Grapevine May 10, 2019: Badly timed bureaucracy

The advertisement said that tickets for free events were limited to two per person and that tickets not collected 20 minutes prior to the screening would be made available to other people.

May 8, 2019 21:05
4 minute read.
Grapevine May 10, 2019: Badly timed bureaucracy

The Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Bureaucracy is bureaucracy, and the fact that it may be delivered with a smile doesn’t make it any more tolerable, especially on Holocaust Remembrance Day for Martyrs and Heroes.

The screening at Beit Avi Chai last Wednesday night of the compelling docu-feature Who will write our history? based on the book by Samuel Kassow was advertised. Tickets were free, but had to be ordered ahead and collected up to 20 minutes before the screening.

The advertisement said that tickets for free events were limited to two per person and that tickets not collected 20 minutes prior to the screening would be made available to other people.

Anyone who made a morning call to the phone number well in advance, heard a recorded message listing the times during which the box office was open – meaning early afternoon till some time in the evening. Anyone who called on the Sunday before the screening heard another recorded message that said that tickets would be available only after 1 p.m. on the date of the screening.

Some people who have had the experience of waiting in the long queues at Beit Avi Chai for more than an hour before its Tisha Be’av programs, showed up at the Box Office between 12 and 12:30 p.m. only to be told that it was not providing tickets for that program until 1 p.m. But when they returned, they were told that nearly all the tickets were gone because they had been reserved on line.

One woman, a Holocaust survivor, made a fuss, and a ticket was found for her. Later in the evening, several elderly people, some with mobility problems, came early so that they could get to their seats in comfort before the arrival of the crowd. But, as is often the case at Beit Avi Chai, the doors to the auditorium stayed closed till 7:45 p.m. There is comfortable seating in the rear lobby, but there aren’t enough seats to accommodate more than a dozen people. So on a night dedicated to remembering the victims of the Holocaust, some of the survivors of the Holocaust were victims of Beit Avi Chai’s bureaucracy.

Even if equipment was being tested while the doors were closed, (which is the usual excuse), this was not a sufficiently good reason for preventing elderly and in some cases people with physical disabilities from sitting in the auditorium.

Bureaucracy aside, this was an excellent program. Ofer Aderet, a journalist with Haaretz, who specializes in researching and writing on Israel Poland relations, Poland’s attitude to the Holocaust and to Holocaust remembrance, antisemitism, et al, introduced the film to the audience, explaining what they were going to see.

He was much more eloquent and informative than some of the other people who’ve done similar things for other programs at Beit Avi Chai, and after the screening, Holocaust historian Prof. Dalia Ofer, who has actually examined copies of the Ringelblum Oyneg Shabes archives that are the main focus of the film, added her own impressions, speaking with the enthusiasm of a dedicated researcher.

Although a third of the archives have yet to be located, 60,000 pages documenting Jewish life in the Warsaw Ghetto were discovered below ground, beneath the rubble of Poland’s destroyed capital which has been beautifully rebuilt.

A brilliant social historian, Emanuel Ringelblum, gathered 60 of the most diverse Jewish intellectuals in Warsaw to document everything they saw in the ghetto. He did not want the Germans to write the history of the last Jews in Warsaw. He wanted the Jews themselves to do it from their own perspectives, as a legacy for future generations.

The film itself moves between actors playing the roles of the key figures and archive footage, which unfortunately was bequeathed to posterity by the Germans.

Even so, this footage depicts the intensity and diversity of Jewish life in Warsaw, including the cruelty and corruption of the Jewish police and also refers briefly to the noble Poles who were killed for hiding Jews in bunkers beneath their homes

In actual fact the 60 intellectuals recruited by Ringelblum were the core contributors to the archive – but altogether there were 200 of which only three survived. Most were deported to Treblinka.

Of the three survivors, one, Rachel Auerbach, a prolific author, essayist and historian had been smuggled out of the ghetto, and because she spoke perfect Polish and German, was able to live as an Aryan for the remaining years of the war.

Before that, she ran a soup kitchen in the ghetto providing only bowls of soup for the hungry, because no other food was available.

After the war, she came to Israel and was responsible for setting up the witness testimony program at Yad Vashem.

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