mind-block coping skills. The ephemeral silhouettes almost slither between white and black, black and white, black and white and gray, revealing the survivors’ constant attempt at obscurity, hiding in hay, barns and cellars. The haunting transience between colors also helps the viewer differentiate between Nazis and Jews.

Simultaneously, this directing choice maintains the loss of identity forced from a nomadic life that Rashi elucidates regarding Avraham in Lech Lecha (12.1). Albeit, the same animation aids in restoring the survivors’ existence by displaying figures sinuously formed from sprouting tree roots and branches, literally rerooting their heritage. These symbolic manifestations of the survivor’s account provide innovative visualization that more effectively connects the viewer to the survivor.

“On a more universal level, I think now is the time to rethink how we’re going to preserve Holocaust memory. With the number of survivors dwindling each year, millennials are already experiencing a lack of knowledge and awareness of the Holocaust. And soon we’ll enter a generation that will never meet a survivor. It’s important to reimagine how we tell the stories of the Holocaust in a way that will inspire and engage the next generation to continue sharing these stories—and that’s where I found shorter films and the use of animation to be so integral to this mission,” Kamaras concluded.

View the films online at http://thepodkamieners.com/.

By Rachel Liebling


Rachel Liebling is a summer intern at The Jewish Link and a rising freshman at Stern College for Women.