The structure of After Auschwitz may be simple (talking heads and archival footage), but the cumulative effect of six women revealing the physical, psychological, and emotional toll taken on Holocaust survivors is a powerful testament to individual humanity emerging from inhuman horrors. Director Jon Kean chronicled these same women’s adolescence spent in Nazi concentration camps in his 2007 documentary, Swimming in Auschwitz. Kean’s enlightening follow-up starts in 1945, when the young women (ranging in age from 16 to 23) began to comprehend that the pre-war Jewish life they’d known in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Holland had been obliterated.
They have markedly different perspectives on their shared experiences, starting with liberation. Erika Jacoby recalls the fleeting exhilaration of digging under her camp’s barbed wire fence. Lili Majzner was enraged by the further desecration of mass graves being filled by SS officers. Rena Drexler expresses powerless fury when occupants of her family’s home refused to acknowledge ownership. Tremulous Linda Sherman was freed only after forced labor at a Russian hospital, and resolute Eva Beckmann went to work for a displaced persons organization.
The women describe rage and resignation, and rock-solid marriages built from bone-deep loneliness. All would settle in booming, sunny Los Angeles, but it took decades to begin reconciling the two worlds. When fashion designer Renee Firestone displays a dress with hand-painted vertical stripes in eye-popping colors, its faint echoes of the Nazi camp uniform are overpowered by her joy of creation. If the Holocaust is fading from collective memory, it’s not because survivors have failed to tell their stories. These women’s voices reverberate through the years, vividly recalling the past after long lives they scarcely could have imagined.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on April 20, 2018 by Passion River Films
First published in The Village Voice, 2018.