Serbia's Official Academy Awards Selection: Dara of Jasenovac with Dr. Michael Berenbaum
Written by: Nikoleta Morales
Set in 1940s Croatia, DARA OF JASENOVAC follows 10-year-old Dara (Biljana Cekic) as she comes face-to-face with the horrors of the Holocaust-era after she, her mother and siblings are sent to the concentration camp complex known as Jasenovac. Considered one of the most overlooked parts of history, Jasenovac is not run by the Germans but by the fascist Ustase who brutally murdered Jews, Serb and Roma people, which included many women and children. As unspeakable atrocities start to unfold, Dara must summon tremendous courage to protect her infant brother from a terrible fate while she safeguards her own survival and plots a precarious path toward freedom.
About the Film
During the course of World War II, the Independent State of Croatia, led by the fascist Ustase government, established a sprawling concentration camp complex known as Jasenovac to exterminate ethnic Serbs, Jews and Roma people in its territory. Known as Croatia's Auschwitz, it was the only such operation run by non-Germans in Europe and included camps exclusively for children.
Established in 1941 near the intersection of the Sava and Una Rivers, Jasenovac was one of the 10 largest camps in all of Europe and was known for its brutal, barbaric practices. Children were poisoned, beaten and locked away to sleep on the cold floors of cells and went without food for days. Starving prisoners frequently resorted to eating grass and dirt. Those who were executed were not shot nor gassed, rather inmates were killed with hammers, knives, axes and stones. Some had their throats slit open in killing competitions among the guards. Parts of their bodies were cut off as souvenirs.
Despite the enormous importance it has not only for the region but also for the European and Holocaust history, Jasenovac remains relatively unknown internationally—the site of the camp has since been leveled, leaving no trace of where such monstrous atrocities once took place. Seeking to shed light on this critical chapter of a nation’s painful past, prolific Serbian filmmaker Predrag Antonijević brings the untold story of the camps to the screen for the first time in the deeply moving drama, DARA OF JASENOVAC.
Based on heartbreaking first-hand accounts from Holocaust survivors, the film is rooted in the perspective of 10-year-old Dara, a courageous Serbian girl who endures unimaginable tragedy even as she goes to tireless lengths to protect the life of her infant brother. As a testament to its extraordinary artistry and power, the film was selected as Serbia’s official submission for the Academy Awards®. For more on the Oscars, visit: https://www.oscars.org/news/oscars
Our interview is with the film’s executive producer and historian Dr. Michael Berenbaum. Michael is the director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at the American Jewish University and has served as a consultant for numerous films, several of which have won Emmys and Academy Awards (including One Survivor Remembers, and Last Days).
“The film shows what we historians call the grey zone, which is where people are not all good or all bad. It shows good people who have moments when they do awful things. It shows evil people who have moments in which they have a glimmer of compassion, a moment of decency, an act of generosity, and it also shows the regime as cruel and horrific. But it shows that there were rescuers who came into the camp and saved the lives of children. It shows them in an honorable light, even though some of them were taking these children and raising them as their own. So it gives you all the nuances of life," said Berenbaum.
DARA OF JASENOVAC opens in select theaters on February 5, 2021.
DARA OF JASENOVAC Official Channels
For more visit: https://www.aju.edu/institutes-groups/sigi-ziering-institute
For the latest on the 2021 Academy Awards, visit: https://www.oscars.org/news/oscars
Photos/Video: 101 Studios