On January 27, the George Eastman Museum will host free screenings of Roberta Grossman's powerful documentary "Who Will Write Our History" to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The film is part of "L'Chaim: Celebrating Jewish Life," an ongoing series of film screenings organized by the Eastman Museum in partnership with the JCC and Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester to commemorate the lives of the victims of the atrocity at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
"Who Will Write Our History" chronicles the remarkable story of the Oyneg Shabes Archive, a secret collection of writing, photographs, posters, and other materials assembled by a small band of Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto, documenting the history of the war from the Jewish perspective.
Historian Emanuel Ringelblum organized the effort beginning in 1940, recruiting a few trusted journalists, scholars, and community leaders to begin collecting physical evidence and recording first-hand accounts of life under Nazi rule, in an attempt to counteract the defamation of the Jewish people wrought by the Nazi propaganda machine.
As circumstances of the Jews in Warsaw grew more dire, the importance of the group's task grew monumentally. Knowing how unlikely it was that they would live to see the end of the war, the participants kept the archive hidden, hoping that one day it would be discovered and the truth would be known. As on diarist writes, "What we were unable to cry and shriek out to the world, we buried in the ground."
Eventually growing to nearly 30,000 pages of material, the archive was buried in three caches just prior to the Warsaw uprising in April 1943. Two of these caches were unearthed in 1946 and 1950, respectively, while the third remains underground, believed to be located somewhere underneath what's now the Chinese embassy.
Director Roberta Grossman blends archival footage and reenactments along with talking head interviews with historians (including Samuel Kassow, whose 2007 book gives the film its name) to create a narrative with a remarkable sense of urgency. An awe-inspiring story of resistance and strength, "Who Will Write Our History" provides a vital and deeply moving account of how a group of brave individuals ensured that even if their lives were lost in the war, their stories and those of their people would always remain.
Sunday's screenings will be followed by a Facebook Live discussion from Paris (recorded earlier in the day) with executive producer Nancy Spielberg, director Roberta Grossman, and author Samuel Kassow.