They lived through a collective horror, but their stories are each uniquely touching.
Take Fred Greenwood, who, as a Jewish teenager during World War II, struck out on his own to hide from Hitler’s army.
“He lived in many different homes over a couple of years, staying in bathrooms or sheds or closets. If he got word they were looking for him, he’d sneak out in the middle of the night,” says Jason Heinkel, a Mesa filmmaker. “A teacher who had been a friend of the family would catch up with him at different points and go through some school work. It’s an amazing story. He was on the run, a child in hiding, and still getting homework done.”
Greenwood’s story is one of eight to be shared in “Our Story ... The Life of Survivors: Faces of the Holocaust,” a new documentary film about Valley residents who survived the Holocaust or helped liberate Nazi concentration camps. The movie will debut Tuesday at Chandler Center for the Arts.
A project of Chandler’s Barness Family Jewish Community Center, “Our Story” started as a short promotional video for the center’s “A Month to Stamp Out Hate” events, going on this month.
“But once we put evertyhing on the table, we knew we had something much bigger. We had a full-on documentary on our hands, and we had to go with it. You just can’t tell an individual’s life story in five minutes,” says Heinkel, the film’s director and owner of Mesa production company J2 Media.
Shooting began in December, with Heinkel and representatives of the Barness center visiting Holocaust survivors all over the Phoenix-metro area.
“Really, it was a matter of getting everything set up and then just sitting back and listening. Their stories are just unbelievable, from Helen Handler, this tiny woman who survived Auschwitz, and Dr. Alex B. White, who was on Schindler’s list. It was an amazing piece of time, for us to be present and listen to these stories,” says Heinkel.
It was also historymaking.
“When Steven Spielberg made ‘Schindler’s List,’ he put all the profits from that movie into developing the Shoah Foundation, and they set up in each city and started interviewing survivors so there would be a living record, something irrefutable for future generations to look to so this could never happen again. Two people in this film were not a part of the Shoah Foundation’s records. This is the first time they’ve told their stories in this way,” says Steve Tepper, director of the Barness center.
The film mingles survivors’ stories with archival images and footage provided by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“It also shows what each of these people have done with their lives since, and what they’ve done to try to educate the world and make it a better place for all of us,” says Tepper. “The last 10 or 15 minutes are so unbelievably special. One of the survivors is speaking to students at Mesquite High School, and it ends with the students spontaneously getting up to give her sincerely heartfelt hugs and wishes. It paints an unforgettable picture.”