I just returned from Belarus. I went back to my father’s hometown of Brest Litovsk, to shoot segments of a documentary, “Sacred Names”, that I have been working on for the past couple years.
As I continue my discovery into this opaque part of my past, I started helping the local Jewish community to build a memorial. Out of the 32,000 Jews who lived in Brest during the war, only about 200 of them survived — of those, possibly only my father is still alive.
In the 1950’s, the Soviets built a football stadium on top of the Jewish Cemetery. Over the past seven years, Jewish headstones have begun to surface as the city was rebuilding roads and buildings. The gravestones had been used as building materials.
There are now more than 2000 pieces of these headstones, some fully intact and other smaller chards. The headstones have been stockpiled near the Brest Fortress. Plans have been drawn up. The city has set aside a piece of land adjacent to the original cemetery. Sadly, the community has no money to build the memorial and politics and bureaucracy are thick.
A few months ago I was put in touch with a UK based charity, The Together Plan, that is doing work helping Jewish communities across Belorussia to grow in self sustaining ways. Last year they learned about the headstones and have made it a central project in their plans.
We were put together two months ago and out of those Skype calls has come this trip. They bring the structure and familiarity with Belorussia and I bring one of the last living links back to a native son of this town.
I will be traveled with two members of The Together Plan as we attempt to move forward this vital project to honor the rich Jewish life of Brest which has all but been erased.
You can follow the blog and some photos via the following links over the next week and beyond.
Sacred Names is a documentary exploring the lasting effects of the Holocaust through the eyes of the son of a survivor. Shot over several years, the film is a cross generational look at survival, loss, and hope.
Stephen Grynberg is an independent filmmaker and writer. He wrote and directed his first feature film, the critically acclaimed, Love From Ground Zero in 1998. Since then he has worked as a writer, cinematographer and director in documentary and narrative films. Stephen’s most recent film, the feature length doc, A Life Ascending, about the life of an acclaimed mountaineer, won 11 international film awards. Stephen is currently developing the narrative comedy The Fall of Man about the state of men in a post-feminist world and the documentary Sacred Names continuing a personal cinematic exploration into his relationship to the Holocaust as the son of a survivor. Outside of film, Stephen is creating the web-based initiative Illuminate, to increase the awareness and engagement of Yom HaShoah in the Diaspora. The initiative will allow users to annually engage in a digital, socially connected, globally tracked candle lighting ritual on Yom HaShoah. The website and corresponding mobile app will be in beta testing this April. Stephen also teaches writing and film and is a founding member of the Men’s Leadership Council of the Rape Treatment Center at UCLA/Santa Monica hospital. Stephen has a degree in directing from the American Film Institute, an MBA from Columbia University and a BS in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University. He holds a graduate certificate from the Integrated Body Psychotherapy Institute. He is married to Susan Winfield, a psychotherapist. They have 12-year-old twins and live in Santa Monica.