Carpathian Ruthenia, 1938

Digitized from 16mm original footage; running time: 17:30
International Center of Photography
Courtesy Moving Image Research Collections, University of South Carolina, Roman Vishniac Science Film Collection.

In 1938, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) commissioned Vishniac to shoot moving film footage of the remote Carpathian Jewish villages and Galician towns he had been documenting for the relief organization in still photographs since 1935. Although the films were lost during the upheavals of the war, outtakes recently resurfaced, documenting the rural and observant Jewish farming communities that had been isolated for hundreds of years.

In his still photographs, Vishniac often depicted yeshiva boys engaged in religious study; in the film footage, the same students congregate on the street as they rib, elbow, and joke with each other. Older men, so often photographed praying or in portraits that convey sagacious wisdom and contemplation, are filmed working the land and engaging in manual labor while dressed in traditional clothes. In one outtake, children watch as their teacher strikes a match, lights a cigarette, and tosses the match to the floor during a lesson. This is the only known footage of its kind, animating a world that no longer exists.