Unfortunately I cannot attend the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival, school work is too pressing and the cost of tickets don't permit it. As I prepare a short thank you and welcome ahead of tomorrow's screening it is a chance to reflect on my journey.
Warsaw is my home, I grew up there and love the certain grittiness combined with its parks and humid air. Warsaw is one of those cities where you know you have arrived. Warsaw had the largest Jewish community, if I am not mistaken, in Europe prior to the Shoah. It was a vibrant and chaotic metropolis with a vibrant and diverse Jewish community. Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Polish could all be heard in Warsaw's Jewish community, all different social, religious and political groups.
Now though, this diversity is a faded memory, brought back to life by the Polin: Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The Polin Museum is one of the most incredible Museum's recently built and it had an enormous task: recreating a portrait of Jewish life for the length of Poland's 1000 year Jewish history.
I volunteered at the Museum for two summers while its main program was being finished. I learned a lot about Jewish culture, but worked pre-dominantly on a few projects - translating some of the diary entries related to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and preparing an educational course on Jan Karski. At the same time, I was researching Child Survivors.
Warsaw for me changed over those two years of making and shooting the film and, truth be told, the experience has not fully settled yet. During my research and after interviewing the Child Survivors I became haunted by different images - sometimes seeing a Jewish child smuggled out of the ghetto or imagining Adam Shtibel's arrival in 1947 to tell his story and try and settle down again, all alone.
My father wondered to me how people could have re-inhabited the Ghetto area after the war. And as we traveled around Poland finding forlorn Jewish cemeteries and converted Jewish homes that no one has claimed, you can't help but be faced with the emptiness that still exists. If one pays even a small amount of attention it is still there.
This is why Picking Up the Pieces showing in Warsaw is so important. I imagine as the testimony of the survivors is spoken in Warsaw that it will help fill a space that has been absent and bring voices - maybe not exactly those of the survivors I've interviewed but their brethren - back. As Henryk Grynberg said, "We must tell, and continue to tell this story."
As the work of the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival, other Jewish institutions and the Polin Museum continues more and more of this empty space will become available. And the story of a wonderful, diverse, vibrant and unique culture will be more available to us.