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December 21, 2014 / 29 Kislev, 5775
 
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The Lion of Judah Rises

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Many Jewish people, including myself, avoid Holocaust movies because it is far too painful to watch the dehumanization of those we love. Still, facing what is painful is an important part of life. “Lion of Judah” is not an easy film to watch, but for the next generation it will be a valuable resource for educating children in a world without survivors. More importantly, it is centered on the incredible, Leo Zisman, the Lion of Judah.

An unsinkable man with a zest for life, Leo shares the most intimate details of his life in the Kovno Ghetto and more than one concentration camp. It’s shocking to hear stories of incredible brutality told by this rather gentle and humorous man to young listeners on a March of the Living trip.

Although the film would have been magnificent with Leo just sitting in the comfort of his home and telling his story, the movie also features the perspective of the group of students. One student had recently discovered she was actually Jewish, others knew they were, but had no idea what it meant. There were also non-Jews in the film crew. It was a very diverse group of people who journeyed back to Eastern Europe to follow Leo’s life path through a manmade hell.

Many of the students are truly stunned with what they found. Without giving too much away, the group encounters truly virulent Anti-Semitism, and finds themselves face to face with the images of genocide. One tragic scene shows “man on the street” interviews in Poland about Jews. Most of the young Polish interviewees seem resentful of Jews and try to minimize the nation’s collective guilt over the genocide. While a few express and show sympathy, most are tired of the subject. In contrast, the Jewish group members seem to be genuinely shocked at how little they knew about the Holocaust and are desperate to understand.

A strange connection is made for one participant when he actually finds a bone fragment scattered in the dirt making it clear that the verdant fields around him are graveyards. Leo is disgusted with the cleanliness and sterility of the camps turned museum, and reminds them how filthy it was when in use.

One of the most powerful ways the movie helps move the journey along is interjecting actual footage of the Holocaust, highlighting Leo’s descriptions in a way that truly chills the heart. Although the moviemakers insist they took the least graphic clips, the scenes are heartrending and parental discretion should be advised as some of the scenes will bring an adult to tears. Yet, few moments can compare to when Leo breaks down and describes how a “German take(s) a baby, maybe a month old, and rip it up like a chicken…” Quite a few in the audience, including myself started to cry, as Leo tries to wrap his mind around how a man could do that to such an innocent.

Although the question is never answered, it is clear that the students take the message. When they came back home, each seemed to have formed a deeper connection to what it means to be Jewish. Instead of wallowing in sadness, the movie ends optimistically and with the message that in spite of the horrors found in it, the world is a beautiful place. When one hears Leo still able to joke after all he has seen, one can have hope for the future.

Leo’s story is so incredible that I recommend not only seeing the movie, but getting a copy of Mr. Zisman’s book, Ani Ma’amin. The story of his survival is so miraculous, Leo has to actually count the ways in which he cheated death. Although every story is incredible, my personal favorite is how Leo rallied his fellow children to march into Auschwitz in formation, singing Ani Ma’amin as a show of defiance. An angel must have put it into his head, because not only was it a way to keep up morale among the Jewish students, it also impressed the Germans enough to allow them to live. I will remember that story for the rest of my life, and sang Ani Ma’amin to myself the entire way home.

The movie has its flaws; the score is overly dramatic and should have made better use of silence. I applaud the producers for not going the traditional Klezmer route and trying to use something more original. At its best, there is actual street music from Poland to highlight the culture, but at dramatic scenes, the music is heavy thudded sounds that scream, “here is a dramatic scene.” Considering the film is showing a gas chamber, there is little need to add to the effect.

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8 Responses to “The Lion of Judah Rises”

  1. Sue Knight says:

    Hello Elke Weiss, I note you say: "Most of the young Polish interviewees seem resentful of Jews and try to minimize the nation’s collective guilt over the genocide."

    Collective guilt! And, in the official history of WW2, are the Axis Powers now Poland, Poland and Poland?

    My own dear aged father fought in the Polish Free Forces – on the Allied Side, against Hitler (if I am still allowed to say that?) – and those forces made a significant contribution to the Allied Victory.

    Their reward?

    A brutal betrayal the moment the war ended, and vilification ever since. And now "collective guilt"…

    Is the moral of the story to stay out of these wars and stay neutral? Those countries that managed to do so saved their people from so much suffering, and they don't come in for any of this vilification either.

    Though, on a personal level, I am very very grateful to my father for making it to the UK against all the odds.

  2. Carol Dove says:

    "Most of the young Polish interviewees seem resentful of Jews and try to minimize the nation’s collective guilt over the genocide." I wish you would remember it was Poland that was attacked and now you are trying to instill guilt. Please stop victimizing Poland as they were attacked from all sides and fought to save Poland. Poland was not just fighting Nazi but Soviets as well. Far after the war was over Polish were still being killed by Soviets.

  3. Sue Knight says:

    Hello Carol, I suppose this is the new version of history. In the world of What Really Happened in WW2, Poland was occupied by both Hitler and Stalin and all Poles were targeted for genocide.

    "On August 22, 1939, on the invasion of Poland, Hitler gave explicit permission to his commanders to kill "without pity or mercy, men, women, and children of Polish descent or language"". (Wikipedia)

    The current version of WW2 is obviously quite different. I suppose it is a least a strong warning to be very careful about believing everything we are told – especially when it comes to war!

  4. Sue Knight says:

    Carol, I have replied to your post above – sorry, I intended it to appear here, but through some mystery of the internet, it floated off to the top.

  5. Edward Reid says:

    This writer has no clue. I lived in Poland amongst young Poles. I've been to the camps many times. What I saw? Disrespectful Israeli students mocking Poles. Millions of Poles died at the hands of the Nazis. Jews seem to forget this and dwell on exclusive suffering. They also forget that when the Soviets invaded from the east – many collaborated(FACT). Thus sending many Poles to their deaths. Poland was also ruled by a large majority Jewish Communist leadership until 1956 (FACT). Hey, Jewish Press – Why don't you have me write an article about Poles – an American who is not Polish, who lived in Poland and actually knows Polish people and history(FACT). It would make for an interesting and factual piece(FACT)!

  6. Edward Reid says:

    Remember what the Jews in Anders army did? Then how Anders treated them for treason. They should be grateful.

  7. The Germans must be delighted that you shift the blame for the Holocaust from Nazi Germany to Poland, a nation they brutally victimized. You are using a method successfully applied by the Nazi propaganda machine: " A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth".

  8. Sue Knight says:

    Of course, once you let the "collective guilt" geni out of the bottle, where does it stop? As the Hebrew Scriptures warn, "man has dominated man to his injury". To his injury, not to his good. At the moment, the politics of it, or the Political Correctness of it, seems to define who is "uber" – who may not be criticised or blamed – and who is "unter" – who can safely be criticised and vilified. But what then happens is that the double standards of "the world" get thrown into sharp relief.

    And my hope, Yvonne, Carol, Elke and Edward, and anybody else who may be reading, is that it will help us to think seriously about the God of Abraham's command that we are be "no part" of the world – to stand clear of its politics and its wars and its attitudes – to treat all with kindness and respect, whether they have PC-protection or not – and to trust in our Creator, who has promised us a rescue. Have any of the God of Abraham's promises ever failed? They never have, and they never will.

    Now, I don't want to be part of a world that vilifies my dear aged father because he was Polish. I want to draw close to God, who tells me to love and honour my parents. So please don't forget, there is a big silver lining to all this, but only thanks to the God of Abraham, the true God.

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