‘Who Will Write Our History’ shows wide scope of the Holocaust

Graham Shapley

The narratives about the Holocaust often focus on the active resistance: the individuals who bravely fought the Nazis or survived the horrors committed against them. Very rarely are the people who recorded the stories of day-to-day life under the Nazi regime given much thought.

As a part of CSU’s 23rd annual Holocaust Awareness Week, a free showing of the film “Who Will Write Our History” was put on in the Lory Student Center Theatre. 

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The movie took a documentarian approach to a group of over 60 Jewish individuals placed into a ghetto in Warsaw following the invasion of Poland during World War II. These 60 people documented life in the ghetto and stories of the atrocities committed so that the truth would be able to make itself known.

To do this, a group known as the Oyneg Shabbos, or “Joy of the Sabbath,” was formed by Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum. They collected over 6,000 pages of documents, notes, posters, drawings and photographs, all which were unearthed 10 years after the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, buried in the basement of a destroyed building.

The story is told through a narrative lens, reenacting the lives of important figures from Oyneg Shabbos and showing the grim realities of ghetto life. The storytelling employed by the film reveals the horrifying reality of how the Nazis wore people down and pressed them into poverty and hunger. 

This story is intercut with modern scholars discussing the work done to find clips of actual footage — a holistic approach to the institution and its impact.

Ultimately, “Who Will Write Our History” is a story about the importance of being able to tell one’s own story and not have it be twisted by those in power. Nazi propaganda is shown at one point in the story, and writers from the archive worried that if they did not document what was happening, it might be forgotten.

In a world where neo-Nazi hate groups have gained traction within the alt-right movement and some still deny the reality of the Holocaust, these fears seem especially based in reality. 

According to a survey conducted by the Claims Conference, a group that conducts restitution for families impacted by the Holocaust, Americans have “significant gaps” in their knowledge of the details of the Nazi regime’s crimes against humanity.

‘Who Will Write Our History’ was released in January 2019 and can be rented or bought on Amazon Prime and Vudu.”

Other Holocaust Awareness Week events have included Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss speaking on campus and the traditional planting of the flags representing those murdered by the Nazi regime.

The film is based upon a 2007 book by Samuel Kassow covering the formation and work of the Oyneg Shabbos.

Should you see it? Yes.

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In discussing the Holocaust, the death camps and direct undertakings of genocide are typically the center of attention. But the 6 million Jews that were killed weren’t limited to a few camps — they were already driving people to death by starvation and disease well before the gas chambers. 

It’s important that we don’t forget the scope of the atrocities committed and retroactively reduce their crimes by only remembering the most horrifying of them.

“Who Will Write Our History” is particularly influential in showing what people had to do to report on the reality of life within the Warsaw Ghetto — what had to be done to survive. 

The lengths to which these men and women went to just to keep records is inspiring. It reminds us that resistance can take many forms — especially in telling a story that oppressors would rather not have told.

Graham Shapley can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com and on Twitter @shapleygraham