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August 12, 2015 6:09 pm

New Short Film to Explore Historical ‘Burden’ Shared by 3rd-Generation Holocaust Survivors

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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OMA begins filming in New York City on Aug. 19. Photo:

OMA begins filming in New York City on Aug. 19. Photo: OMA.

A new short film set to start production this month in New York City will present the perspective of a third generation Holocaust survivor and examine the inheritance of family trauma.

The film’s director Daniella Rabbani, a New York-based actress, spoke to The Algemeiner about being the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and the inspiration for the movie’s story line, which stems from her maternal grandmother’s reluctance to talk about her experience during the Holocaust.

In OMA, fictional character Dana Bloch must interview her estranged grandmother, Ethel, about her experience in the Holocaust for her thesis on genocide and film studies. As Dana persuades Ethel to open up about her past, their relationship develops and Dana discovers that her grandmother is far more intriguing than she expected.

Actress Lynn Cohen — who has appeared in MunichThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire and had a reoccurring role in the Sex in the City series — will play Ethel.

“It’s not a story about a Holocaust survivor. It’s a universal narrative about family communication and learning about oneself through our family stories,” Rabbani explained. “This film and this conversation that we’re starting, its so much more about the present generation. It’s so much more about the third generation survivor.”

Rabbani said that Ethel’s character was very much inspired by her grandmother Hedy Ranish, 94, who lives in an assisted living facility in the Bronx.

When Rabbani was a child, Ranish told her grandchildren that she wanted them to call her Oma. Rabbani named the project after her and said she originally set out to create a documentary record of her grandmother’s life during the Holocaust. Ranish, however, would never discuss her experience.

Ranish was born and raised in Romania. Her mother died young of tuberculosis and she was in her teens when she was forced into a concentration camp, the name of which she never revealed to Rabbani. She survived with her father and brother. After she was freed from the camp, Rabbani said, she married her grandfather.

“She doesn’t tell me much about her life but she’ll start stories and then say ‘Hitler had other plans,'” said Rabbani.

The filmmaker, who is making her directorial debut with OMA, said she always had an interest in Holocaust studies and would read books and biographies about it when she was younger. She said OMA has been “decades in the making.”

Rabbani, whose father is Iranian, described a “cat and mouse game” in trying to get her grandmother to talk about the Holocaust before finally deciding to let her be.

“For years I tried to get my grandmother to open up and I think through maturity and through this filmmaking process I realized it might not be my business,” she said.

“My curiosity and my need to understand my grandmother’s life — that certain thirst has never been quenched. Because there is a part of me in her and a part of her in me,” she continued. “And so I want to know and yet I realize in the making of this story that maybe giving my grandmother and others the dignity of their experience and their privacy is part of being a responsible human.”

OMA plays on the concept of silence when it comes to the Holocaust, and its profound impact on a family. The film’s narrative is also focused on inherited trauma, a subject Rabbani has researched. For over a year, she and OMA screenwriter Melissa Jane Osbourne have been interviewing Holocaust survivors.

Children and grandchildren of trauma survivors are genetically affected slightly from the experiences of generations ago, according to Rabbani. The trauma of the past can change the stress hormones in a survivor’s body, which is passed down and can affect their descendants’ reaction to stress. According to Rabbani, the inherited trauma makes them more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, addiction and depression.

On a personal level, Rabbani believes the trauma she inherited is part of the reason why she is an “incredibly sensitive person.”

“I also think that on a very basic level, my grandmother never having told me her Holocaust experience leaves a wound sort of open,” she continued.

Rabbani said she hopes OMA opens up inter-generational conversations among third-generation Holocaust survivors about the responsibility of transmitting these stories and the “burden” of history.

The filmmaker admitted that she still has “more questions than answers” about the Holocaust. However, interviewing Holocaust survivors made her realize the sacredness of revealing ones personal story. She said younger generations “interact with the world through a screen” and overshare a lot on social media about their daily lives, but not so much about who they truly are.

“What we learned through these interviews is that the giving of yourself – really telling someone how it was and who you are – is an incredibly vulnerable, sacred experience and something that our grandparents don’t take lightly,” she said. “Some of them don’t think that they’re important or that their stories are important.”

“And what’s hilarious is that we go to the bathroom and we broadcast it,” she continued. “We broadcast the very mundane moments of our lives and yet our grandparents have humility about their life experiences where they don’t think they’re that special. We live in a YouTube era where you can broadcast yourself; where we do really value the individual, the everyday. That’s not the culture my grandmother grew up in at all.”

OMA begins filming Aug. 19 in New York City.

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  • Gita Arian Baack

    Yes, can I quote you for a book I will be publishing next spring on inheritors?

  • Michelle Denowh

    This article is so interesting and I believe it is true. I work with trauma survivors and just listened to Rachel Yahuda on holocaust survivors and the effect of their trauma on their offspring. I cannot imagine what they endured but because of the research being done in this arena, others will benefit. I shared this information on genetic change with a daughter of a man who survived the deaths of his parents and other siblings an a drunk driving accident when he was a child. He remained emotionally distant her whole life. She could not smile, she could not speak aloud – she was a ghost person. Within a matter of a few days of learning about the effect of trauma on succeeding generations she was beginning to be set free from a depression she did not understand. In my opinion it explains so much. Thanks Algemeiner for this article!

  • Debra S. Michels

    Oh! “Society” is so anonymous, so faceless. But individuals out here – me, for instance – do care – you wouldn’t believe how much!

  • Salamon Davis

    I was born in 1949. – I – am a holocaust survivor. My parents? They were part of what remained of the living dead. The members of that exclusive generation are slowly fading into the past. Referring to them as survivors, is morally insulting. It minimizes the unimaginable. What they saw, breathed, witnessing their own disembowelment without anesthesia, being injected with gasoline, burning chemicals, skinned alive, limbs amputated and re attached repeatedly. Experiments beyond the capacity of human comprehension The father pressed up against the fence held by SS commanders, bloody hands and face from the extra sharp barbed wire. Forced to watch as three monestrous Nazis dragged his ten year old daughter close to that fence. Her father witnessing how they raped , and raped and ripped apart her bloody little body in front of him. Daddy daddy, papa, help they’re hurting me. Two days later the Americans liberated [sic] the camp. Would you have the audacity to call that “daddy” a survivor!!! He may be breathing but is he living? Their experiences, preserved, buried deeply within the hidden cavities of the brain. The living dead , the selected ones that were not gassed or burned alive, mothers holding on to their children, lived through unspeakable horrors. They did not survive. Berried within them is the chocking inability to speak of anything they witnessed. My father’s last words before he died of pancreatic cancer at the age of eighty eight years: [in Yiddish] Shloimalah, you cannot imagine the horrors that I just saw before my eyes. His last words before he defeated Hitler.

    • Gita Arian Baack

      You are so right. Was weeping about your father’s story. I think I week every day.
      Thanks for openly expressing what is beyond words.

  • Hasya

    The ways the descendants of Holocaust survivors are affected ,the extend, the responsibility and stress level are so humongous and manysided,that it will take many, many movies, studies, researches and books to truly understand our tragedies as people who had to pick up the torch and to carry it to the end of our lives. I wish American society would understand it and extend helping hand to the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, instead of dismissing them as as not being directly invo!over. We “lived” through the Holocaust on everyday basis because we lived with parents who were Holocaust survivors and whose lives, health and attitudes were affected forever by this event. My mother was never silent about her experiences, ever. But society did not care.