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Triplex Cinema to host leading Holocaust historian Sam Kassow and Yiddish Book Center founder and Director Aaron Lansky for a talkback following ‘Who Will Write Our History’ screening on May 14

In the film, and book by the same name, Kassow speaks about the critical importance of preserving historical documents and describes the historical events in Poland leading up to and including World War II that affected and eventually eliminated the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Triplex is thrilled to announce that Sam Kassow, a leading historian of Polish Jewry and the Holocaust, and Stockbridge resident Aaron Lansky, the founder and director of the world-famous Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., will be in a talkback after the showing of the documentary film “Who Will Write Our History.” The event, a benefit for The Triplex, will take place on May 14 at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $100 per person.

Released in 2018, “Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary film based on Kassow’s book of the same name, published in 2007. Academy Award winner Adrian Brody and three-time Academy Award nominee Joan Allen provide voiceovers for the two critical figures in the story. The film is directed by Roberta Grossman and produced by Nancy Spielberg, Ori Eisen, Al Berg, and Ronald Lauder.

Leading historian of Polish Jewry and the Holocaust Sam Kassow. Photo courtesy of The Triplex.

In the book, and film, Kassow writes and speaks about the critical importance of preserving historical documents and describes the historical events in Poland leading up to and including World War II that affected and eventually eliminated the Warsaw Ghetto. Established in 1940 by the German authorities, the Warsaw Ghetto housed 460,000 Jews in an area of 1.3 square miles; fewer than 60,000 Jews are thought to have survived after the majority were transferred to concentration camps and killed. Half of all Jewish Holocaust victims, around 3 million, were from Poland.

Sam Kassow was born in 1946 in a displaced-persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. Both of his parents survived the war; his mother and sister by hiding beneath a barn on the family farm, his father spent the war in a Soviet prison camp. Growing up in New Haven, Conn., Kassow attended Trinity College, the London School of Economics, and Princeton University, where he received a Ph.D. The longtime Charles Northam Professor of History at Trinity College, Kassow was a key consultant to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which opened on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, and has been the author of numerous books on the Holocaust. Kassow was on the team of scholars chosen by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, to write a one-volume history of the Holocaust in Poland.

“Who Will Write Our History” recounts the bold story of Nazi resistance from within the Ghetto. After the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto, a band of writers and scholars named “Oyneg Shabes — the Joys of Shabbat” began to smuggle reports of atrocities to the outside world and to document the life and culture within the Ghetto in the hope that they would be remembered. Many of these documents were buried and only found after the conclusion of the war; only three members of the Oyneg Shabes survived the war.

Yiddish Book Center founder and Director Aaron Lansky. Photo courtesy of The Triplex.

Joining Kassow for a conversation after the film, and book signing, is Aaron Lansky. Recently profiled in a front-page story in The New York Times, Lansky is the founder and director of the Yiddish Book Center, an organization formed in 1980 to help salvage Yiddish Language publications. Starting with a small number of books, the center has grown into the worlds largest collection of Yiddish books, with more than 1.5 million titles housed on a ten-acre campus at Hampshire College in western Massachusetts.

The Yiddish Book Center is designed to appear like an East European Shtetl, or small town, and is a combination museum, library, bookstore, and storehouse. The collection is in the process of being digitized and, along with three other institutions in New York and Israel, 99 percent of all Yiddish book titles ever published are represented in the collections.

One of the principal goals of the center is to bolster Yiddish language and literature, and the Center distributes duplicates from its collection to libraries and museums around the world. Additionally, the center has commissioned translations of Yiddish books into English, with a recent emphasis on female authors who have traditionally been underrepresented in efforts to keep alive Yiddish writing and scholarship.

Born in New Bedford, Mass., Lansky graduated from Hampshire College with a B.A. in modern Jewish history and earned a master’s degree in East European Jewish studies at McGill University in Montreal. His 2004 autobiography, “Outwitting History,” recounts his work to save the Yiddish books of the world. With much of the world’s Yiddish-speaking population destroyed during the Holocaust, one of the principal goals of the center is to keep the language alive for young people curious about a language that once thrived amongst the majority of the world’s Jewish population.

Sam Kassow will also be signing copies of Rachel Auerbach’s newly published book “Warsaw Testament,” translated by Kassow. Rachel Auerbach was one of three surviving members of the Oyneg Shabes profiled in Kassow’s documentary. Auerbach’s wartime and postwar writings became a crucial source of information on prewar Jewish Warsaw and the Warsaw Ghetto. Immigrating to Israel in 1950, Auerbach founded the witness testimony division at Yad Vashem and played a key role in the development of Holocaust remembrance. “Warsaw Testament,” published by the Yiddish Book Center, paints a vivid portrait of the city’s vibrant prewar Yiddish literary and artistic community and its subsequent destruction at the hands of the Nazis. Auerbach also played a critical role in the preparation of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1962.

Aaron Lansky said about the event:

Who will write our history? Sam Kassow! A brilliant historian, he recounts the riveting and largely forgotten tale of Oyneg Shabes, a surreptitious band of writers and scholars who joined together in the Warsaw Ghetto to chronicle daily life under Nazi occupation. As liquidation neared, they buried their papers in milk cans and tin boxes. Only three members of the original group survived the war, and it took them more than a year to persuade fellow survivors to start digging. Through meticulous research, Professor Kassow has excavated those papers for a second time, and, through her powerful documentary, filmmaker Roberta Grossman shares them once again.

Nicki Wilson, president of the Triplex Board of Directors said

Having Sam Kassow and Aaron Lansky at The Triplex is a tremendous gift to us and the community, and we are deeply honored that they will be here to discuss the important work each of them have devoted their lives to. When we reopened The Triplex late in 2023, we never envisioned having such an important event like this one, which will enrich our community in countless ways.

Triplex Cinema Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit showing movies for all, providing a space where people from the Berkshires and beyond discover filmed entertainment—first-run, independent, foreign language, classic, children’s and documentary—while also showcasing locally produced films and thematic programming. The Triplex partners with schools and local nonprofits to enable programming that speaks to the needs of our community. Learn more on The Triplex’s website.

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