Shot on DV, Permission to Remember opens to a shot of a bustling Ukrainian market as a holocaust survivor and expatriate now living in Israel named Moishe begins to recount memories from his childhood, only to be interrupted by an aggressive woman who complains of the “foreigners” who are blocking her way into the market and refuses to step aside to allow them to continue filming, asserting that she is a Ukrainian and does not have to step aside for the foreigners. The episode provides an insightful glimpse into the entrenched prejudice and xenophobia that had contributed to the genocide of over 20,000 Jews in Moishe’s native town of Lubmir during World War II (only 80 people survived at the end of the campaign). Incited by news that a (personally) unknown Ukrainian from Lubmir named Stephan Wermchuk has been bestowed the Righteous Among the Nations honor by Israel after having provided for safe passage (apparently, at the age of eight) to 50 Jews with his mother Maria to the Kruk underground resistance during the war (a noble national distinction that also provides for special treatment by the Israeli government such as immigration privileges, free housing, and a monthly stipend), Moishe and other Ukrainian Holocaust survivors embark on a campaign to research Wermchuk’s controversial claim, returning to his native land to locate witnesses who can support Wermchuk’s testimony and, perhaps indirectly, to confront painful boyhood memories of ostracism, desolation, impotence, and the unimaginable, senseless deaths he witnessed during his years in the Jewish ghetto that have continued to haunt him throughout his life. Documentarian Yael Kipper Zaretzky presents a complex portrait of the collective consciousness of a nation still attempting to reconcile with its complicity in the unconscionable tragedy, and a survivor’s surrogate obsession for truth and accountability (and perhaps, implicit vengeance) in its traumatic aftermath and, in the process, creates a compelling exposition on the guilt of survival and the human importance of accurate historic documentation.
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