Monday, March 29, 2010

Legacy of Shoah Film Festival: Forgotten Transports—To Poland

Most Americans do not appreciate what a beautiful country Poland truly is. Yet, unspeakable atrocities were committed during the National Socialists (and Soviet) occupations, against picturesque backdrops like the town of Zamość (whose central square has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List). It is the harrowing experiences of Czech Jewry deported to Poland that Lukáš Přibyl records for posterity in To Poland, one of four films in his Forgotten Transports documentary project that screened in its entirety this weekend at The Legacy of Shoah Film Festival at John Jay College’s Gerald B. Lynch Theater.

In each film certain themes develop. While in To Estonia, Přibyl focused on the experiences of women, in Poland there is an emphasis on surviving by one’s wits, particularly through masquerade and assumed identity. Indeed, two survivors discuss in great detail how they were able to escape from their camps and pass for Polish.

Jan Osers story seems especially ripe for cinematic adaptation. Uncircumcised, once he escaped, he had an obvious advantage that often made the difference between spending a few days in jail for vagrancy or returning to a concentration camp. An expressive storyteller, his interview segments are easily the highlights of Přibyl’s Polish installment.

Painstakingly researched and assembled, the Transports project boasts a wealth of rare photos and historical documents that recreate the period quite effectively. The films are also nicely complimented by interesting but never overbearing scores composed by Petr Ostrouchov (a lawyer by vocation, but also a talented musician after hours), featuring a sympathetic mix of vibraphone and bass clarinet for Poland.

The stories Přibyl preserves are both historically important and fascinating examples of human perseverance. One would eventually like to see the entire series available to a mass audience through PBS and on DVD for school collections. While Poland also screened at this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival, two Transports films made their New York debut at the Lynch Theater last night. Hopefully, they will also return for further festival engagements, because they are too valuable not to revisit.