For more than a year, a chaplain, two videographers, and a resident of a senior residential complex in Pompton Plains have been working closely on a documentary about survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.
What makes their project out of the ordinary is the fact that none of the four happens to be Jewish.
The filmmakers have boiled down 35 hours of interviews into an 86-minute presentation, titled Never Forgotten, which they are eager to share outside their community, Cedar Crest Village.
The film was born out of an idea by Cedar Crest resident Doris Sinovsky, a non-Jew whose late husband was Jewish.
During her three years at Cedar Crest, she produced two documentaries based on the oral histories of the World War II veterans among her community’s 1,900 residents.
Among the servicemen she interviewed were two men who had liberated concentration camps. “They said it was such a horrible experience they did not want to talk about it. They said, ‘No matter what you thought the worst could be, this was worse,’” Sinovsky said in an interview with NJJN and fellow filmmakers on May 24 in the community’s television studio.
That led her to seek out fellow Cedar Crest residents who were willing to share their experiences during the Shoa on-camera.
Sinovsky, who grew up in California during the war, recalled Japanese-American friends who were forced to leave their homes for internment camps. “But I didn’t know any Jews at that point. Then I met my husband and got more interested,” she said. “It is important to get these stories out while they can still be told.”
Some 22 survivors were estimated to be among the 1,900 residents of Cedar Crest, but a few “didn’t want to talk to us,” said Bert Moore, the pastoral ministries manager at Cedar Crest, who conducted the interviews. Moore is an ordained Protestant minister and a retired Navy chaplain.
All those who were interviewed lived through the Holocaust except for the daughter of one survivor and a German-born Christian whose parents aided a Jewish family by giving them food, money, and employment so they could hide from the Nazis.
And it’s not that the 19 who did agree to be interviewed were eager to tell their stories, Moore stressed; rather, “they knew they had important stories that needed to be shared. I wanted not only to delve into their past but into how they came to the United States and wound up here. They are our friends and neighbors.”
Some of the featured survivors were hidden children, sheltered by Christian families and kept safe from the Nazis.
Others escaped via the Kindertransports, sent by their parents to safety in England.
One man featured in the video survived Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Buchenwald because, he said, “I had an angel.”
Leo Lowy, a Czech Jew, told NJJN, “I was selected by Eichmann for Auschwitz. I was selected by Mengele for the gas chamber. But I survived by luck, plain luck.”
Lowy was orphaned at age 10 and seized by the Nazis from an orphanage three years later. “It was my bar mitzva present,” he said ruefully.
After liberation, Lowy immigrated to New York as a teenager, graduated from high school and college, and had a successful career as a draftsman and building designer. Now retired, he speaks about his experiences at schools, churches, and synagogues. “It is absolutely important for survivors to tell their stories,” he said.
Larry Curran agreed. As Cedar Crest’s TV community coordinator, he organized the production’s logistical elements.
“I learned about the Holocaust in school but I was very far removed from any connections with the people,” he said. “Here we sat down with the people who were in Auschwitz and Buchenwald and they are not afraid to talk about it.”
“I learned just basically what they teach in school, and it wasn’t much,” said Michael Dygos, the documentary’s producer, editor, and director. “I went into it with a basic understanding, but once I sat down with people who lived through this experience it took on a whole new meaning.
“We have to get these stories out there, not only to make sure these things never happen again, but to show that people who lived through this horrible experience can go on to live successful lives,” he said.
The documentary received accolades when it was shown to Cedar Crest residents on May 21, said Dygos. He and the other filmmakers are seeking a wider audience; anyone interested in screening Never Forgotten may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-831-3567.