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The film has key connections to the Valley

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AMHERST — An acclaimed documentary about Avrom Sutzkever, whom The New York Times called “the greatest poet of the Holocaust,” will screen at the Amherst Cinema on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m.

“Ver Vet Blaybn? (Who Will Remain?) tells the story of Sutzkever (b. 1913), a Yiddish poet who lived in Vilnius, Lithuania, from around 1921 to 1943. The film also follows his granddaughter, Israeli actress Hadas Kalderon, as she travels to Lithuania to trace her heritage in the city, formerly known as Vilna.

“Ver Vet Blay” has racked up a number of awards and nominations at film festivals in the United States, Europe, Israel, Brazil, Japan and elsewhere. It was named best documentary at international film festivals in Switzerland and Tel Aviv.

Additionally, the documentary has very local roots: it was co-directed by Christina Whitney, director of the Wexler Oral History Project at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, and Emily Felder, who previously worked at the Yiddish Book Center and with Florentine Cinema in Florence.

Smith College graduate Whitney also produced “Ver Vet Blay,” while Felder, a University of Massachusetts Amherst alumnus, edited the film (Felder now lives in Los Angeles and works as an editor and videographer) .

Both say the documentary, which they worked on for years, was a labor of love that is not just about highlighting the dramatic life and rich poetry of Sutzkever – he was one of the few Jews to have survived the Vilna ghetto. during World War II – but to examine Jewish culture in Vilna before the war.

The film follows Kalderon, carrying her grandfather’s diary, as she visits Lithuania to explore her early life there. Kalderon speaks Hebrew and must rely on translations of her grandfather’s work, but she is determined to find traces of her bygone world and play her part in preserving its literary legacy.

The documentary also incorporates family videos, photos and old film footage, newly recorded interviews and archival recordings, including Sutzkever’s testimony at the Nuremberg Trials and readings of his poetry.

Whitney, in a statement, said it was “a dream come true to have our Western Massachusetts premiere at the Amherst Cinema, where Emily and I fell in love with documentaries and independent films as college students. undergraduate”.

Besides his poetry, Sutkever also wrote a memory on the survival of the Vilna ghetto, from which he escaped in 1943 to fight with partisans in the outlying forests; he was later flown to Moscow by Soviet officials to help write about the Nazi destruction of Vilna.

The poet, who died in 2010, moved to Israel in 1947 and became a champion of Yiddish preservation, working to keep alive a language threatened by the loss of so many of its native speakers in the Holocaust.

Following the screening of “Ver Vet Blay,” Whitney and Felder will discuss the documentary in a conversation hosted by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Larry Hott of Florentine Films and Hott Productions.

Steve Pfarrer can be contacted at [email protected]