Minot’s Oak Park Theater will host a special screening of the documentary “Passage to Sweden” as a prelude to the Midsummer Festival of the Scandinavian Heritage Association. The acclaimed documentary, directed by Brooklyn, New York-born filmmaker Suzannah Warlick, sheds light on the largely unheralded story of how thousands of Scandinavian Jews were spared the Holocaust by being smuggled into Sweden.
Warlick began making documentaries after taking a video editing course and turning that into a career in videography. After a series of documentary projects on the experiences of actors and drag queens, Warlick turned her camera to matchmaking and marriage in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish communities for a documentary called “Match & Marry.”
“I happened to work with people who were interesting,” said Warlick. “That made me ask questions. Why are you doing this? What’s the appeal?”
It was at work “Play and Marry” that she met a matchmaker named Chana Sharfstein who, as the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Orthodox community in Stockholm, witnessed the events of World War II in Sweden. Sharfstein begged Warlick to continue the story of him “Swedish Rescue” as her next project, which Warlick himself was initially reluctant to pursue. While she was thinking, she was working on a music video for a colleague and told him about the potential project.
“He gave me a check and told me to do my next film. It was enough for the first trip to Sweden. I don’t think I would have made it without this first check.” said Warlick. “All roads lead to Sweden. It’s the main character.”
Sweden was neutral during World War II and, unlike neighboring countries Norway and Denmark, avoided Nazi occupation. Sweden would eventually open its borders to Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazi state across Europe. Most importantly, the concerted effort of the citizens of Denmark resulted in 99% of their Jewish population fleeing to Sweden, which is the focus of Warlick’s documentary.
Over the course of several trips to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Hungary, Warlick recorded over 100 hours of interviews and captured the testimonies of those who survived thanks to the selflessness and heroism of fishing boat captains, diplomats, a king and an entire nation. Production has been slowed down somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Warlick used the time to distill the footage and complete the film.
“Most people, even from a Scandinavian background, don’t know this story. Hopefully everyone who sees it learns something.” said Warlick.
screenings for “Passage to Sweden” begins June 13th and runs through June 15th, with tickets priced at $5. The June 16 premiere is $20 per ticket, with a beer and wine reception taking place beforehand and a question-and-answer session with Warlick and Scharfstein after the screening.
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