Skip to Content

Saved by Deportation: An Unknown Odyssey of Polish Jews 2005


Distributed by Alden Films, Box 449, Clarksburg, NJ 08510; 732.462.3522
Produced by Sawomir Grünberg & Robert Podgursky
Directed by Slawomir Grünberg & Robert Podgursky
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Poland, World War II, History

Date Entered: 03/26/2008

Reviewed by Sheila Intner, Professor Emerita, Graduate School of Library & Information Science, Simmons College GSLIS at Mt. Holyoke, South Hadley, MA

It is not common knowledge that many Poles, both Jews and Christians, were deported to Siberia from Poland to spend the early years of World War II in Russian labor camps or that they were released by the Russians when Hitler invaded Russia. This documentary tells the story of seven Polish-Jewish deportees who escaped the Nazi death camps by virtue of deportation, and who survived the hardships of their detention and its aftermath.

The program opens at the 58th anniversary celebration of Asher and Shyfra Scharf, two of the deportees, who were wed in Tashkent in 1945. The guests at the party watch the film of the Scharf’s recent trip to Europe and Asia retracing the steps of their wartime journeys. The editors intersperse archival shots from the wartime period, live action interviews with people in each place they visit, and interviews with the other five survivors who shared similar experiences. All now live in the U.S., but took different routes from postwar Europe to this country. Just before the German occupation of Poland, the seven survivors were among hundreds of thousands of Poles selected for deportation by Russian authorities, crowded into railroad cars, and sent north. Later, thinking they were registering to return home, they were sent further into Siberia to work. Now 80 years old, Asher finds the mine where he worked and the barracks in which he lived. Several years later, when the Russian-German peace dissolved, the Poles were released. Anxious to escape the brutal Siberian winters, they set out for Persia and Palestine, but landed instead in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where they remained for the rest of the war. Life there was a struggle for everyone, but they experienced no anti-Semitism among their neighbors.

At the end of the war, many deportees made their way back to their Polish homeland, where they were greeted at the border by anti-Semitic violence, including harassment, beatings, and murder, perpetrated by the local population to keep them out. Unable to renew life in Poland, they fled, eventually coming to the U.S.

Technically, the piece is acceptably filmed and edited, with readable subtitles. At times, however, subtitles were missing and Russian dialog was not translated. Some of the seven principals spoke heavily accented English and subtitles would have been welcome for them, also. The insertion of archival photographs and film clips is not always done smoothly, and the cutting between footage taken during the Scharf’s trip and scenes of the guests watching the resulting film is sometimes distracting. Despite these criticisms, however, Saved by Deportation contains valuable testimonies that can enrich academic study of the Holocaust and the World War II period, especially in Poland and the U.S.S.R. It is suitable for college undergraduates as well as interested adults.