Saul Dreier and Ruby Sosnowicz view the world with love and joy—even though the nonagenarians went through the terrible years of World War II and lost many of their family members.
Relocated to Florida and devoted to music, the two best friends—a drummer and accordion player, respectively—formed the first (and maybe only) Holocaust survivors band in the world.
Their story, with its highs and lows, is told in “Saul & Ruby: To Life” by award-winning documentarian Tod Lending. It is one of the films featured in the 26th annual Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival.
This year, viewers will experience something very different, as they’ll be home, not in a seat at Midtown Cinema. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival is streaming for audiences over a full month, from June 28 to July 30.
Lending brought a great deal of passion to his documentary.
“I saw a short, four-minute piece on Saul and Ruby in the New York Times ‘Op-Docs’ series and completely fell in love with these two remarkable men,” he said. “When I heard other production companies were pursuing the story, I immediately jumped on a flight to Ft. Lauderdale from my home in Chicago and met them.”
The filmmaker spent four years creating the 80-minute documentary—showing the band performing in synagogues and community centers, even at the Millennium Stage of Kennedy Center. They go on to fulfill a dream—to perform in Poland, where they experienced such horrors. In Warsaw, they draw a huge audience, including many Poles who rescued Jews during the war.
Julie Sherman, JFF chair, calls “Saul & Ruby” “triumphant and quirky.”
“The Jewish Film Festival always wants to make sure there’s Holocaust content, especially as more and more survivors pass on,” she said.
Other films will also address the time of the Holocaust.
“Those Who Remained,” “My Name Is Sara” and “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” explore different aspects of the European Jewish experience, particularly those of children. They represent stories of those who survived the camps but lost their whole families; children left on their own who survived by denying their Judaism, taking on Christian identities and hiding in plain sight; and those who became refugees when they fled in the lead-up to the war and had to learn new languages and embrace new cultures, finding the resilience to survive.
In addition, “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz” profiles the man who, after witnessing Nazi concentration camps shortly after the liberation, became the lead prosecutor in the last of the Nuremberg trials. Now 98, he went on to advocate for restitution for Jewish Holocaust victims and, later, the establishment of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The festival, as always, includes a good dose of humor.
“It’s often difficult to find a comedy,” Sherman said. “This year, we found three, and we’re showing two of them.”
One is “Mossad!” a film of broad humor directed by Alon Gur Arye, about a not-so-bright intelligence agent trying to rescue a kidnapped billionaire. The consultant on the film, Israel’s highest grossing last summer, was David Zucker, creator of the comedies “Airplane!” and “The Naked Gun.”
The other comedy is the farcical “Douze Points,” in which a man chosen to represent France in Tel Aviv at Europe’s biggest song contest is thrown together with his one-time best friend, who is now a terrorist.
“If it doesn’t sound funny, it is,” Sherman said.
Another documentary in the series is “Golda,” based on a TV interview with the only female prime minister in Israeli history shortly before her death. Also included are testimonies by supporters and opponents.
Ten films will be presented altogether—two per week. Each will have a 24-hour screening period starting at 6 p.m., beginning on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
“People can come and go as they please,” Sherman said.
On the evening that a film ends, there will be either a special event or what the Harrisburg JCC, the festival organizer, is calling a ‘virtual office cooler”—or Zoom discussion—for anyone who watched it.
“This is the only way to have so much of the communal aspect of the festival,” Sherman explained.
The JCC is not asking for money this year, but people can donate to the Midtown Cinema Staff Emergency Relief Fund on the website. They can also donate to the Jewish Federation Annual Campaign. Because the series is free and there will no accompanying brochure, JFF is not giving credit to sponsors. It will have sponsors again next year.
Lending, founder and director of Nomadic Pictures, a documentary production company, is among the Zoom speakers at the festival.
“Before meeting Saul and Ruby, I couldn’t imagine making a film that touched on the Holocaust because so many important works have already been produced on the subject in films, books, music paintings, theater, etc.,” he said. “But I think the film we made does provide a new perspective and experience to this remarkably important and tragic part of human history.”
Next year, Sherman said, she hopes the film festival will be in the traditional movie-going format at Midtown Cinema.
“Midtown and the JCC are really a good team,” she said.
The Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival runs June 28 to July 30. The festival is free, but viewers must register for their “season’s pass” on the JFF website at www.hbgjff.com. After registering, they will receive the film link. All information and instructions are on the website.