“You have to survive. It will be our revenge.”
Steven Oritt’s premiere feature film, My Name Is Sara, is based on a true story from the Holocaust. It is like many other such stories, but it is also different from those stories as well. It is a bit of a reminder that all stories have a unique quality to them, even if we may want to group them together.
Thirteen year old Sara Góralnik (Zuzanna Surowy) escapes from her ghetto in Poland. She settles in with a Ukrainian farming family (Eryk Lubos and Michalina Orszańska). Therman and wife are suspicious that she is Jewish, but she is able to say the Christian prayers and so they take her in—but are constantly vigilant. Sara manages to avoid detection by passing as an Orthodox Christian. When she sees the cracks in the marriage, she stays quiet, mostly because to do otherwise could put her at risk.
What is different about this story is that there is no virtuous rescuer or protector. In fact, if there were any real evidence that she was a Jew, the family would be more than willing to turn her in—both because of the danger and because they, like their neighbors did not like or trust Jews.
The story boils down to a story of survival. The family is struggling to survive the war around them. The Germans and partisans alike raid their farm and take what they want. Sara is also struggling to survive and will do whatever it takes. She even stuffs cloth in her mouth when she sleeps to be sure she does not say a Jewish prayer in her sleep. She goes through all the Christian rituals so that no one will know who she really is. It is only when liberation comes that she can return home. Although in reality, the only home she can return to is her real identity. All her family perished.
This film has come about because one of Sara’s sons, Mickey Shapiro, wanted to tell his mother’s story. The film is done in association with the USC Shoah Foundation, which has collected tens of thousands of video testimonies. The Foundation’s website includes a page with information about the film along with video clips of Sara Shapiro’s taped testimony.
The stories of survivors, such as Sara, as well the stories of those who perished in the Holocaust, constantly refresh our memories of the depths to which humankind can, and at times has, descend to. We must continue to build a world that will prevent such horrors.
My Name is Sara is showing in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Strand Releasing.