It is June of 1941 and Sara Góralnik is just 12 years old when the German Army invade her hometown of Korets, in present-day Ukraine, then located in eastern Poland. At the time, the Jews were the upwardly mobile commercial backbone of the area in contrast to the Ukrainian farmers, the majority of who were uneducated who had recently been starved to death by Stalin in the famines of the 1930s. By the time the Nazis invaded in 1941, many Ukrainians welcomed a cleansing of their Jewish neighbors from the region.
The Cinema of Holocaust Survival
A genre unto itself, whether it be a documentary (“Swimming in Auschwitz”) or an adaptation (of Primo Levi in “The Truce” or Imre Kertesz in “Fateless”), each Holocaust survival story is its own astonishment. It’s own incredible amalgam of perseverance and luck, under conditions that can only be barely hinted at, even by the cinema’s greatest directors. “My Name is Sara” is one such story.
Sara (beautifully played by Zuzanna Surowy with no previous acting experience) escapes from the ghetto and for the next three-and-a-half years poses as a gentile nanny for a Ukrainian farmer (Eryk Lubos–Pavlo), his young wife (Michalina Olszańska), and their two little boys. Although suspicious, her employers, particularly the husband (who may have his reasons), always back away when it comes to investigating Sara’s past and, gradually, she (almost) becomes one of the family. They need her as much as she needs them, even if the punishment for giving her refuge would be lynching by the side of the road as an example for all to see.
What Language Are They Supposed To Be Speaking?
The movie is directed by American Steven Oritt and he does well by the material which was written by David Himmelstein based on Góralnik’s memoirs. Both Lubos–Pavlo and Olszańska are particularly good and there are two scenes, one involving a mass execution and the other involving the death of an old cow that are well-handled the latter being very moving. Elsewhere, things flow a little less smoothly. The actors speak a highly accented English (some may have been dubbed) which is supposed to be either Ukrainian or Polish or both (all of the actors are Polish but the lingua franca in that region at that time would have been Ukrainian) while the marauding hordes of German soldiers and Russian partisans who rob them of almost everything each time they pass -the Russians and Germans are equally barbaric – speak German and Russian respectively, with subtitles. Should they have used subtitles for every language and let the actors speak in their native tongue? That would have been my preference. But in America today, it would have meant losing a large chunk of their audience.
Sara Góralnik Shapiro married one of the few surviving Jewish boys in the town and moved to the United States in 1949 where she had many kids and grandkids. She passed away, after a long and happy life, in 2018.
“My Name is Sara”: is not available for streaming. However, the DVD can be purchased at Amazon beginning on October 25, 2022.