Greetings again from the darkness. This isn’t the first documentary profile of a Holocaust survivor, but given the timeframe involved, it’s likely to be one of the last. It’s the first feature length documentary from Jordy Sank, and he was a teenager when he first met his subject, Ella Blumenthal. Taking a different approach, Mr. Sank and a small crew filmed Ms. Blumenthal’s 98th birthday party over a weekend with her friends and extended family – kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.
Born in Warsaw in 1921, Ella was 18 years old when the war started in 1939. 23 of her family members were taken by Germans, and only she and her niece, Roma, would survive. Director Sank wisely keeps Ella on camera as much as possible because she is a true force of nature. Her stories are riveting and shocking, yet she remains so energetic … filled with light and full of life. Some animation is utilized to complement Ella’s stories to ensure that we visualize what she recalls. Her stories include her time in Majdanek, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen, three concentration camps where so many Jews were exterminated. By the time, Bergen-Belsen was liberated on April 15, 1945, Ella had spent most of 5 years in horrific captivity. She recalls how close she came to death before a nurse-friend stepped in to save her life.
Ella even tells her post-war stories, including meeting her husband, which resulted in a relocation to South Africa. The couple purchased and ran a department store, and now at age 100, Ella still lives in Cape Town, enjoying a life of friends, family, and swimming. The scar on her arm keeps the past terribly close, but this lady’s spirit is something special. We see clips of her visiting the sites of the concentration camps, and we hear a stunning story of her reaction to one particular case of antisemitism. Most of us know someone who has an admirable zest for life, but rest assured you’ll come away from Ella’s story touched and inspired … and hopefully share her approach of being thankful for every day.