Film series honors testimonies and more.
On January 27, the date designated in 2005 by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day—and in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945, the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education will present a 20th anniversary screening of The Holocaust: Through Our Own Eyes as the first program in its 2015 film series, Documenting the Holocaust.
Center Executive Director Jean Zeldin has been the only director of the center. She reported to work on Aug. 23, 1993 and by the next year, she and trained interviewers recorded more than 100 hours of 48 testimonies of survivors and liberators. By January 1995, the documentary premiered.
Zeldin says funding came from three foundations: the William T. Kemper Fund; the David Kemper Woods Fund; and the Oppenstein Brothers. “It was the first major project we accomplished,” she says. “Video Post Production, now Outpost Worldwide, here in town, did the original recording and has since moved the recording from video to digital.” The documentary exists in two forms: a 58-minute community version and a 38-minute version designed for classrooms.
The film also marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the liberation of many of the concentration camps. Showing the film also honors the memories of the participants as about half are now deceased. “The stories are exceptional. For many, it is a chance to relate to the individual rather than the statistics. For students who watch the classroom version, they see that many of the survivors were around their age – teenagers – when the Holocaust started. It strikes home. The participants all expressed the same basic idea – by telling their stories, there is hope to prevent this sort of tragedy happening again. None of them wanted to see genocide again.”
Zeldin says several interviews are now available on the center website. “It makes it more accessible for young people who like researching on their own time,” she explains. The educational director Jessica Rockhold has been adding research links to enhance the historical context. Even the annual essay contest encourages students to listen to the testimonies.
Along with the testimonies, some of the children of the survivors have been recruited to be part of a speakers’ bureau where they share their legacy and offer a personal approach in growing up with survivors, Zeldin says. “The testimonies are there to share history, but it is not just the atrocities. It is about the lives they created for themselves. … With liberation came a chance to move forward, but it was clear that any happiness was tinged with sadness.” She sat in on every interview. “I was struck by their resilience. They are extremely remarkable people as you think about coming to a new country with an unfamiliar language, no family and no money. Directors Emeriti Jack Mandelbaum, Isak Federman and Maria Devinki are part of the series.”
The video testimonies are entrusted not only to the center, but also Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale. “We have to convey their legacies and honor their experiences … those who survived and those who did not. …”
All films will be shown in the Social Hall of the Jewish Community Campus. Each program begins at 7 p.m. There is an introduction to the film; doors open at 6:30 for those with advance reservations and 6:45 for those without reservations. The other films are Long is the Road, Feb. 17; Singing in the Dark, March 10; 2 or 3 Things I Know About Him, April 21; and The Buchenwald Ball, May 19.