International Day of commemoration
in memory of the victims of the Holocaust
Memorial Ceremony and Concert
General Assembly Hall
27 January 2010
Co-producer of the film Defiance
I was 10 years old before I learned that both my parents were Holocaust survivors. My father had abandoned his medical studies in Vilna to flee Europe in 1940 and my mother was saved by Christians in Nazi-occupied Poland. Slowly, as Mom began work on her memoir, "Dry Tears", she shared details of her childhood spent in hiding.
There are the obvious dramatic examples of altruism, such as the Polish Catholic family that harbored her for the duration of the war, pretending she was a niece, in spite of the risk to their own lives. And there are the less obvious examples. The woman in the black market who, seeing a scrawny eleven years old girl trying to sell rolls among the adults, chose to offer guidance and help rather than either ignoring or defeating her new young competitor. Or the factory foreman who offered shelter on the factory floor to his former boss, my grandfather, despite the fact that under German occupational law, to offer help to a Jew was illegal.
My mother's work has given me a deep appreciation for people's ability to surprise us and to exceed our expectations. The understanding that both my parents' survival is a direct result of countless acts of conscience in defiance of the law has colored my world view and my own work as a writer and filmmaker.
When I saw my own country succumbing to the climate of fear cultivated by the Bush administration, I felt I had to respond as an artist. In 2008, shortly after the filming of "Defiance", my American film, "We Pedal Uphill", was released. The fact that the film I made focused on stories of tiny acts of bravery rather than the larger perversions of our legal system, can be traced to my mother's lifelong determination (borne of her own wartime experience) to focus on (and illuminate for us all) the good that overcomes evil, the cooperation that transcends chaos and the hope that stamps out despair.
We have a responsibility to teach our children that throughout history and in every corner of the globe, wherever and whenever evil rears its ugly head, there are always individuals who look into their soul and find the strength to follow their conscience and say "no." Our future on the planet depends on them.