On April 11, 1945, shocked liberators of the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, received a further jolt when some 900 teenage boys emerged from a barracks known as Kinderblock 66.
When the filmmaker son of one of these survivors told New Jersey-raised Brad Rothschild the story of his father’s internment in Kinderblock 66, he said his first thought was that a movie had to be made about the barracks and its miraculous survivors.
The teenagers were the last remnants of families who had perished in the ghettos and camps of Nazi-occupied Poland and Hungary. The boys had been segregated in a part of the camp farthest away from the main gate and SS command.
There, the young inmates, though living in cruelly harsh conditions, were protected by members of the block’s communist underground, led by Antonin Kalina, a Czech, and Gustav Schiller, a Polish Jew. “I have no Jews here; I have only children,” Kalina would say of his commitment to saving these boys’ lives.
In 2010, on the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, several of the estimated 200 remaining survivors of the barracks returned to Buchenwald. Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald — with Rothschild serving as one of its producers — chronicles the return of four of the survivors, Pavel Kohn, Alex Moskovic, Israel Lazar, and Naftali Furst.
In commemoration of Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 90-minute documentary will be screened at the Digiplex Theatres in both Cranford and Sparta April 12-18 and at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown on April 22. Rothschild will be part of a Q&A in Cranford on April 14 following the film.
In an interview with NJJN, Rothschild, 43, discussed the film and its significance to him and his family.
NJJN: How did you first learn of this story?
Brad Rothschild: The executive producer of this film, Steve Moskovic, was the producer of the first film I made (Homeland) in 2008. His father, Alex, was one of the boys in Kinderblock 66 and Steve wanted to make a film about him.
NJJN: What was your role as producer?
Rothschild: Because survivors went in all different directions after the camp’s liberation, some as far as Australia, we worked with a renowned professor of Jewish studies at Michigan State [Kenneth Waltzer] who was very knowledgeable about Kinderblock 66 to help identify and locate our four subjects — two Israelis, an American, and a Czech. I speak fluent Hebrew and travel to Israel regularly, so I had contacts there and was able to help get our Israeli production needs met. We went to Israel to begin filming our two Israeli subjects in March 2010 and then traveled to Buchenwald that April with all four of our subjects to film their return to the camp for the 65th anniversary of its liberation.
NJJN: The film was shown at Buchenwald’s liberation anniversary commemoration last year. What was the response there?
Rothschild: The German citizens who ran the Buchenwald Museum were in tears.
NJJN: What is your New Jersey background and your background as a filmmaker?
Rothschild: I grew up in Westfield and Plainfield, where my mother still lives and where I visit regularly. Though I now live in New York City with my wife and three children, New Jersey is still a huge part of who I am. I went to Solomon Schechter Day School in Cranford [now Golda Och Academy in West Orange]…. After college, I lived in Israel for two years and was a speechwriter for the Israeli ambassador to the UN from 1995 to 1997. Though I got my MBA and took a detour into the business world…I always envisioned a career in filmmaking and started writing screenplays.
NJJN: What is your hope for this film and for the legacy of Kinderblock 66 and its survivors?
Rothschild: One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced through my participation in this film is the personal connection I’ve made with the subjects. I speak once a week with Naftali, who lives in Israel and is now part of my life. It’s important that my kids know this and see that these boys — now men — survived their experience. During a recent visit that Alex and I made to a classroom in Riverdale to speak about Kinderblock 66, I told the kids that it was both our privilege to be alive while Alex was alive as well as our responsibility to make sure that his story is heard. It preserves the legacy and confirms that it happened — and that’s what we can do with this film.