Where Passion Lives, Passion Follows: Four Years Later Auschwitz Story Comes to Life

A largely unknown story from the annals of Auschwitz is coming to life on the big screen, thanks to a young writer named Joanna Tsanis, who embraced my story and vision that started over four years ago and brought together a talented team of Toronto-based filmmakers who saw the project to completion.

And, it’s a wrap! Eleftheromania is, as they say in Hollywood, in the can. Color correction and sound is done. All editing is done. The closing credits have all been checked and double checked. And we are finally ready to roll.

Eleftheromania is the title of the film, which comes from the obscure word (eleutheromania) meaning “man’s innate desire to be free” and comes from two Greek words— eleftheria (freedom) and mania (desire).

Based on a true story, the 20-minute short film follows Hungarian author and Auschwitz survivor Piroska (Olympia Dukakis) as she shares a story from her harrowing past to a journalist (Anthoula Katsimatides).

In the summer of 1944, Nazis enlisted 446 Greek-Jewish prisoners to the horrific task of leading Hungarian prisoners into gas chambers. If they refused, they would be killed. After being given the despicable order, the Greek prisoners had a moral debate in their barracks. Piroska, one of the Hungarian prisoners, bore witness to their astonishing decision.

The idea for the film came to life after I stumbled upon a diary entry by a Holocaust survivor that mentioned the Greek-Jewish prisoners and their dilemma and bravery.

After several years of research (which was generously funded by my friends at The Libra Group), which included scouring the archives at Auschwitz in Poland and reading through pages and pages of official testimonies from SS officers in archives in Berlin, I teamed up with Toronto-based writer Joanna Tsanis whose passion transformed the true story into a screenplay.

Where passion lives, passion follows.

Soon, Eleftheromania became a team of over 70 members of Ontario’s talented film community including two award winning filmmakers:  director David Antoniuk and producer Chuck Scott. The film was mostly shot in Toronto.

While filming, I thought about people I didn’t know– random Facebook friends who each took the time to share their own family’s Holocaust stories with me (like Solita and Haim) and I realized that this project was a testament to all of these unknown stories and to the loved ones they lost.

And here, I recall more wise words by another friend who played a prominent role in the film’s development. Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, who happens to be Joanna’s mother, once said that “Vision without implementation is just a hallucination.”

These profound words have resonated with me ever since, because without Joanna; and without Marie’s help in enlisting the financial support of Mr. Jim Temerty (and adding her own)– Eleftheromania would have been just a hallucination.

I also reached out to two of my talented friends, Olympia Dukakis and Anthoula Katsimatides, to lend their acting skills. The contemporary scenes were shot in New York City.

Finally, with music (and one song in particular) playing such a central role in the film’s story, I reached out to Glykeria to lend her beautiful voice to the closing credits.

Eleftheromania is being submitted to film festivals across the globe. Our aim is to share this widely unknown but immensely important story with the world.

David Antoniuk shared his thoughts beautifully:

“How we live our lives and the choices we make define the margins of morality for those who come after us. In Eleftheromania a woman recounts the story of people having life or death choices foisted upon them. This story is one that needs to be honoured and retold again and again.”

Stills from Eleftheromania:

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