Singing the Past

: Documentary Short
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Pre-Production


Holocaust survivor Guta Goldstein journeys back to Poland, taking with her songs that have sustained her, to perform them again 75 years after liberation.


Seven decades after she learned and sang them, Holocaust survivor Guta Goldstein has kept alive a repertoire of songs from the Lódz ghetto that she continues to perform in private. Guta, now 90, has lived in Australia since 1949. As a child in the ghetto, the songs gave Guta distraction, hope, and entertainment. In the camps, they became a way to focus, process experiences, to come to know others, and finally to retain a sense of humanity. The film charts Guta’s journey back to Poland in August 2021, to perform the songs that have sustained her 75 years after liberation from Auschwitz, with the Lódz Children's Choir and the Marek Edelman Dialogue Centre.  A film about memory, survival, and the power of music to sustain.


'In the ghetto, we lived on songs. When our yearning for food became unbearable, we sang.’ 

From early childhood to the present day, Guta Goldstein has used song to reconstruct memories of her family and friends. Polish and Yiddish melodies evoke pre-war memories of joy and comfort alongside mid-war experiences of privation, grief and camaraderie.

Project creator Joseph Toltz has found that, for Holocaust survivors, musical memories are usually sequestered away from more traumatic memories. They are vital because song, the human voice, is 'the last thing that anyone can take away from you.'

In Joseph’s experience interviewing more than 150 Holocaust survivors over two decades, he has not encountered another survivor who uses personal song in this manner. ‘Guta lost almost all her family, and she has so few material objects, so the songs sing the past back into life, they weave her story into her present day. The people don't exist in the past, they exist with her as she sings them into being.' 

Recent studies have shown that awareness and understanding of the Holocaust are worryingly low amongst the general public. 11% of American adults and more than 20% of millennials hadn't heard of, or weren’t sure they had heard of, the Holocaust. Another showed 32% of Europeans knew ‘just a little or nothing at all’ about the Holocaust. This film will share the remarkable story of the place of music in the life of a survivor, at a time when remembering is more important than ever. 


Tim Slade - Director and Producer

Tim’s films have screened at over 70 international film festivals, where they have won best film and audience awards, and have been broadcast in 40 countries. His short I Was Robert Mitchum and his feature documentary 4 were both released theatrically, the latter winning a Gold Plaque at the Chicago HUGO Television Awards, and being nominated for many awards including two Australian AFI Awards. His latest feature length documentary, The Destruction of Memory, has screened in over 45 countries. He has worked with actors including the Oscar®, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated actress Sophie Okonedo. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Tim has lived in NYC for the past ten years.

Derek Wiesehahn - DP

Derek has over 25 years of experience in film and television. Recent credits include the 2018 Tribeca winning short documentary Notes from Dunblane, the Sundance feature documentaries Newtown, How to Survive a Plague (Academy Award® nomination), God Loves Uganda and the 2010 Academy Award® winning documentary short Music By Prudence. Derek also camera operated on the 2011 Sundance winner and Academy Award® nominated documentary feature Restrepo. He and Tim Slade have worked together to date on three films. 

Dr Joseph Toltz - Producer

Dr Joseph Toltz is an administrator and researcher at the University of Sydney, with special expertise in musical memory of Jewish Holocaust survivors, having interviewed over 150 Holocaust survivors on four continents over a period of 22 years. His doctorate "Hidden Testimony: musical experience and memory in Jewish Holocaust survivors" was awarded the Barbara and Richard Rosenberg Fellowship at the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Joseph has presented over thirty conference papers and guest lectures, and in 2014 participated in an international collaborative project funded by the Worldwide Universities Network, “Music, Memory and Migration in the Post-Holocaust Jewish Experience”, culminating in an international conference. Following this, Joseph was named Co-Investigator on a four-year research grant funded by the British Arts & Humanities Research Council, called “Performing the Jewish Archive”. (Photo: Lyn Williams)


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