chapter  18
4 Pages

Through the Eye of the Needle: The Art of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz: Witnessing the Witness Through Filmmaking: Nina Shapiro-Perl

In preparing recently for a lecture in a course I am teaching in documentary storytelling at American University, I read about how artists and survivors of political torture in Chile came together in New York to explore dramatic ways to use testimony. Inspired by the use of testimony in Latin America called Theatre of Witness, the group Theatre Arts Against Political Violence captured the stories:

[O]ral histories were conducted [emphasis added] with torture survivors as a way for others to enter into the experience of remembered torture, but in a broader landscape than one-on-one therapy (or oral history) could provide. The actors modeled the experience of torture through their bodies, symbolically transferring the words into a lived experience that would be witnessed by the public to break down the conspiracy of silence that often conƒnes the survivor in a world of isolation. … The goal of the production was to give torture survivors the ability to stand outside their experience and witness the transformation of their suffering, on stage in the company of friends and fellow survivors. The survivors became the critics and ultimately the authors, of the transformation. (Clark, 2002, p. 102)

The story hit very close to home. For the past three years, I have been producing a documentary ƒlm about the art and story of Esther Nisenthal Krinitz. It is an account of the Holocaust through the eyes of a 50-year-old woman, looking back to the day in October 1942 when the Jews of her tiny village of Mniszek in central Poland were marched out of their homes to the death camps. She remembers herself as a strong-willed, pigtailed girl of 15 refusing to go, running away with her 12-year-old sister, Mania, never to see her mother, father, older brother, and two small sisters again. She remembers the new identities and names she created for herself and her sister-now Polish Catholic farm girls-as they hid in plain sight from the Nazis and narrowly escaped death.