"Shores of Light" director Yael Katzir
"Shores of Light" director Yael Katzir

Film tells of little-known post-Holocaust refuge in Italy

A 2015 documentary about Holocaust survivors in southern Italy after the war will be featured at a free Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Israeli Consul General Shlomi Kofman and Italian Consul General Lorenzo Ortona will speak at 7 p.m., prior to the film screening, and will take questions at the reception to follow.

“Shores of Light (Salento 1945-47),” by Israeli director Yael Katzir, tells the story of thousands of survivors who ended up in southern Italy en route to what was then Palestine. Welcomed by the local population, which was economically poor but rich in human compassion, many of the refugees stayed, married and had children before eventually moving on to their intended destination. Although it was a transitory phase for them, it was also a time of healing.

Katzir’s documentary follows three women born in the town of Santa Maria di Leuca who return seven decades later to see if they can find a trace of their parents’ brief stay. The film blends rare archival footage and present-day testimonies into a story about the postwar hope that bloomed on the coastline along Italy’s “boot.”

“Many films have been made about the Holocaust, but this unimaginable chapter of history [the immediate postwar era] is still full of surprises,” Katzir said in a director’s statement. “The sun, the sea, but mostly the Italian human warmth towards the survivors, captured my heart and imagination. It is an amazing story of rebirth.”

Katzir found especially poignant the desire of women to have children, despite having just come through the horrors of the Holocaust.

“It shows the role and power of women, who were determined to fill the gap of their lost families and had the courage to give birth to their first children before they had a real home or even a formal ID,” she writes. Katzir found that hundreds of babies were born to Jewish refugees in the hospital of the local DP camp; 50 have been traced to Israel today.

The film screening and conversation also will be accompanied by an exhibit, “Beyond Duty: An Exhibition on the Diplomats Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations,” about 30 foreign diplomats who saved Jews and minorities during World War II. Doors open for viewing at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit will remain at the OFJCC for a short time.