The Story of Soul Witness

Leon Satenstein and Regina Barshak

In 1945, US Army intelligence office named Leon Satenstein, witnessed the liberation of Dachau.

After the war, Leon went on to become a prominent attorney, serving in the JFK administration. Forever changed by what he witnessed at Dachau, Leon spent his free hours volunteering as a social worker, counseling Holocaust witnesses.

In 1980, Leon moved to Brookline, Massachusetts.

Regina Barshak was a Brookline resident. She was also a Holocaust survivor from France. Regina and her brother Max were hidden from the Nazis. Their parents perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Max went on to become a violinist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra for over thirty years. Regina was one of the people Leon helped.

The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project

Leon and Regina shared a vision to create a living memorial to the Holocaust by recording on video the testimonies of local survivors. Their aim was to document and validate the experiences of those who had survived the Holocaust.

Beginning in 1990, with the help of world-renowned Holocaust testimony expert Lawrence Langer, Facing History and Ourselves, the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, Brookline Access Television and Town of Brookline Director of Human Relations, Steve Bressler, Leon and Regina began the process of interviewing witnesses of the Holocaust.

Over the course of 6 years, the Brookline Holocaust Witness Project interviewed 36 survivors and 3 liberators for more than 80 hours. The interviews ranged from 45 minutes to 7 hours. Lawrence Langer conducted approximately 80% of the testimony interviews and supervised the project.

The interviews were recorded in duplicate with one set of tapes going to Fortunoff for research and archival purposes and the other set of tapes staying in Brookline to be shared with the local community.

The Metal Closet

Leon and Regina wanted to be able to share the testimonies with the public but they knew it would be impossible for people to see all of the footage – akin to watching an “80 hour movie”.

The Brookline tapes were placed in a metal closet in the Brookline Health Department Building until the group could raise the funds necessary to edit the interview footage and create their dream of a living memorial to the Holocaust.

The Town of Brookline’s copies of the interviews were kept in that storage unit in the Town’s health department building for over 20 years.

When we lost Leon Satenstein in 2012 and Regina Barshak a few years later; the tapes were still locked in the metal closet.

The Tapes are Discovered

In 2014, Dr. Lloyd Gellineau, Brookline’s new Chief Diversity Officer, discovered approximately 140 U-matic videotapes in a metal closet. Dr. Gellineau learned that the videotapes contained testimonies of local Holocaust survivors taken decades earlier.

Dr. Gellineau had a vision to create a documentary based on the footage. He immediately turned to experienced producer R. Harvey Bravman. Harvey had founded the Brookline Youth Awards in 2011. Held at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the event allows residents to hear about the character, challenges, and dreams of its young people as well as adults dedicated to their success, through the power and intimacy of video interviews.

In 2016, Harvey managed the digitization and restoration of the videotapes. He then produced and directed a work-in-progress version of the film, personally fundraising as he went along. Harvey turned to longtime friend and accomplished documentary editor, Robert Kirwan to edit the film. 

Soul Witness

As the work-in-progress version of the film was drawing completion, Harvey’s wife, Karen Chase, armed with only a spreadsheet of the witnesses’ 1989 contact information, researched the whereabouts and contacted family members of those who testified.

On January 26, 2017, the work-in-progress version of the film based on the never seen before testimonies sold out the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. A reception was held before the special screening for the family members of those who were interviewed so many years before.

Soul Witness has sold out the Coolidge six times. It has also screened to several, mostly sold out screenings in New England, New York and Virginia.

On November 3, 2019, Soul Witness screened in Pittsburgh to benefit the three congregations affected by the mass shooting on October 27, 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project is based exclusively on the recovered footage rescued from the metal closet.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Regina Barshak and Leon Satenstein.