A still from My Name is Sara
A still from My Name is Sara.

The film, which has a runtime of just under two hours, premiered at the Maple Theater on Aug. 5.

In an effort to survive the Holocaust at any cost, thousands of Eastern European Jews passed as Orthodox Christian to avoid being killed by the Nazis. Many of those Jews were children and teenagers who could easily blend in with their surroundings or with Orthodox Christian families willing to claim them as their own until the war was over.

The true story of 13-year-old Sara Góralnik, which comes to life in the 2019 Holocaust film My Name Is Sara, captures the stark and unthinkable leaps Jewish youth undertook to protect their true identities during the heart of the Second World War. The film, which has a runtime of just under two hours, premiered at the Maple Theater on Aug. 5.

Sara (Zuzanna Surowy) is a young Polish Jew from Korets, a city now in northwest Ukraine, that was home to some 4,600 Jews during the interwar period. Only 500 Jews from Korets survived the Holocaust, and Sara, who married a fellow survivor from the city and passed away in 2018 at the age of 88, was one of the lucky ones. After the war, they immigrated to the United States, settling in Metro Detroit and raising three children and four grandchildren.

A still from My Name is Sara
A still from My Name is Sara.

From May to September 1942, the small Polish city was devastated by the German invasion. The film opens with Sara and her older brother Moishe on the run, as they flee the Korets ghetto the night before the Germans plan to liquidate it. Leaving their family and everything they had known behind, they move with the shadows in the woods. Yet unlike Sara, who has light hair and eyes, Moishe has obviously Jewish features.

As her brother sleeps, Sara makes the most difficult decision of her life. She leaves Moishe in the forest, knowing they’d both be at risk with his Jewish features, and runs off deep into the woods where she survives for several days with almost no food.

Sara eventually reaches the Ukrainian countryside, where she finds a farmer at work and begs for a job. She takes on the name of her Christian classmate, Manya Romanchuk, and claims to be an Orthodox Christian girl who ran away from her troubled home life. Sara is taken to a farmer Pavlo (Eryk Lubos) and his wife Nadya (Michalina Olszanska), who agree to let Sara work for them as a nanny in exchange for food and shelter.

Yet, Sara is tested in ways unimaginable for young Jews. She’s asked to cross herself, eat pork and assist Pavlo and Nadya’s children with Christian prayers. While the family begins to steadily accept Sara as one of their own, Sara knows she isn’t safe. The Ukrainian countryside is occupied by Nazis, who consistently pose a threat to her life.

However, in addition to the Nazi threat overhead, Sara finds antisemitism all around her, a feeling deeply ingrained in the Ukrainian countryside. Few scenes leave out the suspicion that Sara is constantly encountering, showing just how dangerous her disguise truly was — at any second, her cover could be blown, and Sara would be killed.

As Sara learns the ways of the small village, she develops complicated relationships with Pavlo and Nadya. On top of protecting her own identity, she must protect the dark secrets of her employers’ marriage in order to keep her job and stay alive.

My Name Is Sara is a slow-burn that tells the story of the Holocaust like it is, leaving no stone unturned as how it portrayed the devastation of the Nazi occupation and rampant antisemitism that plagued Eastern Europe. The film is made in association with the Shoah Foundation and is executive produced by Sara’s eldest son, Mickey Shapiro, offering a personal and poignant edge that only those who knew Sara best could give. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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