Jury Coordination and Notes

Nana – Deeply Touching Documentary about A Nana Who Survived the Holocaust

Nana, Reviewed by Terry Solowey

I have seen many films and documentaries about the Holocaust. However, as a first generation American Jew, this film touched me deeply and left an impact on me like no other. The story is narrated and directed by Serena Dykman, granddaughter of Maryla Michalowski-Dynamant who is her nana.

Two years ago, a NYU film student, Serena, 22 years old, was in her hometown of Brussels, Belgium at the time of the bombing of the Jewish Museum prior to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in Paris. She had been traveling with her grandmother’s memoirs for a while and couldn’t bring herself to read them. The attacks were the impetus to read her nana’s memoirs and make this incredible documentary about the life of her grandmother growing up in Poland, the onset of WWII, her plight in Auschwitz and post-war.

Nana, a survivor and Polish Jew, dedicated her life to talk about her experiences.  As a fighter and activist against intolerance, and the importance of liberty and democracy, she tirelessly spoke to students at schools, to journalists and to government officials. She led many groups to Auschwitz to show them her living quarters and fiercely told them about what she endured. Her strength, courage and tenacity impressed me deeply. In talking about such adversity, her sense of humor, “How do you like my apartment?” stopped my tears with a light moment of laughter.  Her mission: to never forget.

There are so many touching moments in this film that make a powerful impression. In one interview, she passionately talks about “the magnificent gift of fifty years of life” that she was given after the Holocaust, compelling her to talk for those who didn’t make it, exclaiming, “I had to speak out” to those who denied the Holocaust. “I had to let young people know what can happen if we support regimes like Hitler’s and others.”

In one of her talks, she was asked by a group of young people why Hitler chose to exterminate Jews and she replied, “Hitler didn’t confide in me.” The audience explodes with laughter as her wry sense of humor cuts the tension. In another scene, she talks about the need to look at the history of anti-Semitism and why it happened. She believes Hitler was manic depressive and mentally ill. “Why did the Germans who were not mentally ill vote for him? This is where we have to look for the why.”

This inspirational film is a must see. A story within a story, there are so many authentic personal stories including her memoir writer collaborator, recorder of survivor testimonies, Jewish history teacher and educational project designer among those who knew her well. Ms. Dykman’s footage is complemented by the archival footage that turned up unexpectedly.

In witnessing the three generations of women, nana left her daughter Alice and her granddaughter Serena a legacy to carry on. They do it with a strength and courage in the spirit of their nana. In today’s world, with the rise of anti-Semitism and racism, it is more relevant than ever.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it to 10 to 18 year olds as well as adults. It is in French with English subtitles. You can see NANA at film festivals across the United States. For more information, visit www:nanafilm.com.

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