Holocaust Movies, Research Forum

Aida’s Secret: The Heartbreaking Story of Giving Up a Child

The Weiss-Livnat International MA in Holocaust Studies recently hosted director Alon Schwarz to discuss his recent film Aida’s Secrets. The documentary is about the director’s uncle, Izak Szewelewicz, and his adoption in Israel a few years after the end of WWII. Izak was about 3 years old when he was adopted. For years, the family and his village kept a secret from him about his blind brother. On occasion, Izak’s biological mother, Aida, came to visit him in Israel from Canada, where she immigrated to after the war, while his brother Shepsel lived with his father and step-mother in Canada. However, Aida never visited Shepsel, even though they were only a few hours from each other.


Director, Alon Schwartz, shares with Cohort V. 

Aida grew up in Poland as an orphan, her parents died when she was only 3 years old. When Aida was 14, WWII broke out. As a Pole, she was taken to Germany to work as a forced laborer. When she was 20 years old, the war ended and she made her way to Bergen Belsen displaced persons camp. There she met Grisha, a Polish Jewish man who survived Auschwitz. Seven months later she gave birth to Izak, and 10 months later she gave birth to Shepsel while suffering from Tuberculosis. While at Bergen Belsen, she converted to Judaism. In 1947, the family made plans to immigrate to Canada, but she decided to send Izak to Israel. Meanwhile she, Grisha and Shepsel made a new life in Canada, but this was short lived as she and Grisha separated soon after arrival. After the divorce, Aida tried to immigrate to Israel, but her visa application was denied because her conversion was not recognized. Aida recently passed away, but before her death her she met her son Shepsel, whom she hadn’t seen for decades. Why hadn’t she made an effort to see Shepsel before? As Shepsel developed a relationship with his mother, he tried to ask her this and more questions. While it’s obvious that she cherished this time together with Shepsel, she wouldn’t answer any of her questions. Izak too tried to ask her questions but she wouldn’t answer him, despite their lifelong relationship.  


Doron Livnat and Arieh Kochavi sit with Cohort V 

Through archival research and some detective work, more questions arose than answers. The film was recently released in Israel and will be released in the United States this summer. We would like to thank Alon Schwarz for visiting and answering some of our questions about the film and sharing the development of the project.

For more information on the film check out their website: http://www.aidassecret.com/

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies

A Film Unfinished

For the Research Forum this week, our students watched “A Film Unfinished” (directed by Yael Hersonski) and spoke with the director, Itay Ken-Tor afterward. Itay has also produced many of the films at shown at Yad Vashem and is a lecturer at The Open University in Israel, among other job titles.


The footage used in “A Film Unfinished” was shot in the Warsaw Ghetto just months before liquidation of the Ghetto, January 1945. The documentary is constituted of three main parts: raw footage from Winter 1944, survivors watching the footage, and an interview with one of the German cameramen. The survivors said there was less shooting while the Germans were filming. That’s not to say that there was no violence during the filming. Many scenes captured the Jewish Ghetto Police corralling people down the street. The footage from 1944 furthermore emphasized the difference between luxury and extreme poverty within the ghetto.


In the interview with the German cameraman, he said that even he didn’t know the purpose of the film, but simply that he was ordered to film by SS men. (The interview with the cameraman was an actor reading from the script of the interview conducted in 1972, as the cameraman has passed away.) In film recently discovered in archives, there is evidence that the cameramen staged many of the scenes. For example, the documentary showed seven takes of two poverty stricken children looking in a store window full of food, while an upper-class lady walks into the store. She then comes out with a bag of food, and passes the children by without a glance. The Nazi idea was to showcase the worst of humanity, ei the rich living in luxury in the ghetto while the poor are dying.

This propaganda is juxtaposed with a testimony from the survivors. While one of the survivors is watching a segment of the film showing a crowd of well-dressed Jews in a movie theater, he said “Everyone who didn’t laugh, his fate was doomed.” Another survivor said, stores were full of food and other goods but there were very few who had the money to buy anything, and anything they bought was at a very high price.

