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Carpati a Poignant Look at a Vanishing Culture

By KEVIN THOMAS, Times Staff Writer

     Yale Strom's Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years is every bit as irresistible and
poignant as The Last Klezmer, his portrait of Leopold Kozlowski, Eastern
Europe's last remaining prewar master of klezmer, Jewish folk music. Strom
and his cinematographer-editor and co-producer David Notowitz traveled to the
Ukraine's Carpathian Mountains, once the cradle of the Hasidim and home to
nearly a quarter of a million Jews, whose population has dwindled to less than
1,500 due to the Holocaust and subsequent emigration.

      Once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the region became part of
Czechoslovakia after World War I, and Jewish culture flourished between the
wars. After World War II it became part of the Soviet Union, ushering in a long
period of hardship, hostility and injustice for Holocaust survivors, and is now
part of the Ukraine. Sadly, in the long run, it seems that Hitler and Stalin will
have succeeded in eradicating Jewish life from the Carpathian Mountains.

      In the shabby, picturesque town of Beregova in 1994 they met Zev
Godinger, then 66 and much-beloved as "Uncle Zev," hearty, outgoing ice
cream merchant. They also meet a clan of Gypsies, who play ancient Jewish
music as part of their repertoire. One Gypsy musician recalls that once a Gypsy
family could eat a whole week from earnings from playing at a single Jewish

     As Carpati overflows with camaraderie and intoxicating music, Strom
ever so gently persuades Godinger to start talking about his tragic past as an
Auschwitz survivor, and even to travel 50 miles to his birthplace, Vinogradov,
which he had not visited in 50 years. He does discover one classmate from
grade school, but much has vanished, including his home. The few surviving
Jews do not even own a Torah for his boyhood synagogue, just as Beregova no
longer has a mohel to conduct a bris.

     As he did when he got Kozlowski to visit his Ukrainian hometown for
the first time in 40 years, Strom avoids the aura of contrivance and exploitation
through sensitivity, respect and affection for Zev and his friends. Strom makes
sure that audiences realize that Gypsies were also sent to Auschwitz and today
survive in often severe poverty, and he celebrates their own music as much as
the Jewish music they have preserved. What Strom, a musician himself, and
Notowitz are doing so lovingly--and so entrancing--is to record remnants of a
culture on the brink of extinction. As Godinger remarks, "In 10, 15 years you'll
need a candle to find a Jew here in Carpati."

     Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years

     An Artistic License Films presentation. Writer-director Yale Strom.
Producers David Notowitz, Strom. Executive producers Rusty Jacobs, Steven
Posen. Cinematographer-editor Notowitz. Music Strom. In Russian and
Yiddish, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes.

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