Unlike most films dealing with the Holocaust, Anita B. begins at the end of the war, not in the middle or beginning.
It tells the story of a 15-year-old girl after her liberation from Auschwitz. “There aren’t that many stories that talk about the afterlife — the afterlife being life after the concentration camps,” said the film’s executive producer, Ron Stein. “The movie begins the day she leaves Auschwitz. There are no concentration camp remembrances — just talk about it. From a movie perspective, it is about how a 15-year-old girl who loses her parents tries to re-acclimate and grow up as an adolescent girl who has lost her youth,” said Stein in a Jan. 26 phone interview with NJJN.
Anita B. will be shown for the first time in New Jersey on Tuesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at the Digiplex Rialto Theater in Westfield and at nine other movie houses across the country.
“The movie is based on a real character named Edith Bruck, who survived incarceration in Auschwitz. Her story is basically the story of Anita, and the B stands for Bruck,” said Stein.
Left an orphan at the end of the war, Bruck, like her movie counterpart, moved into the home of an aunt and uncle in Czechoslovakia, “where she is confronted with becoming pregnant and understanding her identity when everybody else tells her she has no identity,” Stein said.
Bruck eventually moved to Israel, then Italy, where the now 85-year-old resides.
Although Bruck is not ill, she cannot travel, Stein said, and so was not able to attend the film’s world premiere in Jerusalem a year ago, when Anita B. was selected as the Official Holocaust Movie by Yad Vashem and was shown at the city’s 2014 International Holocaust Remembrance Day on the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation.
Stein’s 10-year-old son, Dylan, who accompanied him to Israel for Anita B.’s first screening, noted that in the film, Germans are shown being “marked” after the war by being forced to wear swastikas painted on their backs.
Stein said that his son asked, “‘Isn’t that what they did to the Jews?’ He also asked, ‘Why wasn’t there a big celebration after the war, like after the World Series?’”
“I told him, “We won the war, and everybody was happy, but it wasn’t that way for the Jews who had to go find themselves without their families.’ He didn’t really get that until he saw the movie.”
Stein said one of his motives for making the movie was “remembrance,” particularly for young people, who “aren’t really getting what the Holocaust is. To them it is just a chapter in a textbook. Yes, they can see the movies about the concentration camps, but Anita B. makes it relevant to them. Even though it is a period piece, it doesn’t come across as a history book.
“I think kids as young as 12 and 13 should see this movie,” he said.
Anita B. was financed by RAI, the radio, television, and cinema operation run by the Italian government as part of a coproduction with Stein’s New York-based Four of a Kind Productions.
“The Italian government took the project very seriously,” said Stein, “because it is part of a program to educate about the war.”
When the Italian consul-general in Miami spoke at Anita B.’s U.S. premiere at the Miami Jewish Film Festival on Jan. 18, Stein said, he told the audience that “the Italian government wishes it could do so much more.” They are not running away “from their collaboration with the Nazis in World War II. They do not want to let anybody forget.”
After the film ends its theatrical run, plans are to arrange screenings at college campuses, Hillels, schools, synagogues, and JCCs. “We would love to see more schools pick it up,” he said. “We are also hoping for special screenings on Yom HaShoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day,” this year, April 16.
“From a Holocaust remembrance point of view, Anita B. is not just a textbook,” said Stein. “The parallel today is with the atrocities of the genocides that are happening all over the world. It is not just war and things you read in the news. There are real people involved. And the issues of a teenage girl were no different than most high school kids now. There’s a feeling of hope at the end of the movie. It doesn’t just end on a sad note.”