There is only one reference to this film that has been found in historical documents, this is in Goebbels’s Diaries. He mentioned that they were sending a film crew to the Warsaw Ghetto to document happenings before they liquidated the camp. The film also contained portions of Jewish religious rites like circumcision, ritual bathing and the Kaparot ceremony. All of these are filmed incorrectly, and harshly, to create a grotesque vision of Jewish life. Maybe this film was meant for the Jewish Prague Museum after the war? Historians may never know. What we do know is that through the Nazi lens, this film attempts to take humanity from the Jewish people forced to live in inhumane conditions brought about by the Nazi’s themselves.


In the student’s discussion with the producer after the film he said he didn’t want this to be classified as a Holocaust film. Rather this should be a study on how we perceive images. This film is only taken from one point of view, the Nazi view. Itay said it’s a discussion between reality, documentation and truth. He left the students with the advise to always question what they see.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

Holocaust Movies, Seminars

Night Will Fall

This week in the Research Forum our students watched the documentary “Night Will Fall.” The film retells the story of liberation using film from British archives shot in 1945. The British government used this raw footage to create a film titled, “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.” The original footage reveals a small portion of the horrors the liberators found, yet the images are overwhelming. Director, Andre Singer, explores the significance of the original British documentary which remained untouched in archives for 70 years.


Much of the footage from different liberations in 1945 concentrate on the shocking, inhumane conditions within the camps, showing graphic content. Singer included survivors and liberators in the film which gave the images context. They identified themselves in different segments of film, many of the survivors remembered being filmed and relayed their impressions of this and so much more.


Director, Andre Singer, skyped into a meeting at our Research Forum.

Singer’s documentary also discusses the historical impact of the original film from 1945. After the 1945 documentary, “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,” was completed they decided not to show it anywhere, and put it in archives, where Andre Singer found it. The film would have been shown as a sort of “atrocity propaganda” but the British government felt that it would not be conducive to the de-nazifacation process. The questions “Night Will Fall” addresses are: Is it appropriate to show the truth? Would this film have furthered tensions between Germans and the Allies? Who is responsible for making these decisions: governments or individuals?  


Cohort V asking Director, Andre Singer, questions about the film.

Regardless, the documentary is a reminder of the dark potential of humanity. The title of the documentary was derived from narration from the original 1945 film, “Unless the world learns the lesson these pictures teach, night will fall.”

Before you open these links, know that there are very graphic images shown:

you can see the full trailer here: 

or you can access the full film here:

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies, Holocaust Survivor

Director Ronen Zaretzsky, Survivor, Kazik Rotem, and The Last Fighter Film

image (5).Earlier in the summer semester, writer and director Ronen Zaretzsky joined our class to screen his documentary, The Last Fighters, which details the lives of the surviving members of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The 2006 film traveled to Poland, Israel and Canada to visit the aging fighters and get their views on both the past and the present. It centered on a reunion between many of the living members of the Uprising in Poland, where they were honored by the Polish government for their heroic acts on the 60th anniversary of the Uprising. Many of these fighters’ own communities and neighbors do not know their stories. It began with Marek Edelman, one of the icons of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who then was living in Lodz. His strong Bundist beliefs kept him in Poland after the war, where he became a heart doctor in order to help people after seeing the horrors of the war.

The film then brought the audience to Israel, where Zaretzsky interviewed Masha Futtermillech and Pnina Greenspan in Tel Aviv, Kazik Rotem in Jerusalem and Aharon Carmi in Kfar Saba. In the documentary, Carmi recalled jumping off a train carrying his family bound for Treblinka and returning on foot to Warsaw. Zaretzsky and his crew then met with Bronek Spiegel in Montreal, whose late wife Haika was also part of the Uprising. Spiegel spoke about his training and preparation for the fight while with the Eyal, a Jewish Fighting Organization created in 1942 after a mass liquidation of the ghetto which left mostly young people still in the ghetto.

