Filmmaker recounts saga of survival
If it had not been for a Polish housewife during World War II, Judy Maltz most likely would not be here to tell her family story. Of the 6,000 Jews who lived in the city of Sokal before the war, only 30 survived. Half of them — including Maltz’ grandparents and father — owed their lives to Francisca Halamajowa. For more than a year, Halamajowa and her daughter, Hela, hid a group of Jewish neighbors in a hayloft above a pig sty.
Maltz — along with co-filmmakers Barbara Bird and Richie Sherman — recount the story in No. 4 Street of Our Lady, a documentary that will be screened by the Holocaust Council of MetroWest in Whippany on Sunday afternoon, Dec. 20.
Maltz, who grew up in Elizabeth and attended the Jewish Educational Center there, told New Jersey Jewish News she initially had qualms about such a project, considering it “too close to home.”
Her father, Chaim, refused to participate. “He swore he would never go back to Poland again; it held very traumatic memories for him,” she said. On the other hand, her cousin, Fay Malkin, another member of the group hidden by Halamajowa, “was very interested but said she wouldn’t do it alone; she wanted to go back with some other people.”
Malkin convinced Chaim Maltz to put aside his discomfort and make the trip. “There’s a greater objective, and he understood that,” Judy Maltz said, “I think he’s glad he did it.”
In the summer of 2007, Chaim Maltz, Malkin, and Eli Kindler, another survivor from the hayloft who now resides in Israel, made the emotional trip to Sokal, which is now a part of Ukraine. They visited the house where they were hidden in the cramped space, unable to venture outside for fear of discovery. They also met Halamajowa’s granddaughters, who had been unaware of the ordeal until shortly before the filming.
No. 4 interweaves interviews with historians, Sokal residents, and the survivors with archival and family photos and readings from a diary kept by Moshe Maltz, Chaim’s father.
Judy Maltz, a senior lecturer in journalism at the College of Communications at Penn State University, said she found it difficult to maintain a journalist’s objectivity. “I was always conservative about not getting myself into the story, mixing my emotions or my family’s story into anything I wrote about.” It was only after she had been out of the business as a working journalist that she was able to revisit the idea.
“In the beginning I thought I would be able to conduct all the interviews; that’s what I did for a living for so many years,” said Maltz, a former senior correspondent for Ha’aretz. “As soon as I started interviewing my dad, it just wasn’t working. I knew that to get a really great interview with some of these [family members], they would have to get emotional and I would have to bring up painful issues with them and painful memories, and I just didn’t want to go there, so Barbara stepped in and took over those interviews.”
All qualms aside, Maltz is quite pleased — not to mention relieved — with the way the film turned out. The first time she saw No. 4 with an audience was “fascinating; seeing their reactions and watching how they responded to it was pretty amazing,” she said.