Monday, November 9, 2009

An 88 Year Old Eye Witness to KristallNacht Hopes His Film will Keep Story Alive As He Continues to Promote Acceptance and Hope


Henry Oertelt pictured, Oct. 2009, with his third honorary doctorate from St. Olaf

You may know that I’ve been closely working with 88 year old Henry Oertelt, a Holocaust Survivor and author of An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocaust. But did you know that Henry lived in Berlin in 1938 and can tell you first hand about what he and his family witnessed that night, called KristallNacht (the night of broken glass) and the following day?  More importantly, do you realize that in a few years, when Henry and other eye witnesses aren’t here, why we need to keep telling this story for the generations to come?

In his book, Henry, a teenager at the time, described the evening of November 9, 1938. 

“Around midnight my mother proceeded to prepare our apartment for bedtime.  She began to draw the curtains but suddenly beckoned my brother and I to take a look through the window. 

‘Just look at that red sky! There must be a fire nearby,” she uttered with a hint of amazement in her voice.  We waited to hear sirens of fire engines, but there were none. When all remained quiet, we said goodnight and went to bed.  Wondering why the sky was so red, we fell asleep.”

Of course, as we know now, there were no sirens because the fires were deliberately set by Nazis and black uniformed SS, Hitler’s personal guard buddies, By dawn the Nazis had rounded up and transported the first  Jewish 30,000 men to concentration camps. who vandalized and burned every Jewish business and temple that they could.  This event is thought by many to be the prelude of the Holocaust.

The next day, Henry tried to ride his bike to work but eventually had to get off and carry it over the shards of shattered glass that were strewn everywhere.  A few blocks away his family’s synagogue had been completely demolished.  The Jewish owned stores in the neighborhood had all been completely ransacked and destroyed as well. He also remembers the guards forcing Jews to clean up the glass while their neighbors stood by and in some cases, laughed and made fun of them.

We are raising money slowly but surely to adapt Henry’s story into a feature film.  Henry experienced 18 events, or 18 links, in his chain of survival – his “unbroken chain.” We plan to aim for younger audiences who haven’t yet heard about Kristallnacht or the Holocaust. Witnessing Kristallnacht is only one thing that makes Henry’s story different – there are many others, as readers of his book can attest, or you can watch our short film to find out more. We plan for the film to have a theatrical release and then be used by middle and high schools as an educational supplement when World War II is taught.  Most importantly, we hope to reach as many people as we can with this story of acceptance, and hope. Henry is a witness to Kristallnacht and the horrors of the Shoah, but we can all help keep his and others testimony alive for generations to come. We must.

Thank you, Henry, for sharing your story for the past 40 years.

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