One of the most meaningful moments for director Ashton Gleckman in his filming of the Holocaust documentary “We Shall Not Die Now” occurred off camera, and in Pittsburgh.
Gleckman, a 19-year-old musician and filmmaker from Carmel, Indiana, came to Pittsburgh last spring to interview Holocaust survivors Cantor Moshe Taube and Sam Gottesman for his first feature film, now streaming on Amazon Prime.
“I went to Cantor Taube’s house, and we sat down at his piano, and we had a conversation for a few hours,” recalled Gleckman. “And he just took me through his whole entire life story and told me about his time with Oskar Schindler.”
Taube was one of nearly 1,200 Jews saved from extermination during the Holocaust by Schindler, a German industrialist.
“One of the most incredible things in my life, honestly, is after we were done with the interview, him being a Schindler’s survivor, he asked me to actually play something on the piano,” Gleckman continued. “And he said, ‘Do you know the ‘Schindler’s List’ theme?’ And I said, ‘Of course,’ and I played the ‘Schindler’s List’ theme for a survivor from Schindler’s list. It was a bit of a surreal moment. It was one of the most memorable experiences of making the film.”
Taube is featured prominently in the documentary, along with about two dozen other survivors, liberators and Holocaust scholars in both current and archival footage.
While in Pittsburgh, Gleckman also interviewed Gottesman for extensive background research. Gottesman, however, died in June, 2019, before Gleckman had collected video footage of the interviews to incorporate in the film. But Gottesman, who survived numerous concentration camps, is acknowledged in still shots and in a short written tribute at the film’s conclusion.
“Sam Gottesman was an incredible, valuable resource in terms of asking questions for the research very early on in production,” said Gleckman. “His contribution was remarkable. And I remember when he passed away — it just continues to validate the importance of capturing these stories.”
Gleckman, who dropped out of high school after his sophomore year to pursue music and filmmaking, recognizes that his educational path is “untraditional.” He is not contemplating college. Instead, he seeks out training at workshops at various universities in the United States and abroad and studies filmmaking techniques on instructional videos.
In 2018, famed film composer Hans Zimmer discovered Gleckman’s music online, and tapped the teenager to work for Zimmer’s companies, Remote Control Productions and Bleeding Fingers Music.
Although filmmaking has become his main focus, Gleckman has continued to work on music as well, and scored “We Shall Not Die Now,” whose theme was composed by Grammy-nominated composer Benjamin Wallfisch (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Hidden Figures”).
Gleckman spent five months conducting interviews for his documentary, and raised funds to travel to Poland where he filmed at the sites of several concentration camps.
Although he had produced some shorter films, Gleckman took on the Holocaust as the subject of his first full-length feature because it is a period of history that has captured his interest since he was a child.
“In Indianapolis, we have the Indianapolis Children’s Museum and one of the exhibits there is about Anne Frank,” he said. “And so that was the first thing I heard about the Holocaust, and when I was like six years old, I started to research the Holocaust and read books and see movies. I would go to survivors’ speaking events. And I just became fascinated with the subject.”
Gleckman is not Jewish, although his father’s family is, he said, and he had a great uncle who was one of the liberators of the Buchenwald concentration camp. After his great-uncle passed away, “I realized, really we’re only going to get this opportunity now. You can’t make a film about survivors in 20 years or 30 years, because there won’t be any survivors to speak to. So we’re in this very delicate period of time.”
So, Gleckman just set off with his camera, “not a lot of money in my pocket, and went out there and filmed all the interviews.”
The aim of the film, he said, “was to bring the audience along on this journey, because really the movie was me learning about the Holocaust. And I wanted to do that with the audience. So hopefully that’s what comes across with it.”
Gleckman began filming in March of 2019, and the documentary premiered in October 2019.
“So it was pretty much from beginning to end actually only six or seven months,” he said. “I worked every single day like 15 hours.”
In addition to Amazon Prime, the film can be seen on the YouTube channel Timeline, which posted the film for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The YouTube channel has given us a whole new opportunity to get it in front of as many eyes as possible,” Gleckman said. “Despite not making a lot of financial return — that’s not our goal. Our goal is to continue the discussion about the Holocaust, especially at this point, given the 75th anniversary.
“I think it’s just really, really important that while we have the opportunity to capture the stories we do so, so that the future generations can refer back to them,” he said. pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at