For the past five years, Project Witness has produced a brand-new Holocaust-related documentary for the Three Weeks. This year “Rosja” will highlight the resolute endurance and the spiritual courage of several hundred thousand Jews who were exiled to Siberia. “Rosja” will be screened at a premiere performance on Wednesday, July 11, at the Williamsburg Hotel, and will be followed during the Nine Days by multiple screenings in communities across the nation.
When we think of the Holocaust, most of us are automatically transported in our minds to the ghettos, labor camps, and death camps of Eastern Europe. What we don’t realize is that hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews experienced another type of Holocaust — amidst the horrors and frozen hardships of the far-flung Soviet wastelands of Siberia. Their story, their privation, and their spiritual courage form the nucleus of the latest and long-awaited Project Witness documentary.
“Rosja” chronicles the ordeals faced by 250,000 Polish Jews who were exiled to the gulags and “settlements” of the Soviet Union in Siberia. These survivors, together with the remnants of those who endured the Nazi death camps and death marches, form the core from which today’s vibrant Orthodox communities have emerged triumphant, and their story begs to be told as well.
“Rosja” presents a poignant and mostly untold story, and it is different from previous Project Witness documentaries, since the latter dealt primarily with the inhumanity of the Nazis rather than with that of the Soviets. Jews who had initially fled from Nazi-occupied Poland to Soviet-occupied Poland to escape from the Nazis found themselves being sent to Siberia by the Soviets, often as a result of the spiritual choices they made. They experienced the vengefulness of the Soviets and suffered intensely in the process. However, they did not experience the Nazi genocide machine and, consequently, a larger percentage of the Jews who were exiled to Siberia survived.
Fascinatingly, the rationale that caused Hitler to sign (and later on in 1941 to renege on) a non-aggression treaty with the Soviet Union made a big difference to those Polish Jews who found themselves in the Soviet sector of Poland whence they had fled from Nazi-occupied Poland. Given a choice of accepting or rejecting Soviet citizenship, many of these Jews rejected Soviet citizenship on principle. This action resulted in their banishment to Siberia. Essentially, and ironically, this decision granted many of them life, because once the non-aggression pact was no longer functional, Hitler seized the Soviet portion of Poland as well, sealing the fate of those Jews trapped there. Yet at the time of the citizenship decision, Jews had every reason to assume that they would be relatively safe in Soviet-controlled Poland. To choose exile in the barren icefields of Siberia required deep spiritual courage.
Reservations for the Project Witness premiere performance of “Rosja” can now be secured. If you are unable to attend the premiere, please watch for the dates of additional performances that will take place in multiple locations during the Nine Days.
Last year, during the Three Weeks, more than 10,000 viewers attended many screenings of “Hidden,” the Project Witness documentary that dealt with the heartrending experiences of children who had spent the war years in Europe in hiding. As the years progress and Project Witness programs increase in scope and reach, public interest in the organization and in its annual documentaries is growing exponentially. Consequently, an even larger group of attendees is expected to view “Rosja.”
Just as with all previous Project Witness documentaries, “Rosja” promises a deeply moving experience that will be intensely inspirational. Especially important nowadays is its message of faith and hope for the younger generation, many of whom have little or no prior information about what transpired just over 70 years ago under the Nazis and the Soviets.
To reserve for the premiere and for further information about “Rosja,” please contact Project Witness at 718-Witness, extension 244, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.