While the special screening of this 65-minute version of “Soul Witness: The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project” is taking place in 2017, it’s been almost 30 years in the making. In the late 1980s, two Brookline residents, Regina Barshak, who was a witness to the Holocaust, and Leon Satenstein, who witnessed the liberation of the concentration camps during World War II, worked to create a living memorial by interviewing local residents who had witnessed the Holocaust.
With the support of their community, Barshak and Satenstein enlisted Lawrence L. Langer, professor of English emeritus at Simmons College, to conduct most of the interviews and supervise all the interviews. The team conducted approximately 80 hours of local witness testimony, mostly between 1990-1991.
In 2014, Brookline’s chief diversity officer, Lloyd Gellineau, discovered the interviews in a metal closet. Gellineau then brought R. Harvey Bravman in to share his discovery. “Harvey had the same reaction when he saw them, too,” said Gellineau. “The reason I picked Harvey was because I think he has the sensitivity and the vision to make something important.”
Gellineau and Bravman worked with the Town of Brookline for two years and finally got permission for Bravman to drive the tapes to Philadelphia so they could be digitized, which would enable Bravman to produce a documentary about the footage. Bravman then spent the next seven months making the film, fundraising and planning the special screening. He even planned a reception so all the families could meet each other and share their experiences.
The film features approximately 30 of the 39 interviews and an originally composed theme. Bravman notes: “I poured everything I have into this film and I feel blessed to have a great team of experienced, talented and dedicated professionals. My editor, Rob Kirwan, was an incredible partner in all of this. Sound mixing was also important, and Douglas Stevens worked tirelessly. These were all taken at an access station, so there was ambient sound and it seemed the audio for each shoot was set to different levels.”
- Jan 26, 7:00 pm
Bravman explained the process of making the film: “I completely immersed myself in the footage. Lawrence Langer conducted the most responsible interviews I’ve ever seen; the witnesses were comfortable with him because of his compassion and his knowledge of the subject matter. For the film, I tried to focus on just what the witnesses saw with their own eyes and what I felt they came to say. They wanted us to know that their experiences still affected them, that they still loved the ones they lost and they never stopped thinking of them and don’t know why they’re the only ones who made it out alive.”
Bravman also explained his vision for the film: “While I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the Holocaust, I’m not a historian. Facing History and Ourselves was critical in helping me give the film proper historical context, and I hope to bring in more historians so we can increase the scope of the project. For this version of the film I just tried my best to be a vessel for those who shared their experiences with us 25 years ago. I hope the film is a vehicle that helps us put ourselves in the shoes of those in harm’s way. I’m confident the audience will feel a bond with the people they see on screen. These people were Holocaust witnesses, survivors, refugees, immigrants and our neighbors. The majority of those interviewed lived within walking distance from the Coolidge Corner Theatre, where the special screening is being held.”
The upcoming event is hosted by Brookline Hub, a non-profit founded by R. Harvey Bravman. He is still working to meet his fundraising goal for this event and to continue his work on the documentary. He welcomes all who want to join his efforts.
Tickets to the Jan. 26 screening are available here.
Tanner Stening writes for The Boston Guardian, a weekly covering Back Bay, Beacon Hill, downtown, Fenway and the South End.
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