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Film Reviews

Doc Edge Film Review: Saul and Ruby's Holocaust Survivor Band (2020)

Clare Martin

Saul and Ruby’s Holocaust Survivor Band as part of the Doc Edge Festival opening in June is a must-see just from the title of the film.  And a festival of documentary films is a gift in these times of (post)lockdown, giving us us a glimpse into worlds and into minds of people we will never meet and may soon be lost. And in the hands of Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Tod Lending, this story is one that everyone should see.

Ninety-one year old Saul and eighty-seven year old Ruby have a mission to spread the message of peace at a time when anti-Semitism and prejudice are growing throughout the world. Saul tells his rabbi and his wife his plans to play music for the six-million people who perished, “they told me I’m crazy”.  So he knew he had to do it.  Taking up the drum as an instrument in your nineties takes a fair amount of spirit and, with his pal Ruby a more seasoned musician in every sense, they put together a collection of songs.  From the humble beginnings of playing in residential homes for the elderly and in the local Mall, Saul and Ruby have a dream of performing in Poland, the homeland where they’d endured unimaginable trauma.

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The first part of the film doesn’t particularly lift off, but gets us comfortable in the living rooms, the kitchen tables, and even the bedrooms of the pair’s respective homes.  And filmed over four years, director Lending gives the story ‘as long as it takes to present itself’.

But get to know these two characters and witness they way in which music lifts them and engages their audience, and you will understand that Saul and Ruby are living treasures.  They embody the quote by Elie Wiesel, Survivor of the Holocaust: 'Even in darkness it is possible to create light' (cue Jewish Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem”  - ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in ’).

And how many more times will we have a chance to hear music played by survivors of the Holocaust? The film takes unexpected turns and we travel with the pair to Poland. Through use of archival footage and family photos, we move closer and closer to the pain of these men’s histories. 

There are real heartbreaking moments - Saul stands in the square in Krakow and recalls seeing his grandmother being shot by the Nazis. He cannot bear to climb the stairs to the house where he grew up and tells us he was the only survivor from a family of 30.

It took Saul and Ruby seventy years to return to Poland.  And for them to play music on the railway tracks that led to Auschwitz is incredible closure. How lucky we are to have a chance to share that moment. Go see. You need to take this story to your heart.



Saul and Ruby’s Holocaust Survivor Band shows on Sun 14 June, Thur 18 June and Tues 23 June 2020

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Written By: Clare Martin Clare has performed as an opera, recital and oratorio artist in UK most notably the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank, London. In NZ she has performed with NZ Opera and with the NZ Symphony Orchestra but more recently she has moved into a wider range of contemporary genres including jazz and even Leonard Cohen. Since 2008 Clare has been teaching from her own music studio working with professional and beginner singers. In 2017 she was a mentor on TVNZ’s The Naked Choir working with a cappella choirs and she currently coaches barbershop and a woman’s ensemble.