Survivors and storytelling in "Four Seasons Lodge"
This week I had the opportunity to screen a documentary about a community of Holocaust survivors who bought a bungalow colony in the Catskills called the Four Seasons Lodge to spend their summers together at each year. I was looking forward to seeing the film after my cousin sent me a link to the trailer. I knew exactly why she was so excited about it -- the survivors in the trailer acted and sounded exactly like our grandparents, Ben and Rose Berkenwald.
Watching Four Seasons Lodge felt like spending time with my grandparents and their surivivor friends. It was slow at times, though this was true to the experience of hanging out with the elderly. It had both humor and heart, as you can see from the trailer.
A person of my generation is likely to meet one or two Holocaust survivors in their lifetime, especially if they are not Jewish or directly related to survivors. The survivors they are most likely to meet are the ones volunteering at shuls and museums telling their story. But those survivors are the exception. Most of the survivors that I know, as well as those featured in Four Seasons Lodge, have a complicated relationship with storytelling. This complexity is one thing the film captures very well.
Stories of survival are not easy to tell, or hear. From my experience, most surivors do not wish to tell their stories. One woman in the film mentioned that her granddaughter had been asking to hear her story. She says it will have to be on her deathbed, and maybe not even then. My grandparents never told my father until he accompanied them on a trip to D.C. to visit the newly-opened National Holocaust Museum. It took a museum of memories to get them to open up. Many projects have attempted to record survivor's stories of the Holocaust. Four Seasons Lodge, however, records another important story -- the story of their lives as a unique group of immigrants in the United States, telling and not telling stories they wish they could forget.
Today, or when the film was shot in 2006, the survivors are in their 80s and 90s, facing failing health and their own mortality. As a not-so-subtle metaphor, they are also facing the closure of the Four Seasons Lodge. Since they are getting too old to manage the property and/or make the trip north each summer, the community voted to sell the colony. Over the course of the film, however, they change their minds and decide to fight to buy the colony back. In the film, some survivors argue that you had to be willing to do anything to survive. Others say they were just lucky. Either way, there is a reason we call these people "survivors," and they continue not only to survive, but to live until they die.
If you live in the Boston area, Four Seasons Lodge is opening at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline on December 11. The film is now being released commercially. Check their website for dates and locations.