"Personally, it's very important to me that everyone realize
that before these people became victims they were first
individuals. Life in Luboml was real. It had highs and lows
and was not a romanticized version of Fiddler on the Roof.
After watching the film, I think people will share a sense of
loss that comes when people you know, or get to know through
this film, are murdered. I would imagine it's not dissimilar
to the ache survivors felt after their co-workers died in the
World Trade Center. By learning about village life through
personal remembrances, we're able to look beyond statistics
and see that each person who perished was just that, a
What has been the reaction among Jews and non-Jews who have
seen the Luboml exhibit?
"As you would suspect, the reaction among Jews was very
emotional especially for those who lost relatives. It was as if
the photos in the exhibit brought them back to life. It also
gave them an opportunity to learn what life in the shtetl was
like. Many Jews and non-Jews felt that they became more educated
about Jews in Eastern Europe. They learned that many of those
who perished were hard working tradesmen - tailors, carpenters
and machinists. They weren't wealthy landowners or businessmen."
Do you see this film used as an
"I certainly do. I think it offers both adults and young people
an opportunity to learn about a community and a way of life that
no longer exists. I also think that children, both Jews and
non-Jews, will feel connected because much of it touches upon
what it was like to be a child growing up in a shtetl. Children
seem to have the gift to relate to other children wherever they
Where will this film be seen?
"It's our objective to make this film available to every
interested outlet. Right now we've been talking to individuals
who are interested in a possible television broadcast. We are
also anxious to bring the film to parochial and non-parochial
schools, synagogue groups, Jewish Community Centers, The
Holocaust Museum and other venues. We've already been in
discussions with The Board of Jewish Education, Israeli
television and a number of Jewish think tanks. We also have
plans to submit the film to Festivals worldwide."
Tell me about your collection going to
the Library of Congress.
"I am so thrilled that these artifacts have found a permanent
home in The Library of Congress. What's particularly exciting is
that they'll be housed in the American Folk Life Center where
scholars of all religious and national backgrounds will be able
to study them. The American Folk Life Center preserves and
presents American folk life - the traditional expressive culture
of all our nation's people."
Describe the collection that you are
"This is the largest concentration of photographs from one
shtetl ever assembled. The collection not only includes the oral
history of survivors, but a collection of everyday life
artifacts. For example, we have a child's school report card,
wedding invitations, silver wine cups and rare postage stamps.
The collection also includes a street sign from the Luboml
ghetto, fragments of a silver menorah and labels from locally
What motivated you to mount the
"I believe the first instinct came after seeing the movie
Schindler's List. I wanted to know about the people in the
camps before they were brought there. The idea was also
reinforced when I started having the Luboml Book translated from
Yiddish into English. I realized that this was a good starting
point to tell the story of life before death and destruction."
Did you always want to create a film
that was an offshoot of the exhibition?
"It never occurred to me to make a film. I read an article
written by Eileen Douglas in Jewish Week that she was
making a documentary about her grandfather in a shtetl. I called
to offer my help and advice. She came to my office and showed me
a part other film. I told her that I had so much more material
and asked her to postpone her project. That's how it began."
the creative process like when you were making the documentary?
"The part of the film shot in Luboml was exciting and emotional.
Reliving my childhood, going to places that I remembered and the
scene at the mass grave was very profound. I kept thinking of my
uncle and aunt and their two daughters. These girls were my
playmates and I saw them everyday. I imagined the terror they
must have had being marched, all together, to their deaths. I
refrained from voicing these feelings during the film because I
knew that I would break down."
Tell me about your own notion of guilt.
"I was a teenager when I received the news that my whole family
in Luboml was killed. My first reaction was 'I'm glad I got out
in time' and I went about my teenage activities. It was only
years later that I truly understood the enormity of the tragedy
and I would say that I felt guilty about my own initial
reaction. Of course, the reality was that the whole world was
silent including most of the Jewish community in America."
How did the Jews and Gentiles of Luboml
"As a child I had very little contact with Gentiles. When there
was interaction I would say it was cordial. Everyone knew that
there was some anti-Semitism but I never had any fear of bodily
harm. My mother had a restaurant and I believe many of her
customers were Gentiles. She always seemed to be friendly with
them. Occasionally some of them got drunk and I remember that
the Polish police immediately came to protect her."
How did you find the participants?
"My mother is a member of the Luboml Benevolent Society, which
originally helped arrivals in the U.S. Now it primarily raises
funds. The people you see in the film are also members of this
Tell me more about your role in the
What about its philosophy makes you respond personally?
"When I came to America at 10 years old I was sent to a Yeshiva.
In Poland I went to a public school during the day and to
religious school in the afternoon. I have to be honest and say
that I wasn't happy about going to a Yeshiva. By fourteen I
stopped being religious and stopped going to the synagogue.
Once my wife and I had children we felt that they should be
exposed to Judaism and we went in search of a synagogue that
reflected our beliefs. I remembered attending a Bar Mitzvah at a
Reconstructionist synagogue. It was somewhat traditional with
the congregants wearing skullcaps and prayer shawls. The
philosophy states that the Torah was written by man at various
times in history and the past has a vote but not a veto. I
firmly believe that Judaism is a civilization and like all
civilizations it must evolve with the times while remaining
faithful to its tenets. We hope to incorporate into our daily
lives the best of American culture (freedom and democracy) and
the best of Judaism (justice and charity). I believe that God is
not omnipotent, one that rewards and punishes, but is more of a
concept of godliness."
This conversation was edited by Andrew Freedman.