The life story of Holocaust survivor Anitta Fox — a Hillside woman whose family members persevered to make artistic and scientific contributions on several continents — will be the first video in a documentary project by the Holocaust Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The film, Unconquered Souls, will have its debut at the Aidekman Jewish Community Campus in Whippany on Wednesday, Nov. 11. It is directed by Joe Schreiber, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker with a long career in broadcasting, industrial films, and training videos.
The council launched its video documentary unit, the Creative Media Collaborative, with part of a 10-year, $500,000 grant from the Darivoff Family Foundation.
Unconquered Souls is the first in a series of documentaries, books, and plays funded by the council to perpetuate the stories of survivors and their families “after they and their children are gone,” said council director Barbara Wind, who served as executive director of the video. “Through the use of technology, we have been taping their stories and twinning them with young people who can tell their stories in the future.”
The film describes how Fox, a survivor from Vienna, together with her parents, Helen and Fred Boyko, fled to New York from her hometown after the Nazi rampage of Kristallnacht in November 1938.
“It is a story of resilience, initiative, and all kinds of amazing things,” said Wind. By the age of 11, Fox’s mother was a piano prodigy. Fred Boyko was a prominent painter “who was so well known on both sides of the Atlantic that there was a studio ready for his use in Carnegie Hall when he settled in Manhattan,” said Wind. “He used the proceeds from his painting to support five families of Viennese relatives who had fled from the Nazis.”
(The council staged an exhibition — “From Kristallnacht to Carnegie Hall: The Art & Life of Fred S. Boyko” — on the Aidekman campus in 2014.)
Fred’s sister, Rudolfina, a specialist in animal behavior, married a physician named Dr. Rudolf Menzel. After she managed to save the life of a Nazi with help from her pet dog, he repaid her and her husband by helping them escape from Austria to Palestine. There, she bred dogs as security animals for kibbutzim, and later for the Israeli army and its wounded soldiers.
After arriving in Manhattan, Anitta attended New York University, became a physical therapist, and worked for its Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine.
She married Dr. Sheldon Fox and moved to Hillside, where they raised two sons and a daughter. Sheldon died in 2012.
“There was fear and yet an expectation to do something better with my life,” Anitta says in the film. “There is no sense about being bitter about anything. We just have to be grateful for what we have.”
When Wind approached Fox to share her family story, she was eager to do so.
“We have no secrets,” she told NJ Jewish News in a Sept. 18 phone interview a week before her 91st birthday.
“We very much wanted the focus to be something positive coming out of the tragedy of the Holocaust,” said her daughter, Dr. Serena Fox. “Mom is a very positive person and has wonderful relatives. Our family was relatively fortunate.”
Schreiber, managing partner of IPAK Productions in West Deptford in Gloucester County, spent 23 years at NBC as a field producer for The George Michael Sports Machine. He has done media training for scientists and video work with the National Fire Academy.
Although producing a historical documentary was something new for him, Schreiber felt an immediate connection with Fox and her family’s story.
“My great-grandfather, Joseph, and his brother, Barry, and Barry’s four children all perished in the Holocaust, so a film like this is very personal,” he told NJJN.
And yet, he said, “I took a leap of faith, not knowing how complex and intricate it would be. How do you tie together not just the linear story of the family’s history and where the members are now, but how her dad’s art fits in and how it is a thread that runs through her life?”
The project began with two days interviewing Fox and her family at her home in Hillside. “It was amazing,” said Schreiber. “She is a strong, positive woman. We earned her trust, and she sat there and said, ‘I am feeling these emotions in your presence I haven’t felt before.’ It was pretty powerful, and we captured those moments on video.”
“Mom feels the answer to any adversity is to make the most out of what you have and that life is a gift,” said Serena. “I’ve always admired that way of coming out of something that was so demoralizing and could have been so terrible. We were always grateful that our family didn’t go through the torment that other families did, but Mom came out of it viewing life as a gift.”
“We want the audience to be able to understand more where the family’s resilience came from and to recognize how to be on the lookout so genocide doesn’t happen again,” Schreiber added. “There is a real urgency now because these folks are passing away. We want to capture as much as we can. The window is closing.”
Among the documentaries in the pipeline is one called The Best Revenge, a look at children of survivors who have overcome trauma and led socially conscious and philanthropic lives.
Another is called Be an Upstander. It is being produced by Howard Goldberg of Livingston, a junior at Ithaca College. It is based on the life of Fred Heyman, a Morristown man who was a nine-year-old witness to Kristallnacht in Berlin.
For information about Unconquered Souls, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 973-929-3194.