|Directed by:||Jonathan Gruber||Rating:||TV-G|
|Release Date:||2001||Running Time:||57 mins|
|More Info:||Usa Today article on Holacaust survivors that returned to Poland||Category:||History and Remembrance|
Heritage trips, in which Jewish high school students visit the sites of the Holocaust, are a popular way for young Jews to connect with our people’s past and to bear witness for future generations. But Pola’s March documents the lonely perspective of one brave survivor who accompanies one of these groups, to revisit her homeland and confront the painful memories it holds.
“I don’t like to do it, but I must do it,” Pola Susswein says, explaining why she is going back to Poland after 51 years of trying to forget the horrors she suffered there. “I want to go and finish the unfinished business,” she says tentatively.
Beautifully and unobtrusively shot, Pola’s March follows Pola on her emotional journey back in time, from the beautiful sunsets of her present home in Tel Aviv to the sites of the ghetto and concentration camps of Poland where she endured the horrors of the Holocaust. As she relives the memories, she also sees the sites anew through the eyes of the American teenagers she is accompanying, answering their questions and acting for them as a bridge between the very different realities of the present and the past.
While capturing Pola’s point of view, the film also bears witness to the places where the atrocities occurred, taking the viewer on a visual tour of “the march.” The striking colors clash wonderfully with the black and white starkness of archival photos from the war and Pola’s past, evoking the idea that the Holocaust happened in black and white, and challenging it, proving that the places where the atrocities occurred are all too real.
Pola’s story of survival through the ghetto and concentration camps is revealed through intimate interviews conducted by the filmmakers, discussions with the teenagers on the trip, and her own overheard murmurings as she once again walks through the sites of her memories. It is clear why the children take so well to Pola, and why she is the perfect guide for their journey and for ours. She speaks with a frankness and honesty that is impressive, but with a calm and almost detached demeanor that makes the brutal subject matter easier to digest.
In telling the kids about the almost two years she spent in the Warsaw ghetto, she throws in an anecdote about her own adolescent rebellion, in which she sneaked out for a walk once without her yellow Star of David armband, which could have been deadly if she was caught. “I was very daring, I’m so ashamed now,” she laughs, putting a human spin that the teens can understand on the horror.
But the display of the prisoners’ confiscated shoes at Auschwitz ruffles the calm strength that Pola has struggled so hard to cultivate. “This is just a horror . . . my stomach is twisting,” she says aloud, but to herself. “Every pair a person walked, every pair a person walked,” she repeats, speaking as someone who walked those shoes. And then, a rare moment of weakness and self-doubt seeps through: “Maybe I shouldn’t have come here. I tried all these years to put up with it and be a normal person, not to have always a chip on my shoulder…to feel that I am different because of the thing that I lived through.”
Despite the suffering of the war, however, Pola’s trip is also a bittersweet homecoming, and she is excited to see the beauty of Krakow again for the first time in over fifty years. As the bus rolls through the streets, Pola points out the familiar sites to the students. When they pass her childhood home, the kids insist that the bus driver stop, and Pola gets a chance to interview the current residents and reminisce.
Back home at last in Tel Aviv, Pola evaluates her journey. “It was an accomplishment ,” she says. “For all the years I wouldn’t step into Poland, for being afraid that the memories will be so alive that I wouldn’t be able to put up with it. . . . I can live with it very well now and be happy that I did it.”
“I go back with a good feeling,” she adds, “which is the young people should learn about it. It shouldn’t be forgotten.”