Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, Mickey Shapiro came to the United States at the age of two. Now the Birmingham-based real estate developer and philanthropist, who went to Southfield High School, honors his late mother with the new feature film “My Name is Sara,” which has already earned numerous awards.
After escaping a Jewish Ghetto in Poland and losing her family during the Holocaust, his mother Sara Goralnik passed as an Orthodox Christian in the Ukraine, where she was taken in by a farmer and his wife. Still a child herself, around the age of 12, Sara worked on the farm and cared for the couple’s two young boys.
Produced in association with USC Shoah Foundation, the film was an Official Selection at more than 50 festivals internationally, taking home five Best Feature Awards. Strand Releasing brought the movie to New York theaters in July and is now unveiling it nationwide.
“I never wanted to make this movie,” said Shapiro, who served as co-executive producer. After some convincing, he had a change of heart. “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It came out spectacular and it’s been getting great reviews.”
The film was made in 2018, after his mother passed away. “She was a very private person. She didn’t want to talk about it. She would say, ‘What happened to me, you don’t want to know,’ but she finally opened up later in life,” he said.
In 2015, a trip Shapiro took to the Ukraine would be the genesis of the project.
“I wanted to see where I came from,” he said about his family history and the heartbreaking childhood his mother was forced to endure.
“She told me certain things, but my mother was a very quiet woman and she was very protective of her children. She loved her children, but she couldn’t show emotion because she never had it growing up. All she had was a dress and a pair of shoes. She had no relatives, and she was eating berries to survive.”
The film that tells her harrowing tale was originally set to be released in 2020, but it had to be put on hold during the pandemic until this past July.
“It really focuses on a young girl and what she did to survive and how she handled herself. It’s quite a story. We want people to know what was going on to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Shapiro said.
“How a child survives such an unimaginable situation by listening and not talking…she got to the farm and raised the couple’s two young boys, navigated their complicated marriage and did a number of chores while keeping a low profile.”
A premiere was held at the Maple Theater in August for the film that was to be in 35 markets by September. Steven Oritt, director/producer, and Stephen Smith, former executive director of Shoah Foundation and a close friend of Shapiro's, were among the others who worked on the project.
When asked what he learned from the process, “Don’t do this for a living,” Shapiro quipped. “It’s not why we made the film.” One benefit is that there is an educational component for teaching curriculums about the Holocaust in high schools and universities.
While his mom might not like the idea of her personal story being told at first, upon seeing it resonate with so many others, “She’d be happy,” Shapiro said.
Story: Jeanine Matlow