With impeccable credentials as a political scientist and historian, Prague-born documentarian Lukás Pribyl is a tireless researcher driven by moral imperative. His four-film series about the struggles of Czech Jews during the Holocaust took a decade to make: Pribyl visited 30 countries to record 400 hours of interviews with 70 survivors of Hitler's terror, spending months in archives and the homes of local residents while sifting through thousands of film fragments and mountains of deportation transcripts.
Pribyl's labors have resulted in six hours of riveting individual testimony, unburdened by narration or commentary. Each film tells the story of a unique survival strategy. In To Estonia, deported Czech women tell of the naive acts of sharing that saved them from the genocide occurring around them. In To Belarus, old men describe the armed resistance they mounted in their long-vanished youth. The survivors in To Poland describe their lives on the run, a succession of disguised identities and reinvented selves. To Latvia concentrates on the heroic efforts of Jews imprisoned in the Riga ghetto to preserve family life.
For the 36-year-old Pribyl, whose own grandfather survived an obscure Nazi concentration camp, Forgotten Transports demanded uncommon rigor. He coaxed and pleaded for months and even years before some of his reluctant subjects granted interviews; 90 percent of these survivors had never talked about their wartime experiences to anyone, not even their children. Pribyl even bribed Polish villagers with bottles of vodka to give up their old war photos, including those of the SS commandants of little-known concentration camps. “I decided everything people [said would] be documented with authentic pictures and footage from that time and place,” the filmmaker told a New York Times reporter, in tribute to the cold fact that of the tens of thousands of Czech Jews shipped off by the Germans to camps in the east, fewer than 300 survived.
One of them, Anna Kraus Bauer, recalls her terrifying train ride to an Estonian labor camp. “I remember I kept looking at the moon,” she says, “telling myself it is shining here, and it is shining at home too—the very same one. So maybe things won't be so bad.”
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