Inspirational Holocaust stories

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THE seeds for the inaugural Holocaust Film Series in March were sown more than a year ago when Eddie Tamir was selecting films for the annual Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF).

“I looked at more than 300 films at festivals in Israel, Cannes and Berlin to consider for JIFF, and among them were numerous Holocaust-themed documentaries and films,” explains Tamir, who is the director of JIFF and the Holocaust Film Series.

“I wanted JIFF to have a balance and not have too many Holocaust films, and this gave me the idea of doing an additional program of films with Holocaust stories.”

The Holocaust Film Series will feature 22 films and documentaries screening in Melbourne from March 20 to April 2 and in Sydney from March 23-30.

All the films are being screened for the first time in Australia and were made in countries including Israel, Poland, Italy, Hungary, Germany, France, Holland and Greece.

“Young filmmakers around the world are still fascinated by the Holocaust, all these years later, and are making the films because they still have a contemporary relevance,” says Tamir.

“They tap into the very human themes of courage, tragedy, identity and hope, often in an attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. The Holocaust Film Series not only tells stories of the Holocaust, but also engages in a contemporary conversation about social justice and how the past relates to the present.”

The Holocaust Film Series will open with the acclaimed French film, The Jewish Cardinal, which tells the amazing yet true story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the son of Polish-Jewish migrants, who maintained his cultural identity as a Jew even after converting to Catholicism at a young age and later joining the priesthood.

Rising rapidly within the ranks of the church, Lustiger was appointed Archbishop of Paris by Pope Jean Paul II, and from there found a new platform from which to celebrate his dual identity as a Catholic Jew.

When Carmelite nuns decide to build a convent on the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Lustiger finds himself in the centre of a conflict between the Jewish and Catholic communities.

The 90-minute film, which opened the recent New York Jewish Film Festival, is directed by Ilan Duran Cohen.

Another acclaimed film is Besa: The Promise, which won best documentary at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and the Seattle Jewish Film Festival. The film honours the heroism of Albanian citizens during World War II by following the extraordinary journeys of two men from very different backgrounds.

They are Norman Gershman, a renowned Jewish-American photographer who documents first-person accounts of the Albanian Muslims who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and Rexhep Hoxha, a Muslim-Albanian who is determined to fulfil the promise made to a Jewish family that his father rescued during the Holocaust: that a set of Hebrew books that they left behind would be returned to them.

For Hoxha, it is also part of his besa – an honour code that pledges Albanians to offer sanctuary to refugees.

With Gershman’s help, Hoxha embarks on a journey to Bulgaria and Israel; his quest focuses on his relationship to the Jewish family that his father helped and raises questions about his Muslim faith.

This American film took more than seven years to make and features music by renowned composer Philip Glass.

The inspiring documentary The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life tells the story of 110-year-old Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, described as the world’s oldest living pianist, whose frail hands still create soul-touching music on the piano in her London apartment.

Herz-Sommer, who was interned with her young son at Theresienstadt, says in the film: “Music saved my life and music saves me still.”

The film, which has been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards in the Documentary Short Subject category, is directed by Malcolm Clarke, who won an Oscar for his 1989 documentary, You Don’t Have to Die.

In 2003 he made Prisoner of Paradise, which chronicled Kurt Gerron, a German-Jewish performer who was interned in Theresienstadt and forced to make a propaganda film for the Nazis.

The Israeli film Bureau 06: The architects of the Eichmann Trial examines the Adolf Eichmann trial from the perspective of the Israeli police investigators who prepared the charges. Many were German-born Jews – they were required to be fluent in German – and faced emotional turmoil coming to grips with the Holocaust.

More and more Catholic Poles are discovering that they are Jewish and that their parents kept their identity hidden from them. These are becoming known as the New Jews of Poland. The documentary HI Jew Positive introduces second-generation and third-generation Holocaust survivors who recently discovered the truth about their past and their families.

When Day Breaks was the Serbian entry for the 2013 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Misha Brankov is a retired music professor. One morning he receives a letter requesting him to contact the Jewish Museum in Belgrade. Excavations in the city have unearthed an iron box that contains documents that prove that the professor is the son of a Serbian-Jewish couple who died in a Nazi death camp, and not the child of the Christian farmers who raised him. The professor becomes determined to pay a fitting tribute to his talented, musician father with a memorial concert of his long-lost, unfinished composition.

In Kisses to the Children, five Greek Jewish children who were saved by Christian families during the German occupation of Greece reveal the true stories of growing up in the arms of strangers and how this affected them as adults.

The film also uses archival footage to re-create the Greek Jewish communities that thrived prior to World War II.

The documentary October ’43 – The Rescue of Danish Jews meets Danish survivors and witnesses who talk about living under Nazi occupation during World War II.

The Polish film In Hiding, directed by Jan Kidawa-Blonski, is an intimate portrayal of an intense relationship between two women. Set in German-occupied Poland in 1944, Janina’s life is changed when her father offers shelter to his Jewish friend’s daughter, Ester. When her father is arrested, Janina decides to take care of Ester by herself and in their isolation, fear and loneliness an intimacy between the two women is formed.

Tamir is excited about the inclusion of the Israeli-Russian film Lonely Planet in the program.

“Young director Edan Zeira takes an original approach to the Holocaust as he films in isolated parts of Russia, travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway,” he says.

Lonely Planet undertakes a search for Mishka, a boy believed to have fled during World War II into the Belarus forest, where he spent three solitary years living with a pack of wolves.

The Holocaust Film Series is at the Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick from March 20 to April 2.and at the Sydney Jewish Museum, 148 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst from March 23-30. All bookings: www.jiff.com.au.

REPORT by Danny Gocs

PHOTO from When Day Breaks.

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