More than 200 people attended the premiere of a documentary about the life of Fred Heyman of Morristown, who has “twinned” with dozens of youngsters in order to share the lessons he learned as a survivor of the Holocaust.
The screening of Be An Upstander: The Fred Heyman Story, held Dec. 20 at the Aidekman Jewish Community campus in Whippany, was arranged by the Holocaust Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, under whose auspices he frequently appears as a guest speaker.
Heyman welcomed the guests with a warm smile, clearly a bit dazed by the number of people who attended. Among them were 15 young people who “twinned” with Heyman over the years.
The documentary was the culmination of a long relationship between Heyman and Howard Goldberg, its executive producer. At age 12, while on a Morris Rubell Holocaust Remembrance Journey — the educational trips to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington sponsored by Morristown philanthropist Michael Rubell — Goldberg met Heyman, who accompanies almost every one of the trips.
Howard decided to “twin” with Fred, incorporating Heyman’s story into his bar mitzva celebration and promising Heyman that one day he would make a movie about his life. That promise came to fruition eight years later with the support of Goldberg’s parents, Abby and Joel Goldberg of Livingston.
The film, a coproduction of IPAK Productions and the Holocaust Council Creative Media Collaborative, was directed by Joe Schreiber and edited by Jessica Pizzo, with cinematography by Ian Burka.
The documentary tells the story of Heyman’s childhood in a German-Jewish family in Berlin and his survival in Nazi Berlin during World War II. It also depicts Heyman’s involvement in recent years with the “Twin with a Survivor” program, created by council director Barbara Wind, who was also a coproducer of the documentary.
The bar and bat mitzva-aged boys and girls develop a relationship with a survivor, with the goal of creating a chain of generations of witnesses from those who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust to the young people who will carry their stories onward.
In the documentary, the young people describe the impact that their relationships with survivors has had on their lives and identities. The film also explores how the twinning program gave Heyman meaning and a sense of purpose after the death of his wife, Elouise, in 2004.
Heyman comes across as an active, warm, positive man who embodies the inner fortitude and humanity that he hopes to bolster in his young “twins,” now numbering 39, as they embark on their own journey into adulthood. Heyman encourages each twin to be an “upstander,” as opposed to a bystander, who stands up for justice in matters big and small.
“My story is about bad things happening as good people stand by and let it happen,” Heyman says in the film.