Traces (2006) – By Sharon Martin

It’s always very hard for me to watch any movies or documentaries about the holocaust, as my father and grandmother were both survivors.  She and and my father emigrated from Hungary to Israel after the war.  Out of a large family, only a few survived.

Irena Zonabend was born and raised in Russia. Her grandfather emigrated there from Ciechocinek, Poland two generations prior to her birth. The entire Jewish population of Ciechocinek was erased during the war, and Irena had very little information about her Jewish background. It was not discussed in her household as she grew up, and all she really had to go on was a list of names – a family tree, made by her grandfather. Her aunt Bracha was rumored to have escaped to, what at the time was Palestine, but is today Israel, before the war. Following what little information she had, Irena decided to try and track any relatives that might have survived.  This documentary follows her search: her information requests sent to different institutes (like Yad Vashem), her visit to the Jewish Historical institue in Warsaw, a visit to the town of Ciechocinek, and her research on the internet, which ultimately led to her finally finding a lost relative in Israel.

The documentary includes old documents and photographs, as well as a few interviews. The camera follows Irena on her journey, so some parts are interviews, while others are actual events as they happened.  The narrator in the film gives historical facts, dates and numbers along the way, and also talks about various aspects of Irena’s journey, the places she is visiting and the people she meets.

I liked the fact that the original audio was used (instead of dubbing or talking over it, there are subtitles in English, Hebrew, Russian, Polish Arabic and Finnish. The Hebrew subtitles could use a little bit of extra editing, as there are a few minor spelling mistakes.  They don’t interfere with the understanding of what is being said, but they were a little weird to me as a native Hebrew speaker.

It was very interesting and sad to see the old documents and photos. It really added a lot to the feel of the documentary and makes you think about the scope of what really happened. It was amazing to see how well some of the old documents were preserved (like the old school logs and the old business catalog), and also chilling when you realize how effective the Nazis were in documenting everything and making sure everything went as planned.

For me, it was sad to see how such a huge part (50%) of the population was simply erased off the face of the Earth, with almost no traces left behind. During the film, Irena talks about the fact that there are no signs left of the once thriving Jewish community despite it’s large contribution to the developement of the town. The synagogue was burned down, the cemetery was destroyed and the headstones were used for paving roads.

I think there is great importance to documentaries like Traces, especially in the way it presents the old documents and photos that shouldn’t be just archived and forgotten.  The holocaust should never be forgotten, because those who don’t learn from the lessons of history, are doomed to repeat it.  This is a relatively short (32 minutes), yet wonderfully presented documentary that anyone who’s interested in stories like this will want to check out.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at