A portrait of Marisa's mother in Israel, undated.
Journalist Marisa Fox discovered many years after her mother passed away, that she'd had a secret identity and was born Hela Hocherman, not Tamar Fromer. The film follows Marisa from discovering her mother's birth certificate in her hometown of Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, to the spinning factory in the Czech Republic, where a 13-year-old Hela and 360 other mainly Polish teenage girls were abducted, trafficked and incarcerated, forced to toil upward of 12 hours a day, turning flax into thread that was used to sew Nazi uniforms. Through a hidden Gabersdorf diary (PDF 1.2 MB) that contained not only Hela's signature, but those of 60 other young women, Marisa is able to link with survivors from the camp, now scattered around the globe, who recount how they clung to life and each other by a thread.
The film offers a rare view into life in an all-female slave labor camp in a region where 5,000 Jewish women were imprisoned but whose stories were largely untold. As such, it is the first documentary film to focus squarely on women's slave labor and to explore the guilt and shame that enshrouded its victims after they were liberated. It also is the first documentary to offer a new set of visuals regarding concentration camps, shifting our gaze away from crematoria and gas chambers to a textile mill where prisoners bore invisible tattoos. As Marisa travels to Trutnov, she discovers the camp, still standing but abandoned with a "for sale" sign on its front gate, a ghost compound littered with spools of thread, the only evidence of its tragic past. She finds a survivor, now living in Berlin, who returns with her, chanting camp songs and showing Marisa where her mother worked and how the factory operated.
As Marisa travels to the Archives in Trutnov, we see the floor plans of the camp (PDF 885K), stamped with the Nazi symbol, and she meets local Czech women, now in their 80s, who worked at the spinning mill as paid employees, but who are still haunted by memories of what they witnessed. To mark the 70th anniversary of liberation, she invites a survivor and various second and third generations, including her son Leo, on their own march of the living, leaving their footprints where their mother’s had been. Marisa also is astounded to learn that the area’s schools have buried this past. And she meets with the mayor to discuss honoring the camp’s victims.
The film also features pages from the diary, now housed at Yad Vashem, as Marisa searches for survivors who can add to the narrative. Featuring often-elusive testimony of sexual brutality, By a Thread weaves together Marisa's search for her mother's hidden past with the fabric of other women's lives. As she also tries to understand the reason for her mother's silence, Marisa explores themes of Holocaust post-trauma and its transmission through generations, a topic currently being researched at Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Cambridge University and Haifa University. By a Thread also posits that the Holocaust has been recorded as his-story, and attempts to set the record straight, offering her-story, through the prism of the many Gabersdorf voices. It salutes the spirit of these brave women and shatters the silence that enshrouded them.
Follow Marisa's page on her new By a Thread Facebook page and meet the women, the daughters and granddaughters who are part of her trilling quest.
The Remember the Women Institute, 2014
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