Incredible story of Holocaust Survival Band told in powerful new documentary
Saul and Ruby are both Holocaust survivors from Poland.
Saul was a prisoner of the Kraków Ghetto where he saw the Germans shoot his grandmother. He survived three concentration camps, worked in Oscar Schindler’s factory and lost his entire family.
Ruby and his family escaped the Warsaw Ghetto when the wall was being built in 1940. He survived the whole war by being hidden in a farmer’s barn.
Like many Holocaust survivors, the two men moved to the United States, where until recently, they were living the typical lives of Miami retirees, dealing with the problems of aging and looking after sick spouses.
However, Saul Dreier and Ruby Sosnowicz are not typical men. In 2014, approaching their tenth decade, they took the age-defying decision to set up a Klezmer ensemble so they could “sing for the 6 million who died” and spread a message of peace and love.
“My rabbi told me I was crazy,” Dreier said. “But only God can tell me I am too old.”
As musicians, they didn’t start from scratch. Ruby was a professional musician and his home is full of keyboards and guitars.
Saul, though, picked up percussion after a long break from music. In Mauthausen, he set up a choir and played the spoons. He says that music saved his life. “When you play music, you forget you are hungry.”
They set themselves the goal of raising enough money from playing gigs to travel to Poland so that they can play their music in Warsaw and Auschwitz.
Their dream came true in 2016 when they played in front of a crowd of thousands on Warsaw’s Grzybowski square.
Following them with a camera on their journey was Oscar-nominated film maker Tod Lending, whose award-winning film Saul and Ruby’s Holocaust Survivor Band received its Warsaw premiere last night.
Now aged 96, Saul made the long trip from the United States to the screening in Warsaw’s Kinoteka cinema, where he told the audience: “We all have to learn to live together and never forget what happened.”
Lending has created a bittersweet film that is ultimately more about celebrating life and showing that age is not a barrier to achieving dreams than it is about the Holocaust.
Through sharing their music and stories, they also heal their own wounds and send their message of love into the world.
The film follows Saul and Ruby’s musical journey, which begins in total obscurity, playing in residential homes for the elderly, small Jewish community organisations and shopping centres.
Their infectious positivity and blend of klezmer favourites with music hall hits endears them to audiences.
As news of their unlikely endeavour spreads, they are invited to perform at venues across the country, peaking with a performance at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage in Washington DC.
While preparing for their trip to Poland, tragedy strikes the pair when they both lose their beloved wives to ill health within days of each other.
Ruby’s wife of 55 years, Gina, died in 2016, within a week of Saul losing his wife Clara, who he had been married to for 58 years.
Though devastated, they don’t abandon their plans. Still mourning their losses, the pair travel to Poland where some of the film's most powerful scenes take place.
Ruby, who remembers Warsaw from before the war, is bewildered by the changes that have taken place in the city. He looks for his former home and claims to find it, but there is little there to remind him of his childhood.
They play to a crowd of thousands in Warsaw with Polish music star Muniek Staszczyk. At the concert they meet a group of Poles who saved Jews during the war.
In Kraków, Saul has more success looking for traces of his past. With unbelievable vigour for a man of his age, he springs around the Kazimierz district delighted to see the street where he lived. He tells an anecdote about playing football with boyhood pals and breaking a neighbours window.
In perhaps the most heart-wrenching scene on the film he excitedly enters the stairwell of the building where he lived.
However, in a split-second, memories of the family he lost start flooding back. He clings to the wall crying “my mother, my sisters, I can’t go up.”
On Kraków’s Ghetto Heroes square, he points to the very spot where he saw the Germans murdered his grandmother.
Their tour ends at Auschwitz, where they play just as a duo, Saul with a simple drum and snare attached by straps and Ruby on accordion.
In an act of defiance against the perpetrators, they perform on the infamous railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz: an act of solidarity with the dead.
Yesterday in Warsaw, Saul reinforced his message of unity and love, followed by a rousing performance on the drums accompanied by a local klezmer band.
“When I’m in Warsaw, I feel as healthy as a horse,” he beamed.