“My hope is our documentary will tell students throughout the world what happened here,” says Kyle Conti ’20, a cinema major in UHart’s College of Arts and Sciences. He’s talking about Finding Matilda, a documentary about a Lithuanian college student who was a victim of the Holocaust and known as the “Anne Frank of Lithuania.” Kyle is working with Taylor Ugrinow ’18 under the guidance of Assistant Professor of Communication Susan Cardillo. “Professor Cardillo wants us to use the documentary as an educational tool,” says Taylor, who believes its showing will have more of an impact on students than if they were to listen to a lecture or read about it. The documentary is planned for release in the spring.
Kyle and Taylor are now poring through hours of footage and interviews they shot in Lithuania last summer that will help them tell the story of Matilda Olkin, a poet and writer who was murdered with her family by Nazi collaborators in 1941. An eight-year-old girl’s eyewitness account led many to believe the victims were killed and buried near a farmhouse outside of Rokiskis. The exact location was unknown for many years, until a research team led by archaeologist and UHart Professor of Jewish History Richard Freund found the burial site using ground-penetrating radar, a non-invasive technique he used to locate a Holocaust escape tunnel in 2016.
History majors Abigail Dunkin ‘19 and Justin Lockhart ‘19, and international studies major Dima Karakitukova ‘19, served on Freund’s research team and are featured in the documentary. “Our main goal was to find Matilda,” says Abigail. “We are hoping to educate people about what happened here. Education is the key to making sure it does not happen again.” The students acknowledge that before their trip to Lithuania, they didn’t know about the atrocities that were committed there.
Olkin’s diary and writings were found hidden in a local church years after her death, so there are obvious comparisons to Anne Frank. Cardillo traveled to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam last August to interview its director as part of the documentary. She explains that because many college students are already familiar with Anne Frank, it can help them relate to Matilda. “The documentary will include information about Anne and will compare their differences and similarities.”
Dima says she hopes the documentary will help personalize Matilda’s story. “When we study the Holocaust, we learn six million Jews were killed. By putting a face to it, we hope young people can connect with the story and are willing to learn more about it.”