In Poland at the reunion, the fighters relive the events of the April 1943 uprising. The film discusses the time-by-time and street-by-street play out of the uprising, how it happened, which building each of the fighters hid in, and when each detail occurred. All 220 fighters were divided into 22 groups, each group with a commander. They were all part of various Jewish youth movements, both Zionist and non. They then discussed their memories, as well as their relationship with the Jewish State and its role with Diaspora Jews.

As many of them were the only surviving members of their families, they needed to build their own lives from new at the end of the war. Pnina discussed the complicated feelings she had with returning to Poland, a country she once called home but then ran away from. After the film screening, Zaretzsky joined our cohort for a question and answer session. A student, Rotem, asked, “Why weren’t members of the Artzi, another movement in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, interviewed?” Zaretzsky said it was because most of them did not survive. Another student, Ziva, asked,  “How do you think the movie affected the survivors?” Zaretzsky replied, “For Masha it affected her a lot. She asked me, ‘Why did it take you so long to talk to me?’ She was very willing to be interviewed, and we had more than 100 hours of interviews with her.” He ended by saying that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is one of the most unbelievable stories of the 20th century: a group of 200 young people who fight against the Nazi empire. It was the first instance of civilians fighting against the Nazis during the war.


Following this screening and after learning that one of the fighters from the movie, Kazik Rotem, is still living in Israel, our program organized a meeting between students and Rotem in Jerusalem. Our group traveled to Jerusalem to meet with him for the afternoon. He opened himself up for questions and discussion with our group, and told of his experiences during the uprising and his thoughts on life after the war. During the uprising, he was ordered to go to the Aryan side and make contact with Antek Zuckerman. He was only 19 years old at the time. He and his comrades hid in the sewers of Warsaw, walking 3km together with little rations, all while underneath the feet of the Nazis, to escape. While this happened, the Nazis discovered the bunker where the uprising fighters were hiding, including Mordecai Anielewitz, and killed them.


Rotem had successfully, but unknowingly, escaped. When students asked about what he felt at the time, he responded, “We had no intention or thought of surviving the uprising. I never thought I would make it out of there. But we knew we wanted to die fighting, like humans.” He recalled what it was like to take part in the action and spoke of the adrenaline the he felt. Rotem ended the meeting by talking with each student and asking about the diverse backgrounds that make up our program.


Our students unanimously felt that this was one of the most meaningful events of the year, one which left many students at an emotional loss for words. It was an incredible opportunity for our cohort to have an intimate, face-to-face meeting with one of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and to learn about history from someone who made the history happen. It was also a chance for our program to pay tribute to Rotem and his courageous acts.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/

Faculty, Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies

A Complicated Relationship:  Israelis living in Berlin And screening of film: Farewell Herr Schwarz


הורד (1)Our students recently had an opportunity to hear from Dr. Roby Nathanson about his research on the mutual perceptions of Israeli and German youth, to watch the film “Farewell Herr Schwarz,” and to engage in a discussion with the film’s director Yael Reuveni and our very own Dr. Kobi Kabalek. This exciting seminar was part of the cooperation between the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Studies at the University of Haifa, and the Ghetto Fighters House Museum, which was established in the aim of fostering an Israeli-German academic dialogue. This year the series of seminars will focus on Germany and Israel – Mutual Perceptions in a Changing Global environment.

