By: Ch, Capt Shlomo Kalkstein, USAFR
The Jewish nation has a long history of suffering and much of our literature reflects an attempt to understand why persecution takes place and how, as a religious people, we should react to it. Hiding and Seeking is a remarkable documentary recording them journey taken by Menachem Daum, an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn to Poland, where he hopes to locate the righteous Christian farmers who hid his father-in-law for 28 months during the Holocaust at great personal risk.
Daum’s spiritual outlook, one committed to tolerance, warmth and openness, is modeled on figures such as Shlomo Carlebach, and contrasts sharply with the understandable suspicion and cynicism of his traumatized, survivor father, whom we meet in the film. One can imagine the young Daum, a bright and sanguine spirit, moving through the public schools in Albany and later, after the family relocated to Brooklyn so that he could attend yeshiva, through the halls of Brooklyn College, struggling to reconcile his own positive feelings towards outsiders with the unforgiving bitterness of his father’s. This Daum accepts, but to his frustration, his adult sons, committed yeshiva students, share their grandfather’s views about gentiles rather than his own. He brings them along to Poland in the hopes that meeting the Christian family to whom they owe their lives will bring about a change in their hearts.
As Mr. Daum, his wife and their sons travel through Poland, we experience with them the full range of emotions that remembrance of European shtetl life evokes. Nostalgia for what was lost is mixed with anger as one considers the enormity of the crime that was allowed to transpire. At times, we think of a shocking comment about G-d that Daum quoted from his mother earlier in the film.
Eventually, the mood turns and in a memorable scene, the elderly and inspiring Wojciech and Honorota Mucha emerge through the gate of their small yard to meet the waiting Daums. We see their humble home, we hear from them and we are left in wonder at the greatness of what they did. We also hear from their granddaughter and sense that they have passed their high values down across generations. The coming together of the Daum and Mucha families feels genuinely touching, hopeful, and in some ways like a happy ending.
But we are left with the question of who is right; Menachem Daum or his sons. The trip closes with a conversation between them as they drive away from the Mucha home. Menachem is encouraged and speaks in awe of their kindness but his pragmatic sons remind him that the Muchas were the exception in a world where brutality and hatred were the rule. “And the truth is,” his son continues, “they would probably do it again.” Their father is silent. A conversation follows in which Menachem’s sons discuss the trip with their (other) grandfather in Brooklyn and ask him whether he would have done for others what the Muchas did for him. His unexpected and honest answer leaves us thinking about how hard it is to be heroic. And perhaps this is Daum’s real lesson in the film, one that he and his family personify. That moral courage and ultimately, moral heroism, lie in one’s willingness to face uncomfortable truths.
Originally published in the Purim 2021 issue of The Jewish American Warrior.