Grandson of late Holocaust survivor Judah Samet wins award for modern Shoah film
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Short film"Coming to Berlin"

Grandson of late Holocaust survivor Judah Samet wins award for modern Shoah film

Zeke Winitsky's "Coming to Berlin" pits competing voices and characters against one another

Zeke Winitsky. Photo courtesy of IES Abroad
Zeke Winitsky. Photo courtesy of IES Abroad

Sharing aspects of his grandfather’s story was one of the challenges Penn State University senior Ezekiel Winitsky faced in developing his six-minute film, “Coming to Berlin.”

“You want to make sure you are telling the story for the right reasons,” said Winitsky, the grandson of Judah Samet, a survivor of both the Holocaust and the massacre at the Tree of Life building, who died in September. “The project required me to think about who I am as a storyteller, what I’m saying in the film and what people are going to walk away with.”

Winitsky won the IES Study Abroad Film Festival for his movie about reckoning with the Holocaust. The film pits protagonist Zeke against Yechezkel, a fictionalized historical version of Zeke, during a modern-day trip to Germany. The actors (both played by Winitsky) debate the Shoah’s legacy and the extent to which survivors and their descendants remain gripped by the horrific event.

“Coming to Berlin” is filmed in various settings, including a wooded area, near remnants of the Berlin Wall and at an urban Holocaust memorial. Between scenes, the film relies on dramatic flashes of still photos, including a picture of Samet.

Reception to the film has been positive.

Patrick Jager, a media executive and Study Abroad Film Festival jury member, told the Daily Collegian that Winitsky’s film was a “powerful, eye-opening glimpse into history and family.”

Kiah Zellner-Smith, a multimedia marketing manager who worked on the film festival, told the Daily Collegian that “Coming to Berlin” was an important film given its treatment of family and the experience of studying abroad.

A still from Zeke Winitsky’s “Coming to Berlin.” Photo courtesy of Zeke Winitsky

Despite wanting to create some sort of project during his stay in Germany last summer, Winitsky wasn’t sure what the film would reflect. He narrowed in on his subject after arriving in Berlin.

After seeing so many Holocaust memorials, and listening to various tales related to the Shoah, Winitsky discovered there were “two voices” in his head, he said.

Relying on those competing calls for attention, Winitsky began drafting a project. He wrote the script shortly after arriving in Germany but then sat on the work for weeks.

“My parents really pushed me to make something out of it,” he said.

With their encouragement, Winitsky pulled together costumes and created storyboards. He filmed the material in one day, then edited it on the “back end” of his trip while staying in hostels and sitting in airports.

“I had a rough cut when I got back to the States,” he said.

Winitsky, who is studying film at Penn State, said he’s encouraged by the support “Coming to Berlin” has received.

“As a young filmmaker, it’s validating to have someone besides your parents say they like it,” he said.

Winitsky added that he felt a certain “catharsis” in telling the story and hopes others experience something similar.

Although he hails from eastern Pennsylvania, Winitsky said he feels an affinity for Pittsburgh and the many people here who cherished his grandfather for so long.

“I have so much love for the Pittsburgh Jewish community,” he said. “Even though my grandfather has passed, I still feel connected and want to be connected to that.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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