(director/writer: Roberta Grossman; screenwriter: based in the book by Samuel Kassow; cinematographer: Dyanna Taylor; editors: Christian Callister/Ondine Rarey; music: Todd Boekelheide; cast: Joan Allen (Narrator), Jowita Budnik (Rachela Auerbach), Piotr Glowacki (Emanuel Ringelblum), Piotr Jankowski (Hersz Wasser), Wojciech Zielinski (Abraham Lewin), Karolina Gruszka (Judyta Ringelblum), Adrian Brody (Emanuel Ringelblum-voice); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Roberta Grossman:  Abramorama/Hulu; 2018 USA-in English, Yiddish & Polish, with English subtitles when necessary)

“An emotionally moving, sobering and exhausting Holocaust documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An emotionally moving, sobering and exhausting Holocaust documentary, that makes for must see viewing, especially for those who say ‘Never Again,’ we can’t let such evil happen again.

It’s directed and written with purpose by Roberta Grossman (“Above and Beyond”/”Seeing Allred”), though because of the film’s complexity, details and richness it never fully gets into a comfortable flow in executing the narrative.

It’s based on the well-researched history book by the historian Samuel Kassow. It took seven years to be filmed, and was shot mostly in Poland and bits of it were shot in Israel and LA. It’s executive produced by Nancy Spielberg, the sister of Steven.

In 1939, at the onset of WWII, all Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto and wear a Jewish star. Emanuel Ringelblum (played in certain scenes by the Polish actor Piotr Glowacki), a Polish historian, organized a covert group known as Oyneg Shabes (“The Joys of Shabbat”), who vowed to defeat the Nazis with their pens and expose their racist stereotyping lies. Fearing the Nazis might win, the group felt compelled to preserve what is the Jewish identity by burying under Warsaw in three spots (called caches) invaluable documents on Jewish life and testimony from Jewish citizens of life in the Warsaw Ghetto under the Nazi Occupation–where the reputed 350,000 Jews living in Warsaw were forced to reside. The idea of the group was to counter the lies spread by the Germans and to make sure their inhumane experiences under the Nazis would never be forgotten.

The “ghetto” was made into a living hell by the German architects and after a few years nearly all of the Jews had died because of poor conditions or were deported to Auschwitz or Dachau.

The source of the archival footage was either provided from the Nazi propaganda machine, where Jews were being humiliated, or by the Warsaw residents who showed the terrible conditions of the “ghetto.”

It was a bad decision by Grossman to use dramatic re-enactments, which were stagey and undercut the power of its raw footage, which was real and let the viewer see the actual horrors. One re-enactment filmed the heroic Warsaw Uprising that took place in 1943 and lasted two weeks.

The Warsaw journalist Rachel Auerbach (played in certain scenes by the Polish actress Jowita Budnik) was one of three Jews who survived the Warsaw Uprising, along with the married couple Hersz & Bluma Wasser. Rachel was a key figure who witnessed the tragedy; the embittered woman lived in Israel to tell her story when the war ended.

I don’t think the filmmaker ever really got what a powerful story she was telling, or she wouldn’t have used the re-enactments. In an interview Grossman tells how Rachel Auerbach, living in Israel after the war, retrieves her family photos and when she opens the package in the light, the negatives dissolve and she cries out this is the second time my family was made to disappear. Grossman said she didn’t use that in the film because she didn’t want the film to be too grim (I believe she was mistaken, and working with such a great source history book and powerful archive film should have come up with an even better documentary than this relatively fine one.

There were voiceovers by celebrities like Joan Allen & Adrian Brody.

REVIEWED ON 1/27/2022  GRADE: B