Claims Conference Provides Grant to Filmmakers
When the Nazis destroyed the shtetl of Trochenbrod in August 1942, they obliterated the only all-Jewish town in the world outside of Palestine. Trochenbrod was established by Jews in 1835, on a piece of land given by a Russian princess, as a legal loophole allowing them not to be drafted into the Russian army. The villagers were primarily farmers, raising crops and livestock; over the years, they established small businesses that served surrounding communities.
The Nazis gathered together all the townspeople in the forest – about 5,000 people – and massacred them, throwing them into a mass grave. Two hundred people managed to flee during the mayhem and hide in the nearby forest. Then the town was burned. But just 33 survived the Holocaust.
Six decades later, author Avrom Bendavid-Val, whose late father had emigrated from Trochenbrod prior to the Shoah, went in search of the town, which had been literally wiped off the map. On a yearslong search to find his father’s hometown and honor his memory, Bendavid-Val met and connected with other survivors, many of whom hadn’t seen each other in 60 years. His efforts have renewed popular interest in Trochenbrod, first made famous by author Jonathan Safran Foer in his novel “Everything is Illuminated.”
Bendavid-Val’s search for Trochenbrod, in what is today northwestern Ukraine, resulted in a 2010 book and now, a new feature film called “Lost Town,” which received funding from the Claims Conference during its production stage. Director and producer Jeremy Goldscheider thanked the Claims Conference, saying, “It takes a certain organization to see the vision early on.”
“Lost Town” is now making the rounds of Jewish and secular film festivals worldwide. The hope of the filmmakers is to have the movie distributed in Ukraine so that young people can learn this piece of their country’s history.
Jeremy and Avrom, the film’s historical consultant, recently answered some questions about “Lost Town” after a screening of the film, which they attended, for Claims Conference staff in New York.
Q: Why did you make a film of the story of Trochenbrod and your efforts to connect with survivors?
Avrom: I’m interested in memorializing Trochenbrod, and bringing its significance to everyone, Jews and non-Jews. I’m trying to help Ukrainians learn about their own history, and let the Jewish community know there was such a very special place where being a Jew was the norm.
Q: During filming, how were relations with the Ukrainians you met?
Avrom: We met with mostly young people who had been exposed to the Western world. I witnessed many anti-Semitic events in Ukraine. But among the people I worked with, even in one of the villages that was nationalist [anti-Semitic] during the war, things have changed. They accept times have changed. And they are very hospitable.
Q: The film includes animated re-creations when portraying Trochenbrod before its destruction. What made you decide to use that way of storytelling?
Jeremy: Because there’s no movie footage, and there are very few photographs of Trochenbrod which have survived. It was the best way of telling the story, and also to appeal to young people.
Q: What was the religious life like in Trochenbrod?
Avrom: The Hasidic influence began to diminish around 1880-1890, but the town was still religious, and by World War I was what we call Orthodox. After World War I, residents had been exposed to non-Jewish things, and Zionism began to take hold. Also, there was a generational difference. And once it shifted from agriculture to commerce, there was more work for young people.
In Israel, in the Beit-Tal organization [organization of the descendants of Trochenbrod], most are not religious, but they respect, and encourage their children to relate to, Jewish practices, even though many are not religious.
Q: Why doesn’t the film go into more detail about the death of the community during the Holocaust?
Jeremy: I didn’t want to have the Holocaust in the film at all. I really wanted to make a film about the life there, not the death. But the Holocaust is part of the story.
Avrom: When I first stumbled on the story of Trochenbrod, I wanted to know what the life was like. By knowing what was there, its vibrancy and significance, then you know what was lost.
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“Lost Town” was shown last week at the Bucharest (Romania) Jewish Film Festival, and will next be shown at:
- Columbus Jewish Film Festival, Drexel Theater, Columbus, Ohio: Nov. 10
- Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California: Dec. 5
And in 2014, the film returns to the New York City area at:
- The Bellmore Theater, Bellmore, Long Island: March 2
If you are interested in screening the film for your community, synagogue, high school or university please contact Seventh Arts Releasing at (323) 259-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.