Synagogue produces filmed chronicle of Shoah survivors

Synagogue produces filmed chronicle of Shoah survivors

Students interview area residents who lived through Nazi brutality

As a child in Germany, Erwin Ganz saw his house ransacked by Hitler Youth during Kristallnacht. Photos courtesy David Schwartz
As a child in Germany, Erwin Ganz saw his house ransacked by Hitler Youth during Kristallnacht. Photos courtesy David Schwartz

Erwin Ganz was an 8-year-old Jewish boy living in a German town and already feeling the oppression of life under the Nazi regime when Kristallnacht — the Nov. 9-10, 1938, “Night of the Broken Glass” pogrom — raised the level of terror against the Jews to frightening new heights.

He had to travel 30 miles to attend a Jewish school in the Frankfurt area because Jewish youngsters were barred from public schools. His mother met him at the train on Nov. 9 because she didn’t want him to walk home alone.

“I always walked home alone,” Ganz says in the original documentary film “Children of the Holocaust Remember.”

But that day was different.

“As we got to our house, we saw the Hitler Youth ransacking it, smashing the windows and destroying our sofa with hatchets. There was a tavern next door, and we had to listen to Germans singing songs about how they were going to kill Jews.”

Ganz, a Warren resident, and his family were fortunate to escape Nazi Germany and eventually settle in Newark. He is one of eight survivors interviewed in the 23-minute film produced by Temple Har Shalom to be screened at the synagogue in Warren on Friday evening, May 3.

The film’s production was cosponsored by Har Shalom and The Blue Card, the national organization whose sole mission is to help Holocaust survivors in need.

Harold Fischel, who grew up in Curacao after his family fled the Nazis in Amsterdam, is interviewed in “Children of the Holocaust Remember.”

About a year ago, congregant Matthew Baltuch of Warren went to Har Shalom’s religious leader, Rabbi Randi Musnitsky, to tell her his concerns regarding some survivors he knew of in the area. “Over the years, I have found both that there are some Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty,” said Baltuch, “and that some of them were eager to help record their experiences for generations to come.” Baltuch said he was also concerned “that many in our younger generation don’t know much about the details of the Holocaust.”

After discussing possible ideas, Musnitsky and Baltuch decided to make a film to document the survivors’ stories.

Baltuch enlisted the help of Har Shalom congregants David Schwartz of Warren, an amateur videographer and filmmaker, and Donna Connelly of Bedminster. Together, the three made the decision to have middle school students from the congregation conduct the interviews. Connelly’s son Terrence and Jacob Meltzer and Alexa Jacobson, both of Warren, serve as the film’s interviewers. They followed a script of questions written by the middle schoolers with input and guidance provided by their parents, according to Schwartz. 

Baltuch said the thinking was that having young people — around the age the survivors were during the war — conduct the interviews “would make the film more interesting to teens, as well as remind viewers of how much these survivors had to deal with at such a young age.”

In addition to Ganz, the interviewees included Connelly’s father, Harold Fischel (originally from Amsterdam); Sol Lurie (Kovno, Lithuania); and Irene Butter (Berlin), all of whom have had experience sharing their stories of suffering and survival. Inge Katzenstein (Cologne, Germany), Larry Schtoil (Paris), Jacob Weinglass (Ordgwul, Poland), and Inge Markowitz (Berlin), whose stories had not previously been shared widely or publicly, are also interviewed in the film.

Katzenstein, Markowitz, and Schtoil are residents of the Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living in Somerset.

Filming began in fall 2018. “It may have started with me, but it was a total team effort,” said Baltuch. “Donna did a marvelous job setting up the interviews, and David’s production of the film is simply outstanding….”

“It all came together, better than I thought it might,” said Schwartz. “Everybody’s hard work made it what it was.”

“Children of the Holocaust Remember,” added Baltuch, is “a record that is important to the entire community.”

Terrence said he was thrilled to interview his grandfather and learn the whole story of his family’s emigration — from Holland to Jamaica, then to Curacao — where Harold Fischel grew up — and finally to America.

“I had heard only bits and pieces,” said Terrence, a Bernards High School freshman. “It’s important for all of those my age to learn what went on in the Holocaust.”

In the film, Lurie, who was sent to Buchenwald at age 14, talks about a harrowing “sport” Nazi guards engaged in to terrorize Jews arriving at the concentration camp. They would grab a baby from its mother, throw the baby into the air, and impale the baby on a bayonet, laughing all the while. Lurie remembers such an incident where his cousin was the mother whose baby was killed so brutally.

The Monroe resident also talks about being forced on a death march “in freezing weather, wearing only wooden shoes and pajamas” — the camp’s striped uniform.

Schtoil mentions the humiliation of having to wear the star of David badge in Paris.

Katzenstein, whose family spent several years in Kenya thanks to a cousin’s law firm in Nairobi that arranged immigration papers for her family in 1939, emphasizes in the film that a tragedy like the Holocaust must never happen again.

“We say, ‘Never Again,’” she said, “but we must make certain.”

George Wolf, director of special projects for The Blue Card, will serve as a speaker at Friday’s event.

“The synagogue reached out to us to be involved,” Wolf said. “We are glad to be a part of it.”

If you go

What: Shabbat service and screening of “Children of the Holocaust Remember”
When: Friday, May 3, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Congregation Har Shalom, Warren
Cost: Free
Contact: 908-273-8130

The screening will follow a Yom HaShoah candle-lighting ceremony and Kabbalat Shabbat services.

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