Part Five: Finding Piroska


Read Part Four of my series here.

The film I’m producing is called Eleftheromania. It’s a word first used in French literature during the time of their revolution, describing man’s innate desire to be free. Incidentally, it comes from two Greek words— eleftheros (free) and mania (desire or madness). A very Greek-rooted word describing a well known attribute in the cultural DNA of the Greek people.

Toronto writer Joanna Tsanis has written an excellent script for the short film, describing an unknown incident that took place during the summer of 1944 at Auschwitz, involving 400 Greek prisoners and a collective act of heroism not seen before in the history of the Holocaust. The story involves the arrival of large transports of Hungarian Jews, arrested and brought to Poland by train where the majority of them were immediately sent to the gas chambers.

In her script, Joanna introduces Piroska— an eighty+ year old Hungarian grandmother who becomes a central character, despite only a brief presence in the story. Her interaction with the Greek prisoners is a pivotal scene. Writing in the Piroska role was coincidental and came from Joanna’s own creative imagination.

While visiting Auschwitz and doing my research, I visited an exhibition dedicated to the Hungarian Jews. It told a story of an ancient community, wiped out— hundreds of thousands arrested and brought here for mass extermination during the summer of 1944. The exhibition included dozens of photos the Nazis took when the Hungarians arrived. There were photos of the unsuspecting prisoners, waiting by the trains they had just arrived on, waiting to be selected for death, or for work detail… There were photos of prisoners in long lines outside the gas chambers.

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And there were photos of old ladies— carrying their grandchildren in their arms. It was a moment of “art imitating art”. Joanna hasn’t been to Auschwitz to see this exhibition and the coincidence was unnerving. I wondered to myself if we had found our Piroska.



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