Coping with crisisThe Justice Theater Project released a new documentary in collaboration with Raleigh-Cary Jewish Family Services on April 8, Yom Ha’Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. Entitled Where Can I Go / Wo Ahin soll Ich Geh’n, the documentary follows the stories of five now-local Holocaust survivors as they make their way through the JFS Kesher program, a creative arts group for holocaust survivors and caregivers. Through footage of these group sessions as well as individual interviews, Where Can I Go emphasizes the importance of storytelling, both in keeping the spirits of our dead alive and in recognizing the many ghosts that linger on their own, haunting us to this day.

Where Can I Go / Wo Ahin soll Ich Geh’n was co-directed by Barbara Kaynan and Jesse Bonnell. This year’s Kesher took place over Zoom under the coordination of Kaynan, with the participation of Tobi Dicker, Marianna Miller, Harry Rubinstein, Judy Stevens, and Eva Weinerman, all Holocaust survivors who now live in the Raleigh-Cary area. Each Zoom session included a number of activities and tasks, including stretching exercises, guided conversation among members, and sharing of personal experiences. 

The monstrosity of the Holocaust is fairly widely known: Between 1941 and 1945, around six million Jews, as well as millions of Poles and other marginalized people, were murdered barbarously through gas chambers, firing squads, the forced poor conditions of concentration camps, and more. Survivors were displaced, widowed, orphaned, and eternally scarred. To know this type of information, cognitively, however, is different from hearing first-hand accounts of these atrocities: With Where Can I Go, suddenly, faceless histories and statistics become recognizable as neighbors, and memories become shared experience. 

The experience is certainly not an easy one to share. The Kesher group was created with the goal to connect survivors in order to help them work through this shared trauma. 75 years later, the trauma remains evident. Each member described vivid stories from their own or a loved one’s memory of the Holocaust. Weinerman, who was born in Poland in 1942, was only three years old when Nazi soldiers showed up at her grandparents’ house. Her grandparents instructed Weinerman and her mother to hide on the roof when the soldiers arrived. Fortunately, she and her mother were then able to flee successfully, but not before witnessing the murder of her grandparents in cold blood as they stood below. Similarly, Miller, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1925, was just a teenager at the start of the war when she was forced to leave her family in order to escape to England. She never saw her parents again and later learned both had been killed.

These very descriptive and imagistic stories, told mainly during the individual interviews, were the most powerful parts of the film. The individual interviews also featured time for more reflections about the participants’ traumatic childhoods, as well as about their subsequent lives. On the one hand, understandably, participants expressed despair – Miller quoted the end of Macbeth, saying that life is a “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” “Do I believe that?” she said later. “I don’t know.”

On the other hand, all of the members expressed a profound sense of grace. All in all, Miller said, “Looking back on my life, I am very grateful.” Stevens commented on the difference between her life and that of her parents – one who was in Auschwitz, the other in a labor camp in Siberia – saying, “I had a better life than they did.” Each member was also asked to acknowledge the things they considered their greatest accomplishments. Each mentioned success in career and in family with joy and gratitude. Throughout continued hardship, they all emphasized the importance of maintaining purpose. Dicker, in particular, expressed that she had “lost her father, her mother, and her son,” among others, but that she knows why she is still here: “Somebody has to be here to make sure their lives weren’t in vain,” she said. “That is my will to live: to recount their stories.” 

All five members emphasized the need to continue to recount their stories to remind people of what happened not so long ago. They even noted a very recent incident in Raleigh in which a Nazi flag was displayed on a tree. “It gave me chills; I was totally upset,” Weinerman said. “It never goes away,” Rubinstein said. “But that is why we need to continue to educate,” Stevens said. Stevens added to this a quote from Elie Wiesel, summing up the dire nature of storytelling and the responsibility of both the speaker and the listener: “When you listen to a witness, you become one.”

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