The thought of young people
growing up ignorant and detached from the Holocaust
is even more painful than the fears I may have felt
about sharing my story.
Fanya’s story resonates
with the extremes of fear, starvation
and a remarkable tenacity of spirit,
even as death
is slowly seeping in against life.
Teenage Witness
The Fanya Heller Story
Narrated by Richard Gere
In telling the story of her survival during World War II, Fanya Gottesfeld Heller says again and again, “I wanted to live.” Born in Skala, a Ukrainian village, Fanya was a teenager when the war began. As a good student, believing in education, she had high hopes of becoming a doctor.
When the war came to Skala, the Ukrainians willingly collaborated with the Nazis, including killing their Jewish neighbors. Groups of Jews were taken to the forests, forced to dig mass graves, then shot and buried, often by Ukrainian neighbors. Fanya attracted the attention of a local policeman named Jan, who secretly hid her and her family in his mother’s attic. After a year in hiding, Fanya’s parents encouraged her to accept a romantic relationship with Jan in order to keep the family alive, by hiding them at Izydor Sokolowski’s barn.
Fanya decided to tell her story—to bear witness to what had happened to her during the Holocaust. She began speaking to teenagers particularly inner city teens, whose troubles—hunger, broken families, and abuse—were only too familiar. She teaches them about the Holocaust and they find her a willing partner, in talking about their troubles, providing courage and not to give up.
Movingly narrated by actor Richard Gere, expertly filmed and edited with interwoven archival clips, photographs, and live action, viewers learn much from Fanya who survived and remade herself.
Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story was first broadcast nationally on PBS in April 2010 and is the recipient of the 2010 Silver Telly Award.
Produced by Nikki Silver & Orly Wiseman; Directed by Ed Wiseman.
On Screen Entertainment DVD. color 66 minutes
Fanya with Students
For the survivors,
liberation was
a lifelong process
of setting ourselves free,
mourning our losses,
accepting our pasts,
and building upon
our experiences.
Film Clip from Love in a World of Sorrow
Viewer reactions to Teenage Witness
I watched your movie today. The tears are still streaming down my face…so memorable, moving, remarkable…a down-to-earth remembrance of the atrocities – the horror of it all, yet the courage that some human beings have and the tenacity to hold onto the very core of life.
Your story put my life into perspective.
Marie, Hartsdale, N.Y.
I just viewed your documentary on PBS. I was riveted to the TV throughout the whole hour. You are so right, Fanya; I am now a witness.
Judy, Nova Scotia, Canada
I saw your movie on PBS and can’t stop thinking about it. Inspiring to say the least because if you can get through life considering the horrific things you experienced, then there is hope for so many people. Thank you for sharing your story, it needs to be told.
Nancy , Manalapan, N.J.
This documentary is a gift for all who see it.
Sarah , Boston, MA
I sat completely absorbed watching your documentary. I feel privileged that by hearing your story, I am a witness and I carry that responsibility very seriously.
Debbie , Portland, Oregon
I had the TV on tonight and got caught up in your story. I applaud you for your bravery, honesty, integrity and spirit to survive. It makes me realize how lucky my life has been and that I should always take time to hear the wisdom from others who can show the way through adversity with such amazing strength. You are a treasure!

Joe , Seattle, Washington
After watching the program on your life I feel very close to you. It is a wonderful thing you have done, to have shared your story with young people and to have encouraged them to care for one another.
Marilyn , Bellingham, Washington
The work and service you have done as a writer, speaker and witness is priceless. Your story has touched my soul.
Lorraine, Costa Mesa, CA

We finished watching Teenage Witness and I must admit, we cannot remember anything as moving and unforgettable as your presence and story. You have given us the greatest gift by bearing witness with such honesty, clarity and courage.
Harriet & Bill , San Francisco, CA
I just had the honor of seeing your movie, Teenage Witness. I studied the holocaust in school, but it was always Anne Frank and concentration camps. I had never heard about what had happened in the Ukraine. You have opened my eyes to see the global impact that I had never grasped before. Your story of survival, honor, and honesty has inspired me.
Amy, Austin, Texas