"Testimonies of Triumph," a short film about a Jewish Polish family that endured years in hiding to escape the Holocaust, is to have its first broadcast Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. on public television station KOCE.
Jack Pariser, a 71-year-old Holocaust survivor, narrates the 28-minute film. He tells a college class the story of his family's tribulations, spent on the run from Nazi death squads in the woods and farmhouses of his hometown, Jodlowa. In 1939, Jews made up about half of the 600 people who lived in Jodlowa, a southwestern Polish village near the Czech Republic border.
"What's remarkable is how hard they had to work to survive," says Jay Boylan, a Chapman University film professor, who co-produced the film with Pariser.
"To survive took all their cunning and skill." Even so, he says, "they had help, and they had to be a little lucky."
With archival photographs, charcoal drawings and contemporary scenes, the film recounts and revisits the places where the Parisers hid. It starts with Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939. Luck came by way of a village policeman, who warned the Parisers that death squads would arrive the following day. Taking what food and clothing as they could carry, Pariser, his sister, Rose, and their parents escaped into the dense woods, hiding until the onset of winter.
Initially, they sought shelter from one farm family, but fled to another out of fear they had been spotted. The second farmer betrayed them to police, who jailed them in the village lockup. That night, Pariser's father feverishly poked a letter opener into the mortar around the cell's window. As day dawned, a brick finally gave way, opening an escape route.
Desperate, the Parisers returned to the farm where they had first sought help. This time, the owner permitted them to stay in an outbuilding that had an underground pit that could be covered over with dirt. For two years, the family was buried alive, emerging once a fortnight to obtain food.
In a final twist, the Parisers were evicted from the inhospitable grave and forced to seek the aid of yet another farmer. Their last hiding place was a barn, though their stay was brief. Two weeks later the Russian army arrived to liberate Poland.
In August 1998, Boylan and Pariser returned with a film crew, spending six days in Poland filming the locations where the family's harrowing tale took place. "The worst part was going back to the jail where we were held," says Pariser, though the jailhouse had been converted to a tavern.
Boylan's collaboration with Pariser, a retired Laguna Beach aerospace electrical engineer, arose serendipitously. The professor's office is near a studio at Chapman, where Pariser was being videotaped for an archival project by the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. "I'd walk by and see him," Boylan says. "I noticed they didn't really know what they were doing."
For years, Pariser had wanted nothing to do with Holocaust remembrances. "I didn't have time for the Holocaust," he says. When the war ended in 1946, Pariser enrolled in a Hebrew high school in Munich. He was 16 but had a third-grade education. "I lost five years. I had a lot of catching up to do," he explains.
That attitude remained steadfast until recently. "Not until the deniers started," Pariser says. "Then I got ticked off." It loosened his tongue.
After unsuccessful efforts to obtain funding for the project, Boylan and Pariser decided to go ahead with the film on their own. Now, Boylan is hooked and hopes to continue with similar films.
"These people are all dying," Boylan says. "The only thing that's going to be left are documentaries like mine."