During the first part of the seminar Dr. Roby Nathanson, who has a PhD in economics תמונה_רובינתנזוןfrom the University of Koln in Germany and heads the Macro Center for Political Economics, shared his research from surveys and focus groups conducted with Jewish and Arab Israelis and German youth regarding their mutual perceptions. The surveys were conducted in 1998, 2004, and 2010 and Dr. Nathanson was able to explain the trends and changes over time. The overall findings show that paradoxically Israelis have a positive attitude towards contemporary Germany but they continue to have a negative view of the German past as it relates to the Holocaust. According to Dr. Nathanson, Israeli youth are unable to forgive Germany for the Holocaust and overwhelmingly support continued emphasis on teaching the Holocaust. The research shows that Israeli are more interested in the Holocaust today than in 1998 and more Israeli Jews than Israeli Arabs think the majority of Germans supported the Holocaust. Nathanson believes increasing international criticism of Israel is responsible for strengthening Israeli interest in the Holocaust because the Holocaust is connected to the establishment of Israel and many Israelis see Israel as the only way to guarantee the survival of the Jewish people. Nathanson believes the Israeli educational system, including the emphasis on trips to Poland to visit the camps, are responsible for propagating these views.  Key differences between German and Israeli perceptions are that German youth tend to see the Holocaust as a dark chapter in German history that was an anomaly, and national identity is more essential to Israelis than Germans, who consider national pride to be wrong.

During the second part of the seminar our students were able to view the Film “Farewell Herr Schwarz.” The film is a personal documentary about the second and third generation survivors in director Yael Reuveni’s family in Israel and Germany and is centered on her six year journey to discover what happened to her grandmother’s beloved brother Feivke who failed to meet her after the war. The film asks broader questions about the meaning of family and how one moment can affect the lives of an individual and their descendants.

After watching the film our students were able to participate in a discussion with the film’s director Yael Reuveni and one of the program’s lecturers Dr. Kobi Kabalek. Reuveni has lived in Germany for the past ten years and is a graduate of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School in Jerusalem. Kabalek has a PhD in History from the University of Virginia and is currently the editor of Dapim Studies on the Holocaust and a postdoctoral fellow at Hebrew University. Reuveni and Kabalek met in 2006 whil

e both were living in Berlin and they spoke about the phenomena of Israelis living in Berlin after the film screening. Both felt that many Israelis go to Berlin to escape Israel in addition to a desire to look for something, to figure out their identity, and confront the Holocaust past. Reuveni shared that it was liberating for her to live in Berlin where the Holocaust is truly in the past, unlike in Israel where the Holocaust in there and not then, which keeps it in the present. The seminar was a interesting multi-media look at how Israelis and Germans view each other today and what it is like to be an Israeli living in Berlin and trying to find answers about the Holocaust past tat continues to have so much influence on the present.

Taj Haroun: Genocide in Darfur & Asylum Seekers in Israel | Holocaust Studies in Haifa

Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies

Hitler’s Children Film Screening & Discussion with Director & Producer Chanoch Ze’evi

IMG_2383Our students watched the film Hitler’s Children during a recent session of the Research Forum and had the privilege of discussing the film with the director and producer Chanoch Ze’evi. The film is a dialogue with the descendants of some high-ranking Nazi officers such as Rudolph Hoess’ grandson, Hans Franks’ son, Amon Goeth’s daughter, Heinrich Himmler’s great niece, and Herman Goering’s great niece. The film explores how these descendants grapple with the Nazi past of their close relatives. Ze’evi became interested in telling the story from a perpetrator perspective after he interviewed Hitler’s secretary. Prior to making this film he had always focused on the victim’s perspective. Ze’evi stated that he had three goals for the film: first, he wanted to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and make it relevant for youth today; second, he sees it as an answer to Holocaust survivors and evidence to combat Holocaust deniers; finally, he views he film as a message of hope because it shows that hate is not passed on through the genes to one descendants, but rather each individual can choose to be good.


