A Pocketful of Miracles: A Tale of Two Siblings

  • Aviva Kempner
  • US
  • 2023
  • 107 min

From their childhood in Poland, a pocketful of miracles that allowed them to survive concentration camps and forced labor, to their reunion in Berlin and the no less adventurous life after liberation: Hanka (Helen) and Dudek (David) Ciesla tell their incredible life stories in an impressive, humorous and moving way.

"If you want me to describe my life in a few words, then it's a 'pocketful of miracles'. Things that I really can't explain.” This is how David Ciesla describes his life. Helen and David Ciesla’s life stories are indeed peppered with improbable coincidences and absurd strokes of luck, not to mention tales of remarkable fortitude and perseverance; similar to that of many Shoah survivors, and yet special and unique. Having grown up together surrounded by a middle-class, loving family in Poland, the cruelty and violence of National Socialism soon swept over them. Haunting, candid, emotional, at times even humorous when they reflect on momentous decisions in life, they both have a story to tell. This brother and sister tale, one that begins in unison, sees them at first separated only to later experience an unlikely reunion and contains so many twists and turns that it would, under normal circumstances, contain enough for several lifetimes. In this documentary film Hanka's daughter Aviva Kempner, born in December 1946 and thus the first American-Jewish child to be born in West Berlin after the end of the Second World War, invites her mother and uncle to tell their own stories for the first time. The relief, not to mention joy they experience in doing so serve as a reminder as to why it is so important to make such films about the fate of those who survived.
Text: Charlotte Kühn
English: Peter Rickerby

All screenings will feature an introduction and Q&A with Aviva Kempner (Director) and Lucia Fox Shapiro (Editor) following the film.

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original title A Pocketful of Miracles: A Tale of Two Siblings

international title A Pocketful of Miracles: A Tale of Two Siblings

german title A Pocketful of Miracles: A Tale of Two Siblings


  • director Aviva Kempner

country/countries US

year 2023

duration 107 min

Portrait of Aviva Kempner

Aviva Kempner

BIO A child of Holocaust survivor Helen Ciesla, a Polish citizen, and Harold Kempner, a US Army officer, Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany, after World War II. Her family history inspired her to create her first documentary, Partisans of Vilna (1986). She grew up in Detroit and has a brother, Jonathan. Kempner lives in Washington, DC and is an activist for voting rights for the District of Columbia. She was a member of the Class of 1976 at the progressive Antioch School of Law. In 1981, Kempner founded The Ciesla Foundation to produce films that investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and celebrate the untold stories of Jewish heroes. In 1986, Kempner conceived and produced Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis, Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye. She co-founded the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989 together with Miriam Mörsel Nathan, and served as the festival's Founding Director. Additionally, she was the executive producer of the 1989 Grammy Award-nominated record Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance. She is the scriptwriter, director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a film about first Jewish baseball star in the Major Leagues. In 2009, she produced Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a 90-minute documentary about Gertrude Berg, a popular American radio and television personalities who received the first Best Actress Emmy in history and paved the way for women in media and entertainment.Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of the popular 1930s radio show and then the 1950s weekly televised situation comedy, The Goldbergs. Kempner made Rosenwald (2015), a feature-length historical documentary about businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who partnered with Booker T. Washington and African American communities to build over 5,000 schools in the Jim Crow South. The Rosenwald Fund also provided grants to support a who's who of African American artists and intellectuals. She is also the co-writer and co-producer of Casuse, a film about Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist who kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico to draw attention to the plight of the Navajo people and to expose the hypocrisy of the establishment. Kempner directed, wrote and produced The Spy Behind Home Plate, the first full-length documentary about Moe Berg, a Jewish baseball player, who caught and fielded in the Major Leagues from the 1920s through 1939 during baseball's Golden Age and his activities with the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS). When asked about lessons she hoped viewers would take away from the film in a 2019 interview with Sporting News, Kempner said: I think we need to know our history of how at a time when the world was in peril, and how a sports hero, someone in baseball, wound up being a real American hero. You know for me also, having done a Hank Greenberg film but also knowing about Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio going off to war, their stats are not what they would have been if they hadn't sacrificed for their country. Moe would have probably ended up being a manager afterward. They not only sacrificed their lives, but also their sports standing. She writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Crystal City Magazine, The Forward, Baltimore Jewish Times, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Legal Times, New York Times, The Wrap, Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post. Kempner said in a 2009 interview with FF2 Media's Jan Huttner: "In The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, we use this line: 'When America needed a hero, a Jewish slugger stepped to the plate.' I think you can also say: 'When America needed a hero, a Jewish mother was there for you.'" Kempner is currently co-producing and co-directing Imagining the Indian: The Fight Against Native American Mascoting, a full length documentary exploring the history of using Native American images in mascoting and the fight to change the name of current professional sports teams. Kempner is also producing and directing a short film, Pissed Off, exploring the under-publicized struggles faced by female lawmakers in Congress who advocated for equal access to restroom facilities in their place of work, the United States Capitol, and a full length documentary on Academy Award winning Hollywood screenwriter, Ben Hecht. Ben Hecht was a Jewish screenwriter as well as novelist, playwright, journalist, and activist. He worked to rescue European Jewry and helped to expose the nature of the Holocaust and the need for a Jewish homeland to the American public.