Lauren B. Lev
Author, Teacher and Member, Hadassah Nassau

Return to ‘The Barn’- a Holocaust Story

"The Barn" image courtesy of the author
"The Barn" image courtesy of the author

The writer, James Baldwin has been quoted in a 1962 essay for the New York Times, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” James Baldwin’s Fire: Throughline.

So, what does it take in this critical moment to face atrocity and destruction in the Middle East and not be silent? What does it take in 2024 to revisit Poland and bear witness to the harsh memories of Nazi occupation during World War II? Now more than ever, what does it take to “never forget”?

One approach for this writer: Sit on sofa, open laptop, log in and listen carefully to the compelling messages of the Holocaust documentary, “The Barn.”

Last January, just two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Temple B’nai Torah of Wantagh, New York introduced their community of students, teachers, and congregants both in person and online to Rachel Kastner to hear about what she calls, Holocaust storytelling.

Rachel, a Long Island, New York native who is currently living in Israel, explained via Zoom that she has three grandparents who are Holocaust survivors, and she grew up in a household that didn’t shy away from its stories.

She shared how she finds meaning as a creative producer in telling the stories of her family. She was able to bring one story of her grandfather, Karl Shapiro, to life in “The Barn,” a full-length documentary directed by Phil Berger and produced by Rachel, Phil and producer Matthew Hiltzik.

In the film, Karl and Rachel return to Poland to see the world Karl lived in as a child. Their goal was to meet the woman who, along with her family, saved him and his parents by sending them to a farm (in modern-day Ukraine) to be hidden away from Nazi persecution. “The Barn” was the Shapiro family “home” along with a number of other stowaways cohabitating in darkness and fear. They lived and breathed in an underground bunker below a floor covered in hay for a year and a half until liberation occurred. Karl was seven years old.

But a simple paragraph doesn’t do justice to this story. It is, like most stories, highly nuanced, given the complex emotions unleashed for those both on and off the screen.

In all my work and study in marketing communications, it has often been said that the only thing that matters is the storytelling. History has proven how people have gravitated to stories and storytelling for thousands of years. And in less than one hour this was no different. It was a story of humanity: the highest pinnacle of good and the worst evil depths. None of us could turn away, literally or figuratively.

Post-screening (and something near to 3 AM in Israel) we learned about Rachel’s pivot from dreams of Hollywood to being a real-life Holocaust activist. Questions from the audience centered around her specific feelings for sharing this deeply private piece of her grandfather’s young life with hundreds of people of all ages.

For me, however, it wasn’t just her thoughtful answers but her permission for an intimate moment shared. I never knew my grandfathers. I have no evidence of Holocaust survivors in my extended family. But all of that isn’t relevant. Rachel’s 20/20 hindsight allowed a glimpse into the resolute adult she had become and her defining work. It’s work that will ensure that we do not forget our past and its work that must be shared by us all.

Since “The Barn,” Rachel has produced several projects regarding the Jewish experience throughout the world — in Ethiopia, Mexico, Poland — and of course, in Israel.

Thanks to Rachel, just as we have honored Holocaust Remembrance Day this year, this story is faced and brought to the light, just like the way young Karl exited the barn into the sunlight when the liberating soldiers called.

Lauren B. Lev is a member of the Hadassah Educators Council.

About the Author
Lauren B. Lev is a Life Member of Hadassah Nassau (Long Island, NY). She is a New York-based writer and direct marketing/advertising executive who teaches marketing communications at the State University of New York/Fashion Institute of Technology. Lauren writes personal essays and features that have appeared in New York Newsday, and the East Meadow Herald under the weekly column "eLEVate the Conversation" from 2012 through 2022. She has written for the book, “Real Stories of Hadassah Life Changing Moments” and is the honored recipient of the Hadassah Nassau Region Woman of the Year Award for her work in developing the Special Needs version of the Hadassah Al Galgalim/Training Wheels program. This hands-on, inclusive program helps to ensure that young children nationwide can learn about the richness of their Jewish heritage.
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