Exploring the resilience of the people who created and performed the music in the face of systematic persecution and extermination by the Nazis, The Songs They Sang tells the true story of musical performances held inside the Jewish Ghetto at Vilna (now Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania) from 1941-1943.
Directed by Rohan Spong, the film centres around the stories of Shmerke Kaczerginski and Avrom Sutzkever, who steadfastly continued to compose poems and songs about their experiences of persecution, loss and grief, and organise public performances, despite their horrific circumstances.
Their refusal to relinquish their culture brought hope to a people under siege, and offered them brief respite from fear and despair.
Filmed in Israel, France, Lithuania, America and Australia, the documentary features interviews with survivors of the Vilna Ghetto – including Melbourne-based Deborah Zuben – re-enactments of the musical performances by soprano Deborah Kayser and Vilna songs arranged by Joseph Giovinazzo.
It includes harrowing footage of a visit by survivor, Frania Bracorskajc, to Ponar forest, outside Vilna, where her family and friends used to holiday before the war. During the Holocaust, the forest became the site of the massacre of more than 20,000 men, women and children from the Vilna Ghetto.
The screenings coincide with the launch of an educational resource for secondary school teachers, which provides an historical accompaniment to the documentary and its soundtrack. It will be an important resource for Victorian students, who are required to study the Holocaust as part of the history curriculum.
Profits from the screening will contribute towards the international concert tour of The Songs They Sang, which begins in November 2014. The concert will be performed at the Jerusalem International YMCA (Israel), Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche (Berlin, Germany), the Lele Teatro (Vilnius, Lithuania), Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall (New York City, US) and Schoenberg Hall (Los Angeles, US). The Lele Teatro was the original theatre in the Vilna Ghetto.
The Songs They Sang
The Backlot Studios, 65 Haig Street, Southbank
Screening: 11 – 28 June 2014
For more information, visit: www.thesongstheysang.com for details.
Image: Vilna Ghetto survivor, Frania Bracorskajc, visits the memorial at Ponar forest. Production Still from The Songs They Sang