Ze’evi shared that it was very difficult to convince the protagonists in the film to be a part of the project. He had wanted to interview some descendants who are neo-Nazis and share the beliefs of their relatives but none agreed. The difficulty in getting theses 2nd and 3rd generation “perpetrators” to speak reminded Ze’evi of the silence that sometimes exists in victims and their descendants. Ze’evi stated that there are similarities in how both groups grapple with their Holocaust past although they approach it from opposite standpoints.  The descendants of the perpetrators in the film struggled with issues of guilt, shame, and responsibility although none of them were involved in the events. Franks’ son faced the difficulty of refusing to honor and love his parents in spite of the fourth commandment. Goering’s great niece shared that she and her brother had chosen to be sterilized so there would not be any more Goerings in the world. Himmler’s great niece spoke about her shame at being German and hoe thrilled she is when people think she is Scandinavian.


One of the most moving scenes in the film is when Hoess’ grandson goes to visit Auschwitz for the first time with an Israeli who is a 3rd generation survivor. They visit the villa next to the camp where his father and grandfather lived. He brings family photos that show his father and his siblings playing in the large and beautiful garden with toys made by prisoners in Auschwitz. It is shocking that the camp commandant raised his family so close to the death factory that was Auschwitz. The villa is not part of the Auschwitz State Museum but a private dwelling inhabited by a Polish family. After touring the villa Hoess’ grandson speaks with Israeli students visiting Auschwitz. In this emotionally charged scene the students confront Hoess by asking him why he is there and what he would do if he could meet his grandfather. Hoess responds that he would kill him himself. A survivor of Auschwitz in the crowd embraces Hoess and tells him not to feel guilty for the crimes of his grandfather. The film has allowed for a small but significant act of reconciliation. The film was a fascinating look at the Holocaust from the unique perspective of the descendants of key perpetrators. Our students enjoyed seeing the film and hearing the director and producer share insights on its production.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/

Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Movies

Six Million and One Film Screening & Discussion with Director

six-million-and-one-movie-posterOur students benefited from the opportunity to watch the Israeli film Six Million and One follow by a discussion with David Fisher, the film’s director. Fisher’s father survived Auschwitz and the Gusen labor camp in Austria where he was forced to dig an underground factory to build airplanes. He never spoke about his experiences in detail, but after his death Fisher discovered his memoir. The memoir was the catalyst for the film. Fisher journeyed to all the places his father was interned during WWII, first alone and then with three of his siblings. The film includes footage from both those trips as well as an interview with American veterans who liberated Fisher’s father at Gunskirchen. Excerpts from his father’s diary are included throughout the film.

During the post screening discussion Fisher shared what it was like to discover his father’s diary and realize how little he knew his father or find a different father in its pages than the one he knew. Fisher said his father was not intellectual or cultured and that he was very impressed by his father’s writing. It made him sorry he hadn’t been able to communicate with his father during his lifetime.  Fisher explained that the film is multi-layered. It tells the story of him looking for his new father and answers as to how and why he survived. It is also a story about the living ones, the second generation, him and his siblings – who they are and how they view their father.


Fisher stated that the film is a personal story – it is about the one not the six million. A big component of the film is the relationship between the four siblings and how they view their father and deal with being the second generation. Some of Fisher’s siblings refused to read their father’s diary and don’t understand why he can’t leave the past behind and focus on the present. All the siblings are very different and some are more affected by being the children of survivors than others. The journey as documented by the film gave the siblings a chance to have some poignant and humorous discussions and clear the air about growing up in the shadow of the Holocaust and how their parents’ trauma affected them.

Finally, the film also seeks to ask and answer social questions about Austria and the people who live in such close proximity to the camp at Gusen; who are they and what responsibility do they want to take on themselves and why? An interesting component of the film was looking at the people who currently live near these sits, how they feel about the foreign visitors, and whether they see a need to preserve these sites and keep them open to the public. Fisher tried to free himself of prejudices but he recalled that it was difficult to be in Austria and meet the people. In addition to wanting to introduce his siblings to their father’s story he wanted them to accompany him on the second trip for moral support.  Having the chance to discuss the film with the director right after seeing it enriched the entire experience.

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/