Released January 9, 2020
1 hour 20 mins
Nomadic Pictures, Samuel Goldwyn Films
Saul Dreier grew up in Krakow, survived three concentration camps, immigrated to the U.S., worked in construction in New Jersey and retired to Coconut Creek, Florida. At the age of 91, this drum player set his heart on forming a klezmer band comprised of Holocaust survivors.
As he tells it at the very start of this incredible documentary, he broached his novel idea with his wife Clara. “She told me—you’re crazy. Then I went to my rabbi…he told me also I’m crazy, So, my instinct told me that just on the contrary, because they told me I’m crazy, I’m gonna do it!”
And that is exactly what he did.
He met fellow survivor 87-year old Reuwen (“Ruby”) Sosnowicz, a keyboard and accordion player, who had spent his working life as a Brooklyn hairdresser and professional musician.
Saul is the sole survivor of 30 family members. From 1941-43 he was a prisoner in the Płaszów concentration camp where, at the age of 17, he was whipped by the infamous commander Ammon Goeth. In 1943 he was sent to work for Oskar Schindler after which he was moved to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp from where he was finally liberated.
Ruby escaped the Warsaw ghetto and, together with his parents and eight siblings, boarded a train to the Polish/Russian border. There he became separated from his family, but was found and hidden in a cowshed by a Polish farmer. After the war, he was reunited with his family who had spent the war in a Siberian labor camp.
When the film opens, both retirees are devotedly caring for their sick and rapidly ailing wives—to whom each has been married for over 50 years.
But to assume this is just another depressing Holocaust survivor film would be a huge mistake. Far from it. This outstanding documentary, about survival and the joys of living, is suffused with humor and boundless energy.
True, there is the ever-present backdrop of the horrors both men endured and the irreplaceable loss of their relatives and pre-war lives in Poland. But despite all this, Saul and Ruby’s indomitable spirits shine through.
Their ardent desire, which they see as culminating their legacy, is to play in Auschwitz and Warsaw in memory of “the six million (Jewish) people that perished.” We follow them, along with Ruby’s daughter and fellow band member Chana, on a fundraising tour in synagogues, public libraries, movie theaters and community centers in Florida, Ohio, Canada and the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
And then Saul and Ruby (along with Chana) are in Warsaw and Krakow, revisiting where they grew up. Their tour of Poland is the most eye-opening part of the film. While archive footage and photos bring the two men’s histories alive, the reception they receive in modern-day Poland is truly astonishing. Lionized by Polish TV and radio, they attract massive crowds to their concerts, where they sing in English, Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.
Finally, they are standing in front of a railway carriage on the tracks leading to Auschwitz, playing their instruments and singing.
Despite all the terrible trials and tribulations both Saul and Ruby have endured, producer Tod Lending’s feature documentary is an extraordinary and inspirational tribute.
As Holocaust survivor, Viktor E. Frankel, wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning,
“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”
Saul and Ruby found meaning in their shared love of music.
And yet, the closing minutes of the movie offer a sobering glimpse of the lessons still to be learned. Over recently shot footage of anti-Semitic demonstrations in the United States, Spain, Sweden, France and Italy, Saul implores, “We have to stop it, we have to stop it.”
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