“What We Carry,” a Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater inspired documentary, premiered in Norfolk today. It is the recounting of the travails of four holocaust survivors; real Virginians, Felix. Since the making, two have passed…the other two were present to give faces to courage.
One Sunday evening, when I was 12 or 13, my father took me to see two World War II documentaries. They were shown at the local theater where B movies regularly played; there, I had witnessed mutants and/or aliens destroy Tokyo and/or the world dozens of times. His interest was in the Pacific, where he had fought in two great amphibious assaults. Even that night, I didn’t remember much of the Pacific campaign at all. What I did and do remember to this day was the startling record of cruelty that, in the arrogance of evil incarnate, had been recorded on film for posterity. I wondered, when I read of this project, how those involved had put human faces on that barbarity.
It helped that the raw footage of my first introduction had been edited (not to say totally) for the intended audience of this project, which, by coincidence is 12 to 13 year olds. It was heartening that the Roper Theater, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, was filled beyond capacity. There was a wave of warm patriotic pride as the national anthems of the United States and Israel were sung in chorus by the audience as part of the introduction; then we settled in for the journey.
The film: actually four short films in succession with four distinct variations on a theme. The actual curriculum calls for one vignette accompanied by a suitcase filled with memories; items from the stories: photographs, a doll, the yellow Star of David, passports and papers. Followed by student discussion.
Recountings in letters from Yorktown students who had been introduced to the holocaust through this project dramatically demonstrated the effectiveness of the effort; the piercing effect of the story of a child their own ages who faced adversity and tragedy and survived, told by the survivor, resonates.
A reception followed in the lobby. The precocious spirit of Kitty Saks and the dignified presence of Dana Cohen balanced the room. It was a most moving experience and the proud accomplishment of all involved.
This has been something of a Hitler month. BBC radio has been running a number of programs with tangents to his rise and fall. One, a serial played in three acts over three weeks, was the telling of a three decade story of a family who fled just ahead of the tragedy that befell these very survivors. In today’s final installment came an unexpected twist that fits well into the theme of “What We Carry.” It is this: though we may think ourselves unaffected by the evil we seemingly avoid or ignore, its reach is beyond our escape and haunts us well into the future.
At the close of the last vignette, Hanns Loewenback emphasizes his life’s lesson:
“The choice everybody has is to do something or nothing. Evil does not need your help, just your indifference.”