Friday, August 14, 2009

E.V. Jews raising money for Holocaust movie

Thanks to Mike Barnes at The East Valley Tribune for this piece. It is not enough to hear a Holocaust survivor's tale, the rabbi said - you must help tell it to others.

Congregation Eitz Chaim in Chandler is gladly taking on the task of sharing one such man's story. A fundraising campaign is under way there to adapt into a movie the autobiography "An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocaust."

The goal is to collect $6 million - in other words, a dollar for every Jewish man, woman and child lost to the Nazis' genocide.

"No one is born hating others; it has to be taught," said the congregation's rabbi, Victor Beck. "We realized that if you can teach hatred, then you can also teach understanding.

"With this campaign, we want to demonstrate the enormity of the number of Jewish victims in the Holocaust and ultimately use this film to educate the next generation about what hate can lead to."

"Unbroken Chain" is the work of Henry A. Oertelt, who was 12 years old and living in Berlin when Hitler came to power in 1933. He was seized in June 1943; in April 1945, Oertelt and thousands of others were liberated by Gen. George Patton's Third Army.

Oertelt, now 88, describes in his book 18 "links" in the chain of events that kept him alive and ultimately led to his freedom. For example, as a teen he was employed as a furniture maker; in the concentration camps, he continued that relatively safe work while his fellow prisoners were dying of hard labor.

Beck, in his career, has met many survivors of the Holocaust. Oertelt, he said, is like the others in that they had an uncommon faith that they would emerge alive from this world of death.

"It comes down to an indomitable spirit, a will to survive and a deep-seated belief they will succeed," Beck said.

But as time passes, the survivors' numbers dwindle - which makes telling their stories all the more crucial for Beck.

"We're losing these people, so we're losing the eyewitness accounts," Beck said. "And that eyewitness has such a palpable touch and feel to people, it makes it that much easier to explain and understand the story."

How the chain stretched from Minnesota, where Oertelt has lived since 1949, to Chandler involves a film producer and family ties.

Stephanie Houser is not only the chief executive of launch flix, a production house with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles, but also the daughter of Eitz Chaim's vice president.

To aid launch flix in bringing "Unbroken Chain" to the screen, Eitz Chaim has established a nonprofit education fund that will provide tax deductions to donors. The fundraising campaign is called "Six Million for the Six Million," and its Web site can be found at Congregation Eitz Chaim can be reached at or by contacting Beck at (602) 595-3618.

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