Viewing and Discussing the Film
The 60-minute videocassette Return to Life, directed by Michael Lev-Tov, is a documentary film produced by the Diaspora Museum as part of the project for videotaping Holocaust survivors. Five survivors, who had been children or adolescents during the war, were selected from the dozens whose testimony was recorded.
The film documents the almost superhuman effort that these people made to gather up the fragments of their lives; adjust to freedom; seek relatives, a home, and a homeland; and resume normal life.
Through interviews and documentary excerpts, the viewer follows the five survivors as they return to life and immigrate to Palestine.
Joseph Cherney was thirteen years old when the war broke out. He was deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp, and was liberated by the Red Army.
Aviva Ungar was eleven years old when the Germans entered Warsaw. During the war, she passed as a Pole and was sent as a forced laborer to Germany, where she was liberated by the Red Army.
Dov Freiberg was fifteen years old when he was sent to the Sobibor death camp. He escaped and hid in the forests until the Red Army liberated him.
Miriam Akavia was eleven years old when the Germans captured Cracow. She was sent from the ghetto to the Plaszow concentration camp and thence to Auschwitz. She took part in the death march and was liberated by the British at Bergen-Belsen.
Cela Lieberman was seven years old when war broke out. From the Kielce ghetto, she was dispatched with her mother to Auschwitz and thence to labor camps. She was liberated in a prisoner exchange shortly before the end of the war.
Before Viewing the Film
Because of the length of the film and the emotional effort required to view it, it should be shown in two parts. The decision is left to the discretion of the teacher or instructor.
The first 30 minutes describe the first few days after liberation: feelings of loss and guilt, the wish to avenge, and the survivors’ attempts to gather up the pieces of their lives, to seek out surviving relatives, and to adjust to being free again. The second half of the film documents the survivors’ immigration to Palestine – the indecision and the final choice, the encounter with the yishuv, and the attempt to integrate into the new surroundings.
The film is complex end sensitive, touching on many issues. In order to keep the viewers’ attention focused, it is recommended that they be given a task while viewing it.
- While viewing the film, write down one sentence that you found especially moving.
- While viewing the film choose the character whose stony you found the most moving.
Questions for Discussion after Viewing:
The following are questions for discussion on the issues raised by the film. Listed in order of subject, they relate to the characters, content, and language of the film. Select those questions that you find most suitable for discussion with the viewers. It is recommended that the discussion begin with the viewing tasks.
Brief answers to the complex questions are provided in parentheses.
- a. One way to begin a film like this is to show footage of the celebrations marking the end of the war. The director chose to start differently. How? What are the opening shots of the film? (A ruined city, tanks, a white flag, shattering a statue)b. The director makes cinematic use of symbols in the opening shots.
How does he use them? (Shattering a statue, white flag, tanks)
- a. The director chose to intersperse the interviews with excerpts from documentary films shot in the DP camps, during the Bricha and “illegal” immigration operations, in Cyprus, and on arrival in Palestine. Why do you think he chose them ? How do these excerpts help convey the message of the film? (Accurate information, inducing mood, “seeing with your own eyes”)b. Today’s media use modern techniques (sophisticated cameras, close-ups) to enter into the documented reality and to express views. Was this true in the past as well?
The survivors were interviewed in their own homes. They sat in armchairs, against a background of a vase of flowers, a bowl of fruit, and photographs of children and grandchildren.
- a. Why do you think the director chose to film the survivors in their own homes?b. What message is the director trying to convey through the contrast between the survivor’s story and the image on the screen?
(Simultaneous portrayal of past, present and future; the contrast between what you see and what you hear highlights the message)
- a. How does the film end? Why did the director choose to end it like that? (Joseph Cherney and his wife are sitting on the couch in their home and watching a film depicting a tragic and horrible period in their lives.)b. The director concludes the film by using a cinematic device that creates a picture with three levels of meaning. What is the device and what are the levels? (The viewer sees Joseph Cherney and his wife as they are watching a documentary film on the Holocaust.)