Film encapsulates how humans can become monsters

In 2016, Israeli actor, radio journalist, and host Alex Ansky arrived in Kyiv, to narrate a concert commemorating 75 years after the Babyn Yar massacre – a horrifying massacre during which the Nazis slaughtered 33,771 Jews in two days. Ansky’s trip inspired the making of the film Haktovet Al Hakir (The Address on the Wall. sic.), which will be screened Friday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Ukraine National Orchestra played the fourth movement Cain and Abel from Genesis, a symphony written by Israeli composer Baruch Berliner. As part of that work, Ansky read the biblical text during the concert.

While in Kyiv, Ansky visited the site of the massacre. A group of Israelis who came for the concert joined him on a tour of the city and visited the Babyn Yar site, where Ansky read Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s famous poem “Babyn Yar.”

The poem serves to ensure that the massacre doesn’t go overlooked

Yevtushenko wrote “Babyn Yar” in 1961, 16 years after the end of World War II, and 18 years after the liberation of Kyiv. It starts with the words: “No monument stands over Babyn Yar,” reflecting the reality of the postwar official policy regarding the commemoration of the victims of the war and the Holocaust – in Kyiv in particular, and the Soviet Union in general.

For Ansky, it was unbearable to think that if Yevtushenko hadn’t written his poem, the massacre would have been forgotten. “He came there and all he saw was the Soviet monument glorifying the defeat of the Nazis by the Russians. He went home and wrote the poem, which starts with the words “No monument stands over Babyn Yar/A droop sheer as a crude gravestone.”

For Ansky, who met Yevtushenko when he came to Israel in 2007, this was very emotional. “He came here and read the poem to a full house and no eye was left dry. If not for him, maybe the Babyn Yar massacre would have been forgotten. He came there and saw there was hardly any mention of the massacre, of the victims. He could not bear it.”

“THE IDEA was to produce a documentary that combined the concert with Ansky’s reading and strolling through the streets of Kyiv,” says producer Nachum Slutzker.

Slutzker, who immigrated to Israel from Kovno, Lithuania in 1981, is a musician and violinist. He has played in several ensembles and produced music festivals, among other activities. In the last 10 years, he has worked mainly with Israeli composer Berliner and his famous symphonic poem Genesis.“The idea to make the film came up seven years ago when we were invited to perform Genesis with the Ukrainian National Philharmonic Orchestra in memory of the victims of Babyn Yar, 75 years after the massacre took place,” says Slutzker.

“The orchestra performed two of Berliner’s works – Cain and Able, from Genesis, and Abraham. In Cain and Abel, there is a part for a narrator, and we invited Alex Ansky to come with us for that special concert. He read the biblical text while the orchestra played.

“For me,” Slutzker adds, “it was a kind of closure, because Ansky, without knowing it, was my Hebrew “teacher.” When I came to Israel I used to listen to his early morning radio daily show and I learned how to speak correctly by listening to him,” he recalls.

A group of Israelis also came for the concert and joined Ansky and Slutzker the next day for a visit to Babyn Yar memorial. “There, next to the Soviet memorial for the war, Alex read Yevtushenko’s poem in Hebrew. The visit was very emotional.

A short documentary turned into a full-fledged film

“We filmed the concert, the reading, and also Alex strolling through the streets of Kyiv asking questions. The idea was to create a short documentary together with the Ukrainian director Serge (Sergiy) Krutsenko.”The first version was called Hatikva and ended with Ansky reading from Genesis standing next to the orchestra. This was supposed to be the end of the whole event,” says the producer.

But the idea of humans turning into monsters and how this could happen to educated people, such as the Germans, kept bothering Slutzker. “I played music by Bach and Beethoven since I was a young child. I read German philosophers and authors, and I just couldn’t understand how this could happen,” he says.The second version, The Address on the Wall, was finalized after being altered following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Connecting the Babyn Yar massacre with the current tragedy, the film is a reflection on the past and evidence of today.

The film, which will be screened at the Cinematheque this Friday, started in a dream. “I am a dreamer, literally,” Slutzker admits. “I dream a lot and I remember my dreams. After we came back from Kyiv, and after the film was finished, I dreamed that I was among those walking to their death in Babyn Yar, with the suitcase holding my most precious possessions. I hear the dogs barking, I hear the German soldiers, and I carry my suitcase as did all the Jews who believed the Nazis and followed their orders.

“In the morning, I called the director and told him we needed to redo the film. He immediately agreed and we started working. We recruited Ansky, Berliner, and their spouses and we all returned to Kyiv and started filming scenes that depicted what happened in Kyiv – the Jewish community, with their leader and his wife in the front row [played by Slutzker himself with Hamutal (Tali) Ansky as his wife], as well as German soldiers, a gentle silent romance between a young Nazi soldier and a Jewish girl, a Jewish pharmacist being dragged from his home, and more.

“The scenes, scripted by the director, were born from our conversations with people who witnessed the Nazi occupation of Kyiv as children, as well as evidence and testimonies given by survivors.”Some who participated in the movie are no longer with us, says Slutzker sadly, mentioning the director Sergey Krutsenko, who passed away recently in Kyiv, and one of the actors, who perished in the Ukraine war, as well as Ansky’s wife, who died last year.

THROUGHOUT the film, Ansky asks questions that are left unanswered. “The film raises these issues but it does not provide answers, says Slutzker. “I hope that people who watch it ask their questions and look for their answers,” Slutzker says.

“The prayer that Berliner added at the end, and has since become very popular, being performed in many countries and languages, is in memory of the victims. We must remember those who were massacred.“After the script was finished, Berliner added the epilogue – the Prayer El Maleh Rachamim, which he composed and performed at the end of the film,” he adds.

“I believe that the universal subject, the question of how humans turn into monsters, is relevant today even more than before.”

Haktovet Al Hakir (The Address on the Wall) will be screened on Friday, January 26 at noon at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.