The Suchastower Benevolent Society in New York City was very active and my maternal grandfather and his family were active members. As was the case with many of these landsmanshaftn (immigrant societies), the young men who came first and established themselves, welcomed newcomers from home, gave them jobs and got them started in the new world.
One can see the close relationships as the "boys" were often witnesses for each other on their naturalization documents. My grandfather and his brothers were in the building maintenance field and many of the young men began there as window washers before striking out on their own.
About 15 years ago, a short film was found, made by one of the Suchastow boys on his 1930s trip home. The film was discovered, converted to CD. Many Suchastower descendants were fortunate to receive copies. I have one, another copy is at Beth Hatefutsoth in Tel Aviv, and the original - I believe - is in the archives at the Museum of Living Jewish Heritage in New York (the filmmaker's family donated it).
I'm the second generation born in America, so I didn't recognize any of the smiling faces on the Suchastow section of the film. But I recognized the central square of the shtetl and the homes (right, c1930) were strangely reminiscent of the bungalows Grampa built at his Kauneonga Lake bungalow colony in the Catskills (see below, mid-1950s). that looked like shtetl homes.
The colony in Kauneonga also had a central space that looked like Suchastow's, ringed by the now-familiar bungalows. In Kauneonga, however, our central space also contained a playground minus the flocks of geese and goats.
The film also shows the town of Zbarazh, and the filmmaker's sea voyage to Europe and back.
I knew that the Suchastow man had tried to convince others to leave on his trip. They didn't. This short film is the only pre-Holocaust record of their faces, those families, that shtetl.
Today I learned of another documentary - compiled from other amateur home movies - detailed in this Boston Globe story.
Poland—Poland's Jews were nearly wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust, then the communists who ruled the country for decades after World War II waged anti-Semitic campaigns and made Jewish history a taboo topic.I don't know if our Suchastow footage is included, but I'm trying to find out. There is a short trailer (Polish narration) for Po-Lin here.
But a new documentary draws on a patchwork of amateur camera footage shot mostly by American Jews visiting relatives in the 1930s in Polish towns and provides a window into what once was.
It makes its debut in Canada, Germany and Ukraine in Polish next month, and an English version will be ready for the U.S. market later this year, Polish producer Miroslaw Bork said Friday.
"Po-Lin, Slivers of Memory" was conceived by Polish camerawoman Jolanta Dylewska, who was inspired to make the 80-minute film after coming across one of the home movies in Jerusalem archives in 1996 while working on an earlier project.
The filmmaker said that the movie had enormous emotional value for her, and that people filmed reacted with great warmth because they knew the person filming them.
For those who may not be familiar with the phrase Po-Lin: in Hebrew, it means "you will rest here," or "a place of refuge," but it has become the word for Poland. In the Middle Ages, Jews expelled from other European countries settled there and remained for a thousand years. The pre-Holocaust Jewish population was 3.5 million; only a few hundred thousand survived.
Remembering that short film on Suchastow, I realized - as did Dylewska, that those people had only about a decade to live before the Holocaust began.
The Polish-German product cost some $380,000 and opened in November, playing in Polish cinemas.
After finding the initial home movie, Dylewska found more footage in Israeli and American archives, and added commentary -- based on Jewish history books -- in Polish with English subtitles.If the film comes to your city, do see it.
At the same time, she said she took great care to preserve the original atmosphere of the black-and-white films in hope "the viewers will carry these people in their memories."
She also filmed the places from the home movies as they are today, and found witnesses to talk about their former Jewish neighbors and friends.