- Personal Statement from Alix Wall -

Composed as Europe’s Jews were facing their own extinction, songs written during the Holocaust era have come to serve as another kind of testimony to the horrors inflicted by Nazi Germany. Despite the fact that over 1,000 songs were written during the Holocaust, none of them have ever been memorialized in the form of a film.

Shmerke Kaczerginski was a poet from Vilna, a pre-war Jewish cultural center, known as “Jerusalem of the North.” He wrote the lyrics to no less than 233 songs from the period, some better known than others. In 1943, while in the Vilna Ghetto, he wrote a song that may be lesser known but is the most familiar to me.

Called “Dos Elnte Kind,” or “The Lonely Child,” it tells the tale of a young Jewish girl, Sorele, (a nickname for Sarah) whose father has been killed by the Nazis. Sorele’s mother has sent her into hiding with her gentile nanny.

The last stanza of the song is: “If someday, a mother you’ll be, you must make your children aware of how we suffered under the enemy. Forget not the past, not for one single day.”

I am Sorele’s daughter. I do not have any children to pass this lesson onto. And yet, while I have struggled with what my duty is vis-à-vis my family’s story, it is so incredibly moving to me to know that others — some of whom I am connected with, some of whom I am not — are keeping the song alive without any effort by me, not even knowing who my grandmother or mother were.

There is another reason why this story is so powerful to me. I always knew that Kaczerginski was a possible contender for my grandmother’s affections after they survived, but she married someone else.

As a child-free woman, and the only descendant of this mother and daughter — who are both now deceased — making a film about how this song lives on and touches people some 70 years later feels like the most obvious way to honor this legacy.

At the same time, the subtitle: “This is not a Holocaust Film” alludes to my own discomfort about it. While the experts will describe the context in which it was written, the movie is very much about who is performing the song now.

I also hope to engage those keeping the song alive in a dialogue, exploring the central question: just what is our responsibility to the survivors and their stories? It is not lost on me that a song will outlast all of us; a film will as well.