Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Holocaust Survivor, 89, was Witness to Kristallnacht Almost 72 Years Ago

November 9 will be the 72nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, which many say was the unofficial start of the Holocaust. My friend, 89 year old Henry Oertelt, was an eye witness. Henry now lives in Minnesota with his wife Inge.

Seventeen-year-old Henry was living in Berlin at the time with his older brother, Kurt, (now 95) and his mother, Else. I wrote about the details last year. In all 101 synagogues were destroyed and almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed. 26,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, Jews were physically attacked and beaten and 91 died (Snyder, Louis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Paragon House, 1989:201).

We are raising awareness our upcoming feature film, based on Henry’s book, An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocaust. We have been fundraising for this effort and plan to shoot the film in Europe where we can benefit by tax credits there. We've also created a 501c(3) where you can donate as little as a dollar to participate in our effort and show support. For chai or $18.00, we'll give you a credit in the film. You can see a short film here and donate on our site or join us on Facebook or Twitter for additional updates.

If you are interested in speaking to Henry for an upcoming story on Kristallnacht or the Holocaust, contact me at steph at 6mfor6m dot org.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A new Holocaust museum pushes toward the future

LA Museum of Holocaust

I plan to volunteer at the new Holocaust museum in LA and thought our supporters would appreciate this piece from Jonah Lowenfeld of the Jewish Journal. I originally heard about plans for the new museum when I attended the 2008 Annual Dinner commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. Soon after, I visited the previous location and have to admit, I was slightly surprised once I saw the country's first Holocaust Museum, which at that time was housed in a modest office building on Wilshire. The new modern space is going to offer an element of lasting beauty and a much more fitting home for such an important cultural institution.

When the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust officially opens in its new home in Pan Pacific Park on Oct. 14, it won’t just be moving to a bigger, more prominent and more easily accessible building. It will be moving into the 21st century.

The building, located adjacent to the park’s Holocaust Memorial Monument, took seven years to usher from plan to reality and will end up costing somewhere between $18 million and $20 million. It more than doubles the exhibition space available in the museum’s former Wilshire Boulevard home, with a daring new structure of concrete and glass, much of it underground, and exhibits filled with interactive new technology, including audio and video materials scattered throughout.

But even with a new audio guide and touch-screen displays, the Holocaust museum’s leaders have been careful to keep the focus on artifacts from the permanent collection, which will fill the bulk of the public spaces.

“Our museum is supposed to be about the artifacts, the images, the documents, the evidence,” E. Randol Schoenberg, the museum’s president, said. The overwhelming majority of visitors — around 80 percent — are expected to be middle- and high-school students, who are required under California state law to study the Holocaust in school. Schoenberg said he hopes students who visit the museum will leave saying, “ ‘I saw these things with my own eyes.’ ”

The museum traces its roots back to 1961, when a group of Holocaust survivors, enrolled in an English class at Hollywood High School, decided to create a place where they could archive Holocaust history. Of those founders, only Masha Loen, 80, is still living.

“When Elie Wiesel came to visit our museum the first time,” Loen said, recalling the Nobel laureate’s visit in 1980, “he called it a little jewel.” At the time, the museum was housed on the 12th floor of the Jewish Federation building. “That was the first [Holocaust] museum in the United States,” Loen said.

The museum has moved at least four times — it was forced out of the Federation building after the 1994 Northridge earthquake — but the new building marks the first time it will have a home of its own. Designed by Los Angeles-based architect Hagy Belzberg, the 27,000-square-foot structure could scarcely be more different from the most recent location, which was on the ground floor of a nondescript office building.

However, some elements of the new installation will be familiar to patrons of the museum’s earlier home. The signature holdings — a concentration camp uniform, a partial replica of a boxcar, a model of the Sobibor death camp — still will have prominent displays. And the museum’s narrative of the Holocaust will remain chronological. Visitors will start by witnessing photos and objects from Jewish life in Europe before the war; then make their way through the unfathomably tragic history of ghettos, deportations, selections and death camps; and, finally, learn about resistance, rescue and life after the Holocaust.

New media, new spaces and new acquisitions are likely to enhance the experience of history for the 40,000 visitors the museum hopes to bring through its doors in its first year. (In its last year on Wilshire, the museum had about 10,000 visitors.)

Read the entire story here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Film in the Schools: Cultural Films for Arizona Students

We are involved with a great program, Films in the Schools, a community outreach program of The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, which is in its fourth year.

Our trained presenters bring films into public and religious schools to help teach the Holocaust. Film as a medium allows young people to learn on a different level; characters, legends and stories come alive on the screen. This is especially important when trying to convey the magnitude of the Holocaust. Since the school program began, we have shared our films with over 3,500 public and Jewish day school students.

“Irena Sendler: Life in a Jar” is one of the films we will be showing in the schools this year. It is a documentary about a Polish Christian woman who helped save 2,500 Jewish children from death in the Warsaw Ghetto. Behind Irena Sendler’s story is an important lesson: Tikun Olam - one person can make a difference, one person can help to “Repair the World.”

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival provides; the film at no charge, study guides if requested, a flexible program that fits your class schedule, and an essay contest with a $25 gift card.

We have met some of the most extraordinary educators over the last few years; teachers who take the study guides provided by the state and school district and make their subjects come alive, taking education to a higher and more personal level with their students.

The success of our Films in the Schools program can be measured by the questions students ask, and the essays and thank you letters that are written. Our goal this year is to reach out to more schools, helping to teach young students about acceptance and diversity.

For information or to schedule a visit to your classroom, contact:
steph (at) launchflix (dot)com. Please join the Film Festival on Facebook or Twitter.