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YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel

Yiddish Language Movie Unzere Kinder

Our Children (Unzere Kinder) Poland 1948: Last Yiddish Language Movie

It was a privilege to attend the screening of UNZERE KINDER (OUR CHILDREN) sponsored by the Emmet O’Neal Library and the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. I was also heartened to see a good number of students from surrounding high schools and colleges in attendance. Dr. Andrew Demshuk, Professor of History at UAB, led the discussion.

Cemetary Prague
Historic Jewish Cemetery in Prague

This last Yiddish-language movie made in Poland is a gem that was almost buried and forgotten. The film was never shown because the postwar Communist government deemed it too “pro-Zionist.” It was smuggled via the Turkish diplomatic pouch into France. Unzere Kinder, part docu-drama, part melancholic comedy, set in a Jewish orphanage near Lodz after the war, features the popular Yiddish comedians, Szymon Dzigan and Israel Shumakher, who survived the war in the Soviet Union.

Synagogue interior
Restored Synagogue Interior Prague

In 1948, Dzigan and Szumacher visit the Helanowek orphanage near the city of Lodz to perform for an audience of Jewish orphans who survived the Holocaust. Their theatrical performance, although well intentioned, not only stirs up painful memories of recent events, but also offends the children by the naïve depiction of brutal wartime conditions. Having lived through traumatic grief and loss, the children start telling their own stories. The comedy duo play all the parts in a dramatization of Sholem Aleichem's story of Kasrilevke is Burning. Their audience consists of children from the Helenowek orphanage and school for Holocaust survivors near Lodz. When audience and performers exchange roles, the kids show the special healing power of music, dance, and storytelling. As J. Hoberman, Senior Film Critic for The Village Voice explains, “Our Children is not only among the first films about the Holocaust, it is also the first to critique its representation."
 In my opinion, what makes this film special is the way in which the filmmakers masterfully depict a dark and tragic time through the intimate, heart wrenching stories of the children yet manage to leave us with a sense of hope. To my surprise instead of feeling sad and depressed, the resilience and laughter of the children as they wake from their nightmares to play and dance in the morning sunshine poignantly restores our hope for a brighter future. An added bonus was the pleasure of hearing the comforting, nostalgic sound of Yiddish that my family conversed in when I was a child.

 In an interview Shimon Redlich, a child actor in the film, explains that his memories of acting in the movie are pleasant ones. Strangely, Redlich says that he had to learn Yiddish for the film as he spoke Polish. Although the child actors did not recount their own stories, at the time Rachel Auerbach, the scriptwriter, was collecting children’s accounts of survival for the Central Jewish Historical Commission and very likely included some of the testimonies in her script. The director, Natan Gross, survived the war in the ghettoes. This film was restored and provided by the National Center for Jewish Film. Since 1976, the NCJF has restored and distributed forgotten classics of Yiddish cinema worldwide. The movie can be loaned from the Emmett O’Neal Library, Jefferson County, Alabama., or from The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center.
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Read more: Jewish history, saved one frame at a time
Unsere Kinder Workshop
The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center
The Nine Inheritors
Munk Polish Holocaust Movie
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