Who Will Write Our History tells the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes Archive, the secret archive he created and led in the Warsaw Ghetto. With 30,000 pages of writing, photographs, posters, and more, the Oyneg Shabes Archive is the most important cache of in-the-moment, eyewitness accounts from the Holocaust. It documents not only how the Jews of the ghetto died, but how they lived. The film is based on the book of the same name by historian Samuel Kassow.
Hi Roberta do you still get nerves ahead of a festival screening or are you able to relax?
I actually don’t get nervous after the first three or four screenings! Once I have the sense that the film is actually finished, that I am happy with it and that audiences are responding well, I look forward to screening the film.
Who Will Write Our History has become an important feature documentary has it surprised you to see how well your film has been received?
It seems the film has been released at the right time and that it is resonating for people across the world as both a warning and inspiration for our time. The film is about people in the most hellish circumstances, who had the foresight, courage and commitment to writing, collect and record what was happening to them under the boot of Fascism. Emanuel Ringelblum and the sixty other members of the Oyneg Shabes Archive were, literally, willing to die for the truth. At a time when journalists are murdered for telling the truth and leaders use lies, propaganda, fear, nationalism and prejudice to rise to and hold on to power, this story feels timely.
What has it meant to you to win Best Documentary at the San Fransico Jews Film Festival?
I was happy and honoured.
Can you tell me a little bit about Who Will Write Our History, how did this film come about?
I read Samuel Kassow’s book Who Will Write Our History? and was outraged. I have spent my whole life reading and learning about the Holocaust. How was it possible that I had never heard about Emanuel Ringelblum and the Archive? How was it possible that I did not know about what was essentially the Dead Sea Scroll rising from the rubble of the Ghetto? I decided to make a film that would bring the story to, hopefully, millions of people around the world.
"I learned about a fascinating, complex woman and excellent writer..."
What are some of the biggest challenges bringing Who Will Write Our History to the screen?
This is a story about people who are no longer alive (only three members of the Archive survived the war and none are alive today), about a place that no longer exists (Jewish Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto), with the only visual record being photographs and film taken by the Nazi propaganda unit. The question was, how to visually tell the story in a way that would be as powerful as the eye-witness accounts in the Archive.
Why do you think this part of our shared history has not been made into a film before?
Because the Archive remained largely unknown outside of Academic circles until very recently.
What were some of the things you discovered about this period and history that you hadn't known before?
Rachel Auerbach. I learned about a fascinating, complex woman and excellent writer who not only chronicled her time but created the Survivor Testimony Department at Yad Vashem.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
How important is the collaborative process in filmmaking for you?
Very important. The auteur theory of filmmaking is a total lie. A film of this size (or any size) is made by a group of people. In this case the actors, the voice over actors, production partners, my DP Dyanna Taylor, editor Chris Callister, production designers Frank Gampel and Marek Warszewski composer Todd Boekelheide and many, many more committed and talented people.
How much has your approach to your work changed since you started out?
I always wanted to make big historical films that would bring the past to life.
Do you have any advice or tips for any aspiring filmmaker?
Have patience. Tell the stories you care most about in the way that most excites you.
And finally, what do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Emanuel Ringelblum and the members of the Oyneg Shabes Archive had two final wishes:
1. To speak to future generations about what really happened to them, to tell the story of the war from the Jewish point of view, not from the POV of their murderers. 2. To be remembered as individuals.
I hope that just by watching the film, audience members fulfil those wishes.