It probably says a lot about the United States that Menachem Daum's parents, Holocaust survivors both, gave him a name of great significance, and when his aunt registered him for school, she registered him as "Martin," because it was easier to pronounce. "Menachem," you see, means "comforter," or something approximating that. He was, to his parents, a symbol that life goes on. Their world and their people did not vanish up the chimneys at Auschwitz. I mean, there's some power behind that. Names hold a great deal of weight, and Americans don't seem to care as much about that. ("I'm an American," says Butch in [i]Pulp Fiction[/i], explaining that his name doesn't mean . . . anything.) And in fact Martin means "dedicated to Mars" or some such and probably isn't the kind of thing survivors want to lay on their son. But American awareness of names is so shaky that I deeply distrust my own poking around on that latter issue, because most name origins websites are of only dubious reliability. We're more interested in thinking any name means something cool than in understanding its real meaning.
Anyway. Menachem Daum is the son of Holocaust survivors, as is his wife, Rifka. They have sons, Akiva and Tzvi Dovid. Rifka acquired a tape of a rabbi espousing deep and fervent hate for Gentiles, expressing a belief that Jews should build a wall around Jewry and separate from Gentiles entirely. Menachem plays it for his sons, and one says it's wrong but understandable. The other basically says it's true. Menachem's father felt much the same way, but his mother had come out of the Holocaust with a distaste for God and a dislike of separating people by belief. Menachem believes that the greatest evil in the world today is religious extremism, regardless of stripe, and does what he thinks is the only solution. Rifka's father and uncles were hidden during the Holocaust by a Polish family. Despite a promise that they would write--and compensate the family for their expenses--once the boys left Poland, they never spoke to the family again. So Menachem takes his sons to find the Gentiles who saved their grandfather.
One of the sons says at the beginning that he's sure there are good Palestinians, too, and you never hear about them. He says that it's the bad Gentiles who have held all the power in the world. However, I would say instead that it's easier to remember those who have wronged us than those who just sort of get along with us, and you need to do something pretty spectacular to outweigh the bad. Don't get me wrong; the Jews have been horribly mistreated over the millennia. A lot of really bad people have held power over them as long as they've been a people. I don't dispute that at all. I just think that the average person who has had anything to do with Jews over the last six thousand years or so has let them just sort of get along. Probably this is even true of Palestinians. I think in most cases where there's bad blood today, at least, it's more about actions than ethnic and religious identity.
After all, there is old Honorata Matuszezyk Mucha and her family. They risked death for the Federman boys. According to her, at least one of their neighbours knew about it, too. The Nazis came to the farm once, and the boys were very nearly discovered, but they made it through the war through the compassion of the Muchas. They have been added to the list of the Righteous. And indeed, the fact that such a list exists pretty well shows that not all Gentiles have harmed the Jews over even the last century. People are likely, I think, to take advantage of any situation which benefits them in some way unless they are very good people, but that still proves that there are very good people in the world. Akiva and Tzvi Dovid must come to terms with the fact that some of them, at least, are Gentiles. Probably this means some of 'em are Palestinians.
In the end, the younger men are left only with things to ponder. I doubt their minds were changed, and they probably haven't been all these years later. Not entirely, anyway. It takes a lot to change minds which are set in place about How People Are. Menachem says that he hopes he's planted a seed, though, and he at least proved that Jews are capable of failing their words, too. Chaim Federman never wrote the Muchas. He never compensated them. This, we are told, is because he was at first poor and then was in obligation beyond what he could face. He was ashamed. Which is understandable. What's important here is that he overcame it. The Federman family have now set up an educational fund for Honorata Matuszezyk Mucha's grandchildren. They went through the effort to get her, her husband, and her father placed on the list of the Righteous. Maybe Menachem's sons will now think of them as exceptions to the general rule that Gentiles are to be at best ignored. But maybe having that exception will make them consider that perhaps it isn't a rule at all.
Though Daum is glad that his children and grandchildren are being raised in his father's traditions, he is also worried that they inherit his father's beliefs, that "the only good goy (gentile) is a dead one." In his attempts to widen his children's worldview, Daum undertakes a family trip to Poland, where he undertakes to find the Gentile family that was responsible for saving his wife's father and two brothers, a trip fraught with bittersweet memories and some insightful revelations.
The documentary is quite well-filmed and I liked how everything falls into place even though it moves between Brooklyn, Israel and Poland. The actual interviews with Daum's family members (his father-in-law, sons, wife, etc.) as well as interviews with the Polish people are interspersed with actual archival footage of historical events during the Holocaust. There are some truly sad moments in this documentary - as when the Daum family visit an abandoned and destroyed synagogue in the the little Polish town where Rivka's family used to live (though it's not mentioned whether it was the result of the Nazis destroying it or the communists). There are no longer any Jews living in this Polish town, but interestingly, a Polish Gentile graduate student (researching the history of the Jews in the town) helps them find the old Jewish cemetery (which has been almost obliterated), and they finally find the Polish couple who sheltered Rivka's father and his two brothers for two years (1943-1945) during the Holocaust.
It was interesting to see how Daum's two sons come to appreciate that there are good Gentiles in the world, though the ending of the documentary gives one the impression that they aren't totally convinced (there's an element of ambiguity). I wished there had been more discussion about the Polish couple and their family - the penalty for sheltering Jews during the war was almost certain death, and this couple, just simple farmers in the countryside, took great risks to hide these Jews and never heard from them after the war. I wished there was more dialogue on that aspect - and a more in-depth exploration as to their motives, and how the Polish family got through the war and rebuilt their lives after the war. This would have made it more balanced in my opinion. On the whole though - this is an insightful documentary on rapprochement between people of different faiths and cultures and quite well-done.
Daum and his wife Rivka take their two sons back to a town in Poland to a family who gave his son's two uncles safe haven during World War II. The family was Gentile. Most of the evidence of any Jewish history in the town has been nearly wiped out save for the ruins of a synagogue and the members of this Polish family.
Daum's two sons have been convinced trusting anybody outside the Jewish community is not a good thing. Daum is trying to get his son's to move from that conviction by showing his sons if it hadn't been for this Polish family his uncles and them, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would not be here today.
Humanistic to the core laced with the language of tolerance, this documentary gives us a different view of the Holocaust through the eyes of survivors and how the world of our time is affecting them and their offspring. One piece of history which we ignore and therefore know nothing about is that some Polish Jews returned to Poland after the war to look for loved ones and their old residences. What many of them found was a Polish populace which didn't want them back and even killed some of them for returning. The distrust of of Daum's sons of Gentiles is challenged but unbroken but according to Daum all he wanted to do was plant a seed.