Why do we tell stories?
Is it to entertain; to capture the attention of the mind for just a moment amid the deluge of everyday life? Is it to teach; to pass down lessons from one generation to the next? Is it to remember; to ensure that our histories are never lost? Maybe each story has its own reasons for being told and it is the audience’s responsibility to form their own conclusions. Perhaps that’s why I felt the answer was all of the above and more while watching the upcoming Holocaust documentary Destination Unknown, which comes out November 10 and features intimate testimony from twelve survivors.
The film is a story of death and life, suffering and liberation, pain and strength. It is as complicated, emotional, heavy and taxing as you think it is. It is the tale of innocent men, women and children being torn from their homes and their lives and sent off into the treacherous darkness of deadly uncertainty—to destinations unknown. It is not easy or simple and it is not enjoyable. But it is important, not just for Jewish peoples but for all.
“I wanted to make a film where the only voices are those of the survivors themselves, to capture something of the intimacy and immediacy I felt when talking with some of them directly,” director Claire Ferguson said in production notes provided to media. “The challenge was to weave those individual voices together in a way that created a wider story, one that explored not only the pain of the Holocaust itself, but the building of new lives afterwards. My overriding question was ‘How can you make a life after such pain?'”
Three weeks ago, 58 people were killed and 546 were wounded when a gunman opened fire on music festival goers in Las Vegas. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. And yet, the groundswell of support and unity that sprung up in its aftermath has nearly evaporated. In less than a month. Outside of those directly afflicted, our collective souls seem to have been unfettered from this tragedy like a breath leaving the body. I suppose this is inevitable. We live in an era in which the public binges on global tragedies, making each incident the worst thing ever until the next worst thing ever comes along soon after. How can we care about anything if we’re trying to care about everything?
That’s why stories matter. That’s why Destination Unknown matters. It’s a reminder that something happened. It’s an inescapable calcification of the abstract pain that floats around this 70-year-old scourge on humanity. It’s a connection for younger generations to a wound that their parents and grandparents suffered and survived through.
“I was inspired to start this project fourteen years ago when I visited Aushwitz and wanted to ensure that the remarkable stories of those who survive the Holocaust were preserved for posterity,” producer Lilon Roberts said. “In the years since I have met and interviewed a remarkable range of incredible people whose lives are an inspiration to us all. From the four hundred hours of testimonies that I recorded, I wanted a film which captured the essense of their experience, made a contribution to the history of those times and perpetuated the memory of the Shoah.”
Destination Unknown does capture the essence of their experience in powerful ways, but the movie isn’t just about the pain of what happened. It’s also about the strength that is required to move forward. In that sense, one survivor captures the essence of the entire Jewish people when he proudly says, “My grandchildren are the answer to Hitler’s final solution.”
That is why we tell stories.