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The Lost Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe (2000)

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synagogue | narration | See All (2) »

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27 March 2000 (USA)  »

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Interesting idea, disappointing presentation
21 September 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

We saw this at a screening last night. It's a good idea for a documentary, but the execution is disappointing. The first half is an introduction to the pre-WWII wooden synagogues of rural Poland. Very good interviews with Holocaust survivors in this half--they describe their synagogues, how beautifully they were decorated, how important they were to the communities they served. There are historic photos and sketches of the synagogues, from an archive that miraculously survived the war because, the movie says, they were "hidden." Who hid them? Why? This sounds like an interesting and important part of the story, but the movie doesn't go into it. Then, in the second half, the filmmaker Albert Barry goes to Lithuania and we see him climbing into one absolutely wrecked wooden synagogue after another. He never explains why he is so compelled to make this journey, never talks about what the synagogues mean to him, which would have made the movie vastly more interesting. There are tons of scenes of locals opening creaking locks on crumbling buildings. Theodore Bikel keeps intoning, "But nothing remains of the synagogue's former glory." Decent documentary, could have been really compelling.


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