DARKNESS CASTS NO SHADOW
(The story of four children from the small town of Rokytne, who hid from Nazis in a dugout in the forests of Western Ukraine for two winters and miraculously survived. Many years later, another miracle happened: it turned out that they were now living in the same city again, this time in Toronto, Canada, where the story is filmed.)
The documentary is built around a narrative performed by the film’s protagonist, Alex Levin, a long time Canadian and one of four children who survived a Nazi invasion together and have all lived in Toronto at the same time but didn’t know it. Alex wants to share his childhood experiences with Canadian audiences.
His book, Under Red and Yellow Stars, was published in Canada a few years ago. An especially important part of the film as well as Alex Levin’s real life is his visits to schools, where he meets with children and tells them the story of his life, what he and other survivors went through while living in the woods hiding from Nazis. Those meetings with Canadian schoolchildren, their questions, their inquisitive eyes, are all part of the most emotional aspect of the movie.
At times, the narration is interrupted by interviews with other people, somehow related to the main story or commenting on the subject of the Holocaust. All of this is richly illustrated by old photos and a variety of other visuals, shot in different times and at various locations around the world. Charming classical music serves as the film’s soundtrack.
The film as such is preceded by a quote from the famous Czech-Jewish author Arnošt Lustig: “There are three war-related questions that remain open to me. First, why did such civilized and cultured people like the Germans perpetrate a mass murder of helpless people? Second, why did the Jews, in spite of all their historical experience, allow themselves to be treated like that? And finally, why did the world let this happen?”. This serves as the epigraph to the whole documentary.
At the beginning of the movie, Alex Levin makes a brief statement about what he considers his lifetime mission:
“My brother was killed when he was five. My mother was killed and my father was killed. They can’t write or talk. I have to do it while I’m still in my right mind and can walk. I have to do it for them because they can’t. I tell children: I’ve been a kid like you, and that’s what I saw and went through. If one out of a hundred would understand and remember and tell his children that there was such a guy named Alex who told him his story, I will have achieved my goal. Here I am, dear children, telling my story to you.”
Canadian children have to know how life was and is now outside of Canada.
After a short talk with children about the peculiarities of living in the forest, he begins his tale. First he describes Rokytne, a small town in the present day West Ukraine, which belonged to Poland during his youth. He tells us about his family, father, mother, and brothers. He shares his childhood memories about his school, his home, visits to his grandmother, Shabbat customs, and life in general.
Then, in 1939, everything changed. Poland was divided between Germany and the USSR, and Rokytne happened to be in a Soviet-occupied zone.
In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. German troops entered the town, cheered by the locals (except the Jewish population).
Alex briefly changes the subject, explaining how he got his name. After the war, he joined the Suvorov cadet college, where he officially became Alex: “Yeshua is my real name. And when commissar said, ‘Shurik brought letters,’ so I became Shurik, I became Sasha, I became Alexander.”
Then his tale is interrupted by an audio fragment from the Internet radio show called Holocaust as a Profitable Scam, where someone with the cheerful voice of a weatherman declares that the Holocaust is a myth, and the whole story was concocted and perpetuated as a part of a money-sucking scam.
Alex goes back to his story, depicting life under the Nazi administration, the horrors of the ghetto, and finally, the fatal day of August 25, 1942, when all ghetto dwellers were herded together to be transported to an execution site and shot en masse when a part of the crowd tried to escape. In the following stampede and chaos, Alex and his older brother (who at this moment joins the narration) managed to flee into the woods…
The tale is interrupted by an interview with Nina Chiruk, who worked in the Rokytne administration in 1990s, talking about the present-day town. This is followed by a second audio fragment from the above-mentioned radio show, with the same voice explaining that the Holocaust didn’t happen, because it could not happen… The audio is accompanied by the horrifying video footage taken in various Nazi concentration camps.
The documentary then narrates the children’s first days in the forest, and goes into survival tips and tricks as told by Alex, and memories of those who lived with them in the woods.
The documentary ends with updates on the lives of all of the main characters and how they ended up moving to Canada and becoming assimilated into Canadian society.
We meet four people who miraculously survived during the Holocaust and then just as miraculously happened to live in the same city of Toronto. Each one of them had different circumstances, reasons, and paths that bought them to Canada—and what’s most important, they all became respectable members of the multicultural Canadian society.
Alex Levin became a home builder, his brother Sam became a successful businessman, Larry Gomulka chose a career as an English schoolteacher, and Yona Bromberg worked in various Canadian banks for many years. They raised children and grandchildren.
We meet them all in this film. They are smart and hardworking people for whom Canada became a homeland.
And they want the horror of the Holocaust to never ever happen again.