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Oak Park Theater screening ‘Passage to Sweden’

Minot’s Oak Park Theater is set to host a special screening of the documentary “Passage to Sweden” as a prelude to the Scandinavian Heritage Association’s Midsummer Festival. The acclaimed documentary, directed by Brooklyn, New York, born filmmaker Suzannah Warlick, shines a light on the mostly unheralded story of how thousands of Scandinavian Jews were spared from the Holocaust by being smuggled into Sweden.

Warlick began documentary filmmaking after taking a video editing class and parlaying that into a career in videography. After a series of documentary projects covering the experiences of actors and drag queens, Warlick turned her camera toward matchmaking and marriage in New York City’s Orthodox Jewish communities for a documentary called “Match & Marry.”

“I happened to be working with people who were interesting,” Warlick said. “It made me ask questions. Why are you doing this? What is the appeal?”

It was while working on “Match and Marry” that she met a matchmaker named Chana Sharfstein, who experienced the events of World War II in Sweden as the daughter of the chief rabbi of the Orthodox community in Stockholm. Sharfstein implored Warlick to pursue the story of the “Swedish Rescue” as her next project, which Warlick herself was initially reluctant to pursue. While deliberating, she worked on a music video for a colleague and told him about the potential project.

“He gave me a check and told me to make my next film. It was enough to go on the first trip to Sweden. Without that first check, I don’t think I would’ve wound up making it,” said Warlick. “All roads lead to Sweden. It’s the main character.”

Sweden was neutral during World War II, avoiding the Nazi occupation, unlike neighboring countries Norway and Denmark. Sweden would ultimately open its borders to Jews and other groups persecuted by the Nazi state all over Europe. Most significantly, the concerted effort of the citizens of Denmark resulted in 99% of their Jewish population escaping to Sweden, which is the focus of Warlick’s documentary.

Over the course of several trips to Sweden, Norway, Demark and Hungary, Warlick recorded over 100 hours of interviews, capturing the testimony of those who survived thanks to the selflessness and heroism of fishing boat captains, diplomats, a king and an entire nation. Production was somewhat slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Warlick used the time to distill the footage down and complete the film.

“Most people, even with a Scandinavian background, don’t know this story. Hopefully, anyone who sees it will learn something,” Warlick said.

Screenings for “Passage to Sweden” will begin on June 13 and run through June 15, with tickets priced at $5. The June 16 premiere will cost $20 a ticket, with a beer and wine reception taking place beforehand and question-and-answer session with Warlick and Scharfstein following the screening.

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