Research for our film began when I learned about this large ghetto that had been set up by the German conquerors for the Jewish population right within this major large Polish city of Lodz during Word War II – the second largest ghetto (after the one in Warsaw). It existed longest, for more than 4 years until August 1944/January 1945.
This ghetto was — and this touched and moved me strongest — surrounded by a city inhabited by German and Polish people over this long time of more than 4 years.
How did this population perceive and deal with the fact of this blatantly public prison?
I felt that in this city of Lodz (then re-named to “Litzmannstadt” by the German conquerors) we could possibly research on the relationship between victims, perpetrators and bystanders — in a way that may not be possible in any other European city.
This ghetto had been isolated from the rest of the city which was now part of the newly created German “Warthegau”. Yet, at the same time the ghetto was an open secret to the non-Jewish people of Lodz.
The tram lines – one of them Line 41 – running through it gave the “people” of “Litzmannstadt” opportunity to see the ghetto on a daily basis. In this city, these populations lived closest and yet worlds apart.
The German conquerors over this time period worked on building a ‘reine deutsche Musterstadt’, a pure, clean Germanic model city.
Victims of the German politics and propaganda were the Jewish population – who were categorized as sub-human – and in the next step, the Poles who were categorized as second-rate humans.
My greatest concern in 2011 or 2012 was to find last witnesses of this period, from ‘both sides of the fence’ — no, fences, many fences — who then were victims of the German politics, and also those who came from the perpetrator side, and those who stood by…………
Time pressure was immense knowing that many of the witnesses would have reached high age.
In the face of this time pressure, we started and continued our film work without any film funding.
While we dealt with historical questions, I felt these questions were universal in the sense that under certain conditions what happened then may happen again.
What happened then and was done to people, humans, children, parents, elders…. in greatest brutatilty – was perpetrated and stood by – by humans – all-too-humans. In fear – or ignorance? Made possible by an “army” of burocrats, teachers, journalists, doctors, priests, mothers and fathers – “citizens”? In what way are we today-people different from the bystanders of back then?
While these questions were historical, when we filmed in Lodz with last witnesses – they were highly emotional and personal at the same time – as we set out on a search for the lost brother of one of our main protagonists, Natan Grossman. Together we went on the search to what happend to his older brother Ber who vanished while the whole the family was in the ghetto.
We wanted to lend a voice to witnesses still alive, and their perspectives could at times only be contrasted with each other, set apart from each other, without touching.
How could we ever find a meeting point? Their personal perspectives were too harsh and too much apart, and too personal.
Yet at one late point – already editing – we decided that some of the witnesses should in fact meet and confront each other. And started filming again.
Most importantly, we wanted to lend a voice to those who perished in the Ghetto Litzmannstadt (Lodz), in extermination camp Kulmhof and concentration camp Auschwitz.
While our aim was to find answers, we keep on raising questions – to this very day.
Tanja Cummings, June 2018