By Marion Silver and Roberta Goldmaker
Canadian Museum of History
November 9, 7 p.m.
A documentary film based on the concentration-camp diary of a survivor who later moved to Ottawa will be featured at a November event dedicated to women’s resistance in Auschwitz.
To observe the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) will show Sabotage, the outstanding documentary by Noa Aharoni, an award-winning Israeli filmmaker. She will be present for the screening and will participate in a special presentation about the untold story of a women’s underground operation in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Although time passes and memories fade, the lessons of the Holocaust perpetrated against Jewish people in Europe cannot be understated or overlooked, especially in today’s climate of increasing antisemitism and distortion of historical facts. Six million Jews, including 1,500,000 children, were systematically murdered by Nazis and their collaborators; others were subjected to brutal and inhumane living and working conditions in concentration camps.
Kristallnacht, on November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, marked the beginning of the downward spiral that culminated in the Holocaust. On this night, in an act of state-sponsored violence, Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned throughout Germany and Austria. As the Nazis occupied more and more territories in Europe, the Jews in conquered areas were rounded up and sent to concentration camps and death camps. The most notorious was Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
Sabotage utilizes animation, archival footage and live testimony to dramatize a heroic story of women’s courage and sisterhood that features Estucia Wajcblum, a member of the resistance group which smuggled gunpowder to the men of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish prisoners forced to perform various duties in the gas chambers and crematoria. During the Auschwitz uprising on October 7, 1944, mere weeks before liberation, the men used the gunpowder to blow up Crematorium IV.
“I let the women in this film talk for themselves, I put them in front of the stage,” said Aharoni. “When I ask myself what attracted me to making Sabotage, my answer is unequivocal. The female perspective on the Holocaust, or if you will, the heroism of women in the Holocaust.”
Aharoni is a director of both feature films and documentaries. In her opinion, the combination of both mediums in Sabotage is the secret to bringing the viewer to the emotional place she looks for in her films.
This important documentary film, an unforgettable account of the triumph of the human spirit, has an Ottawa connection. Anna Wajcblum Heilman, Estucia’s sister, survived the uprising and emigrated to Ottawa in 1960 with her husband and two daughters. She became a well-respected social worker and supervisor at the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society until her death in 2011. Anna was an advocate for Holocaust education and participated in March of the Living in 1994. In her later years, she campaigned heavily to have the women involved in the revolt recognized as resistance fighters.
Anna kept a diary in Auschwitz that included details of that historic and heroic revolt. That diary, on which Sabotage is based, is now housed at Library and Archives Canada. Anna’s memoir was published in a book entitled Never Far Away and won a City of Ottawa Book Award in 2002. Her diary will be on view at the launch event. Her daughter, Ariela Heilman, will be participating in a panel discussion following the screening of the documentary.
“Anna’s narration as she recounts her love for her sister and the courage of the young women and the stunning animation by Avi A. Katz are profoundly moving,” said Janet Kaiman, Anna’s neighbour and friend and a member of the CHES Event Committee. “I remember sitting around her kitchen table as a young girl listening to Anna’s stories about growing up in Warsaw. She told them as an adventure story, about going into the Warsaw sewers smuggling food and other items and about hiding from soldiers. As we grew older, she spoke more about the camp and the horror of what happened there.”
Preregistration is required. Register by November 1 at canadahelps.org/en/charities/Centre-for-Holocaust-Education-and-Scholarship/events/holocaust-education-month-launch-event-in-commemoration-of-kristallnacht/
The event is free but a donation to CHES will be appreciated. Please visit chesatottawa.ca for further details.
Marion Silver and Roberta Goldmaker are descendants of survivors and members of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES).