In the footsteps
of Jakub Grossmann
Documentary | 60 min | 2022 | Czech Republic
directors: František Soukup, Kryštof Sýkora
editor: František Kotačka
producer: Milan Grossman (association Vůle 1939)
Bus driver Milan Grossman spent over 8 years exploring international archives. He discovered the forgotten story of his grandfather Jakub Grossmann, who escaped the Nazi-occupied Bohemia and walked to Sweden in 1939 to join the resistance. Now, Milan sets off on a journey across Europe to pay tribute to the war refugee and hero.
"The year was 1939, a few months after the Munich Agreement, and a big storm was gathering over us," begins the story of twenty-seven-year-old Jakub, who decides to escape from Nazi-occupied Ostrava. He chooses the Scandinavian route, through Poland and the Baltics to politically neutral Sweden. There, as he hopes, the help of Swedish countess Amélie Posse-Brázdová, his old acquaintance, is waiting for him. On the run, he experiences many hardships and misunderstandings, becomes a victim of the ever-present bureaucracy and is betrayed by those who should have protected him. Where can the journey take him?
This story is so incredible that it forces Jakub's grandson, a bus driver from Pilsen, to write a book and eventually produce a documentary, in which he completes the same journey as his grandpa to pay him respect.
Relentless research in international archives, together with the work of the filmmakers, brought to life a story that almost ended up forgotten with detailed accuracy. One of thousands of similar fates. Now it's up to the viewer whether he recognizes something from the life of his own ancestors in the movie and perhaps discovers that he too has a hero in his family...
"One of the best road movies
of the last ten years.
I simply couldn't stop watching."
– Václav Marhoul, Czech director
In the documentary road movie, two story lines intersect. One follows the escape from the Nazi Protectorate to politically neutral Sweden, which Jakub Grossmann completed in 1939. The other shows the journey of his grandson Milan, during which he visits the same places after 80 years and adds his own perspective and unique information from the archives.
First private screenings were successful!
We had the pleasure to present the film to our families, friends and sponsors during three occasions in the autumn of 2022, to test audience reception of the movie and double-check everything in it. The one which took place in the astonishing Maisel's Synagogue in Prague (kindly offered by the Jewish Museum in Prague) was joined by Czech director Václav Marhoul. He has offered the filmmakers his consultations during postproduction and now even held a speech before the screening.
All events had a friendly and laid-back atmosphere, they were accompanied by food, drinks and discussions. We hope the film will get an equally warm reception after it's official premiere, which should take place in the fall of 2023.
Pre-premiere took place at the Czech Embassy in Stockholm
Embassy of the Czech Republic in Sweden hosted the event on September 7th, 2022 with the kind participation of Ambassador Anita Grmelová. We would like to thank her as well as everybody at the Embassy for the warm welcome they gave us and great help with the organisation of the event. The patronage was granted by the Minister for European Affairs Mr. Mikuláš Bek.
Photos by David Vaníček
About the creators
Countess Amelie Posse-Brázdová. Source: Wikipedia
I want to show that there are other stories than those of war generals and colonels
"Those are often talked about. The stories of ordinary soldiers? Rarely. It's not just that I have a personal relationship with my grandfather, but I want to do it for him and his friends," Milan Grossman explains in an interview, what made him do the research which started the whole project.
Milan Grossman is not a historian, nor is he a professional researcher. As he says himself, he is an ordinary boy from a village near Pilsen, a bus driver and father of a family. When an archivist threw the first stack of yellowed documents in front of him, Milan was frightened. Where to start? How to organize all that information? But in the end, his enthusiasm overcame all obstacles and he managed to interest dozens of researchers around the world in the search.
He founded the Vůle 1939 (The Will of 1939) association, which studies the incredible escapes of Czechoslovaks from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia after March 15, 1939. One of these heroes was Jakub Grossmann, a Jew and the only survivor of the Holocaust in the family.
"Thanks to the story of Jakub Grossmann, we discovered an amazing lady who helped everyone in trouble and saved thousands of human lives, mostly Czechoslovaks, from certain death," says Grossman. "Her name is Amelie Posse-Brázdová, a woman from a respected Swedish aristocratic family. She married the great Czech painter Oskar Brázda and lived with him at Líčkov Castle in Czechoslovakia. Although she was an important figure in our history, she was completely forgotten in our country and we want to present her to the Czech public again."
Milan Grossman spent all his family savings on research, association activities and book printing, he even had to take out a bank loan. He says that he will soon give back all the time and experiences he deprived his family of. However, he believes that his search paid off and decided to share the results with others. First, he wrote a book in the form of his grandfather's diary. Finally, he decided to produce a documentary.
Logo of the association Vůle 1939 and the cover of the book Vůle 1939:
My escape from the Protectorate. Both with a portrait of Jakub Grossmann.
I reached out to film students. Their work got acclaimed by industry leaders.
Three students of film editing at the Miroslav Ondříček Film Academy (FAMO) in Písek seized the promising opportunity with great enthusiasm. František Soukup and Kryštof Sýkora filmed Milan Grossman's journey across Europe and participated not only as the directors, but also as the cinematographers and sound mixers. Their classmate František Kotačka then took charge of the editing back in Prague.
What was supposed to be just a home video for Grossman's closest family was soon turned by the filmmakers into an hour-long documentary which utilizes filmed footage as well as digital animation, composed music or rare archive materials. During the four years of working on the documentary, the filmmakers gained experience they wouldn't find in school. They currently work in film, television (Czech TV, Nova, Prima) or on independent projects as editors and directors.
Work on the film continued to increase, and other authors had to be involved, such as the composer of film's score Tom Medek or colorist Martin Buk. They also invited former schoolmates and teachers. Farid Alijanov participated on the second filming as a cameraman and drone operator and Jan Lakota took charge of sound post-production. The movie also needed a good dramaturg and that's why the producers reached out to Jana Hádková, who teaches documentary film in Písek Film Academy.
Thanks to Milan Grossman, the film reached the famous Czech director Václav Marhoul during the dramaturgical screenings. He praised almost all components of the film, but above all the work with archive materials, some of which were animated for a better viewing experience.
Photographer: Tomáš Fiala
We worked for free in our spare time, but with love.
The camera equipment was provided by FAMO in Písek for the first trip in 2018. The filmmakers went on an 18 day expedition with Milan Grossman, to document his journey in his grandfather's footsteps. They traveled a total of five countries, drove over 5,500 km and interviewed a number of witnesses, diplomats and historians.
Additional gigabytes of archival footage and photographs were gradually added to what already was hours of material. The film school graduates had to go through each shot or photograph, organize everything and edit it all into a cohesive movie. The rough cut was then consulted over and over with dramaturgs until the final form was reached. All this in authors' free time and with no financial compensation. However, a great motivation for them was the fact that this project has a great meaning and represents a good opportunity for visibility. Who knows what doors it may open for it's creators.
The film premiered on September 7 at the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Stockholm, and the Czech premiere will take place on October 19 at the Maisel Synagogue in Prague. This will be followed by a series of screenings in various cities across the country, including Pilsen and Ostrava. Grossman plans to screen the film both at discussions and commemorative events, as well as in foreigners associations in the countries that cooperate with the project. Czech Television has already shown interest in the film, and the creators plan to approach festivals and web streaming platforms as well.
Timeline of the entire film in the editing program and the creators of the film.
Photo author: Tomáš Fiala
The production team on a meeting with the famous Czech actor Jan Přeučil
The project would not have been possible without the help of more than 300 enthusiasts
The story of Milan Grossman and his grandfather appealed to many people so much that they decided to help independent creators. And they did so either for just a symbolic reward or completely free. One of those is the well-known Czech actor Jan Přeučil, who kindly lent his voice to the audio version of Grossman's book Vůle 1939, which has also become the model for the film's script.
But in the documentary, you will not hear Jan Přeučil as the narrator. Instead, the creators decided to embrace authenticity by having the commentary read as if by the character himself. Therefore, they approached a young actor Štěpán Dostal, whose voice fits the role of young Jakub perfectly.
In September 2021, Milan Grossman unveiled a memorial plaque in honor of his grandfather and Countess Amelie Posse-Brázdová in Rindogatan street in Stockholm, where the human rights activist lived. The ceremony, which is also shown in the movie, would not have been possible without the support of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Stockholm and the Swedish-Czech-Slovak foreigners association, namely Mrs. Jitka Vykopalová, who helped greatly in terms of organization. On that occasion, Grossman thanked more than 300 people who participated in the project.
Grossman has involved an incredible number of people in the project, from craftsmen to researchers and ambassadors.
We welcome more supporters!
Milan Grossman and his team would like to invitethose who are interested in supporting the project, to contact them. "We gladly welcome any help that will allow us to further distribute the film," Grossman says. "We made a great film, mainly thanks to love and enthusiasm of numerous people, but that is not enough for promotion, release on streaming platforms or cinema rental. So I am asking everyone who can, to help bring our project to a successful end," concludes Milan Grossman.
And what are his plans in research? "We are currently trying to prove and describe the cooperation between Amelie Posse-Brázdová, Kerstin Felix, Sir Nicholas Winton and Odd Nansen. They saved children from occupied countries together. We are now trying to get as much information as possible," Grossman explains. "If you happen to know someone who was saved by any of these four heroes, if you are a descendant of someone who was saved, or a witness, please help us show the deeds of these great people to the public and contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!"
A still from the film In the Footsteps of Jakub Grossmann
Amelie Posse-Brázdová with friends. Source: Wikipedia