A young woman decides not to answer a phone call from her grandfather, unaware that it will be his last. When he dies, she is overwhelmed with guilt and regret and can’t sleep. But then she remembers a promise made long ago: to illustrate her grandfather’s wartime adventures and, in so doing, pass on a story of courage and resistance to future generations.
A short film about love, duty and the transmission of memory, My Yiddish Papi poetically evokes a promise that transcends the grave. The film explores the relationship between a woman and her grandfather, set against the indelible tragedy of the Second World War. Using ink-on-paper animation, Éléonore Goldberg reconciles the image of the elder she knew with a different version: that of a young Resistance fighter during the occupation of Paris
A young woman decides not to answer a phone call from her grandfather, unaware that it will be his last. When he dies, she is overwhelmed with guilt and regret and can’t sleep. But then she remembers a promise made long ago: to illustrate his wartime adventures as a member of the French Resistance.
Could you tell us a little about the film’s background?
My grandfather Georges (Josek) Goldberg became a Resistance fighter at age 20 during World War II. He saved many lives and he and his family narrowly escaped Auschwitz.
On July 16 and 17, 1942, the French police of the Vichy government cordoned off various Parisian districts to arrest Jewish families during an operation cynically code-named “Spring Breeze.” Taken by surprise, the Jews were arrested, then transported by bus to the Vélodrome d’hiver or the suburb of Drancy before being interned in camps in the Loiret region. From there, they were shipped to the Nazi death camps. History remembers this as the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup, referring to the place where a large percentage of the 13,152 victims were confined under abysmally cramped conditions for six days before their deportation.
On the 16th of July in 1942, they had knocked on my grandfather’s door. He was then 19 and living with his parents. The family was petrified. My grandfather begged his father not to answer. Despite being terribly afraid, his father took his advice and the police went away. That’s how my family avoided arrest and deportation. My grandfather then fled to Lyon in the “free zone” (the unoccupied part of the country). Once there, he joined the Resistance. He brought his family to the free zone as well as friends and my grandmother, who was aged 16 at the time and had lost her own family in the raid.
Wanted by the French and German authorities, my grandfather managed to get hired under an assumed name by the French police force. This allowed him to avoid being captured and shot as well as to continue his work with the Resistance. He helped many people who, even to this day, refer to him as their saviour. He was very well known, particularly for his ability to create false identity papers. He died of a heart attack in Paris in July 2009.
There was a strong bond between us. He would sometimes share his wartime memories when we dined together during the time I lived in Paris. He never bragged; he was a humble, shy person. He would have liked me to make a graphic novel or film about his Resistance adventures, and I had committed to doing it. But time passed and I did nothing. At his death, my promise came back to me.
Did the personal aspect to the story make it easier to direct, or harder?
It was hard when I was writing the script. My grandfather’s death was still very recent; I had lots of lingering sadness and regrets and I kept bumping up against my own ignorance—little details like exactly how my grandfather had persuaded my great-grandfather not to open the door. I was terribly concerned about misrepresenting the facts. But all of this also motivated me to get the project underway. The time it took me to get funding in no way diminished my desire to do it. I sunk my teeth into it.
Making this film allowed me to make good on my promise to my grandfather to share one of his adventures. I chose this one because it was his first gesture of defiance—a gesture that ultimately led to his involvement in the French Resistance and the survival of his family.
What can you say about your choice of technique?
It’s drawing on paper with ink, gouache and pigment. Mostly using a brush, occasionally a pen. It’s the technique through which I feel closest to gesture and movement. It’s also very sensual and soothing.
Where does My Yiddish Papi fall within your existing body of work and how do you think it will influence your future projects?
For years now, my Jewish origins have informed my work as an artist, mainly through the themes of the Shoah (Holocaust), war, exile and immigration. These are issues I touched on in previous films and comics. Wandering (2013) was infused with the Holocaust. My Yiddish Papi takes a more direct approach. There’s no more doubt: it’s personal, familial, claimed. That in itself has stirred up ideas for new projects . . .
When I wrote My Yiddish Papi, I realized that the film brought me back to my childhood in Africa, in part due to their parallels—namely, death narrowly escaped through luck or Providence. I wanted to explore this period of my youth and am currently developing a short animated film, Kinshasa.
But I also want to address topics related to Jewishness that are more fantasy-based, comical or dramatic.
75 years later, French collaboration in the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup remains controversial. What, in your opinion, are the lessons to be taken away from this historical event?
That fascism is never far away; that our rights and freedoms should never be taken for granted; that we must remain on the lookout for signs of intolerance, violence, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and especially, take them seriously, denounce them. And once there, we need to vote, if not for a party that fully represents our ideas and values, then at least against the xenophobic parties. It’s important.
What is the historical legacy for the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors? Does it entail responsibilities?
It’s possible my generation feels indebted to those who died during this tragic period. If my great-grandfather had opened the door to the French police, I most likely wouldn’t be here today to tell you the story. Today’s young people must not forget the past. They should preserve the memory of those who suffered and defended themselves against adversity. However, this duty is a double-edged sword: it means honouring the dead, but it can also prevent those who take it seriously from experiencing the present and their youth. I was never “carefree.” I learned about this event at age 10, which is very young. As a teen, I became obsessed with the Holocaust; for years, it was all I thought about. This stopped while I was making the film. A young author, Frederika Amalia Finkelstein, has written a novel on the subject, L’oubli.
A film by
In memory of Georges (Josek) Goldberg (1923-2009)
Script, Animation, Direction
Karine Dubois (Picbois Productions)
Julie Roy (NFB)
With the financial participation of
Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit
Produced with the financial assistance of
the SODEC Young Creators Support Program
Music and Sound Design
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Musical Adaptation of “My Yiddishe Momme”
Evelyne de la Chenelière
Evelyne de la Chenelière
Serge Verreault (NFB)
Geoffrey Mitchell (NFB)
Padraig Buttner-Schnirer (NFB)
Pierre Yves Drapeau
Serge Boivin (NFB)
Pierre Plouffe (NFB)
Technical Coordination – Animation
Yannick Grandmont (NFB)
Anne-Marie Bousquet (Picbois Productions)
Daniel Lord (NFB)
Michèle Labelle (NFB)
Andrée-Anne Frenette (Picbois Productions)
Valérie Mantha (Picbois Productions)
Diane Régimbald (NFB)
Karine Desmeules (NFB)
Diane Ayotte (NFB)
Michael Shu (NFB)
Stéphanie Lalonde (NFB)
My Yiddishe Momme
Composed by Jack Yellen and Lew Pollack
Courtesy of Warner/Chappell Music Canada Ltd. and BMG Rights Management
Release of Musical Rights
National Bank of Canada
TV & Motion Picture Group
Yves Giroux CPA