By Rochelle Maruch Miller
The Resort is a phenomenal, award-winning film that presents a truly groundbreaking view of Theresienstadt, the Terezin internment camp during World War II. A unique camp among the Nazi models, it was used by the Nazis as a propaganda tool to dispel rumors of extermination camps by giving the false impression that Jews were being held in resort-like conditions. The representation of Theresienstadt as a resort could not have been further from the truth. Nearly 90 percent of the Jews incarcerated in Theresienstadt were murdered by the Nazis. By the war’s end, only 19,000 Jews had survived out of the 160,000 who had been sent to Theresienstadt throughout the war.
Sponsored by the World Forum for Russian Jewry, the movie reveals an unexpected story of a congregation of the brightest minds and the most elite and well-regarded intellectuals and artists of the European Jewish world. Collectively refusing to accept their likely tragic fate, and collaborating even under the harshest of circumstances, these artists, poets, writers, philosophers, and composers left behind colossal evidence of the cultural grandeur experienced in Theresienstadt.
The Resort has already received its first award, at the Houston International Film Festival, and has been chosen to show at the Montreal World Film Festival. In an interview with the 5TJT, producer Svetlana Portnyansky discussed the creative process behind The Resort as well as her involvement with the film.
RMM: Svetlana, what inspired you to become involved with The Resort?
SP: A friend had taken me to Terezin. After my visit, I was deeply touched and inspired by the cultural life and history of the concentration camp. The amount of art produced was so extraordinary, it proved to embody the message Jews had carried throughout time–their resilience and strength no matter the circumstances. I then grouped together ideas with several friends and ended up producing the documentary. I organized the traveling, filming, and most importantly, developed the idea and basis of The Resort. I just decided to take my idea a step further and the movie emerged.
RMM: What makes this film unique?
SP: The Resort sheds light on a concentration camp that gets very little attention, but is decidedly important and significant. Auschwitz is usually depicted as the primary concentration camp, and only the most horrible aspects are defined. Terezin is unique in that it was a place of hope, not death. No matter how tumultuous times got, the prisoners of Terezin never lost sight of hope and love. The prisoners collaboratively created tremendous works of art, put on entire theatrical productions, and even played symphonic orchestra concerts. This film demonstrates the extent to which these prisoners attempted to make light of their situations, revealing the so-called “Code of Life.”
RMM: The Resort is so rich in detail; what challenges did you face while bringing it to fruition?
SP: Meeting and contacting the survivors was difficult and very delicate. It was difficult to arrange visits to their homes, and we wanted to be as respectful as possible toward the interviewees. It was extraordinary for me to hear them explain their stories in their native languages; they spoke the language of Terezin. Technicalities weren’t an issue; emotional roadblocks were at times.
RMM: What were some of the most rewarding aspects of producing the film?
SP: Having people understand and see another aspect of the Jewish people and their accomplishments. Stereotypically, people group the Holocaust with Auschwitz, an extermination camp–the true sense of the word “extermination.” It is very important for me that people see that Jews, after having been given the slightest opportunity for freedom (albeit in a ghetto), prospered. After having spoken to several viewers of the film, I had come to realize that they were taken aback because they did not know anything about Terezin or the cultural ghetto it was. It makes me proud to know that I am spreading this message.
RMM: How has The Resort impacted your life?
SP: I feel much more connected to the European Jewish world. As I was born into Soviet religious oppression, I never had a chance to thoroughly get through to my Jewish roots in an Eastern European context. Communicating in a language so similar to my own (they spoke to me in Polish and Czech), it was incredible to search deep into the memories of the prisoners and attempt to experience and envision their lives at Terezin. The archives they provided, the dolls, the pictures, the paintings, and the musical works, were overwhelming. It was truly an extraordinary experience.
RMM: What reaction has the documentary elicited thus far?
SP: Although the film is directed at a fairly narrow audience, the reactions were well above my expectations. It had been accepted at two large-scale film festivals (Houston and Montreal) and won awards at both. Viewing halls were always full, and it was shocking to me that so many people (a significant population of non-Jews) had demonstrated an interest in this topic.
RMM: What is the film’s message?
SP: Resiliency is in our DNA. We are destined to overcome hardship.
RMM: Svetlana, what thoughts would you like to share with our readers?
SP: Love Israel, love your people, and most importantly, love your family. v