Film Premiere of "Kinderblock 66" at Buchenwald Memorial
The sensitive documentary film "Kinderblock 66 - Return to Buchenwald” tells the story of four Jewish children from Block 66 at the concentration camp Buchenwald. They represent the fate of roughly 1,000 Jewish children and youths liberated by the US Army in April 1945. The film was premiered at the memorial last Saturday. “I think it was the appropriate place,” said Alex Moscovic, a Holocaust survivor and one of the film´s protagonists.
The Buchenwald memorial invited surviving children and youths on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the liberation in April 2010. For film producer Steve Moscovic, Alex´s son, this meeting was the impetus for his project. In addition to his father, he portrays Naftali-Duro Furst, Pavel Kohn and Israel-Laszlo Lazar in the documentary.
The film avoids standard methods of interviewing eyewitnesses. The survivors don’t have to tell their stories into a seeming vacuum while seated in front of a darkened background. Steve Moscovic follows the lives of the four Buchenwald boys by giving them each a camera, allowing them to choose the time and place where they feel most comfortable speaking about the unspeakable. In other interview sequences, their personalities are revealed through unusual and subtle questions. Historians, additional eyewitnesses and glimpses of persecution documents from the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive in Bad Arolsen augment the depictions of the four main actors. Pictures taken by the US Army after liberation from the camp, some brutal, are also shown.
The result is a film of enormous significance about the Buchenwald boys’ experience, emotion, drive and conviction. The audience is presented with an emotional challenge, albeit one that is not intrusive. The camera remains on when an eyewitness breaks down in tears, yet the tension is captured as the audience is allowed to witness such amusing scenes as the 80-year-olds packing their suitcases. The sensitive choice and editing of scenes and pictures is impressive.
The Jewish children and youth at Buchenwald owe their very survival to Communist prisoners in the camp administration. Members of the clandestine underground resistance resolved to save as many young Jewish people as possible who were sent to Buchenwald from concentration camps in Eastern Europe during the final months of the war. In mid-January 1945 they decided to establish a special children´s barracks “Kinderblock 66” within the so-called “little camp,” knowing that SS officers seldom entered the disease-infested area.
The film honors block elder Antonin Kalina, a Czech Communist resistance member who oversaw Block 66. He repeatedly advised the boys to deny their Jewish ancestry, and ordered them to ignore loudspeaker calls demanding that all Jews gather at the Appellplatz, where the death marches began. These small but effective steps saved the boys´ lives. “I had lost all hope,” Alex admitted. “But Kalina gave it back to me, and with it a belief in God.” Antonin Kalina, who has since died, was nominated by the filmmakers for the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem.
The children arriving at Buchenwald had suffered years of persecution, exclusion, ghettoization, forced labour and concentration camp imprisonment. They could only dream of having enough to eat or even of getting an education. And yet most of them were able to get on with their lives after the war, study, or start a family. The film also tells this part of their stories. “Back then, I had been a sickly child, and today I´m attending the premiere with my entire family,” said Furst with more than a little pride.
After the end of the war Furst returned to his hometown of Bratislava. His parents had survived. “That was enormously helpful in allowing me to remain normal and to carry on.” In 1949 he emigrated to Israel. Israel-Laslo Lazar followed two years later; both live there still. Furst visited Germany for the first time in 2005, and since then has returned often. “I have to report what happened. So many children were murdered who are no longer able to speak for themselves.” Kohn also initially returned to his homeland of Czechoslovakia, but after he was forbidden to work, he left for the Federal Republic of Germany.
Alex Moscovic emigrated to the USA after his return to Sobrance (today Hungary) in 1945. He did not encounter a single familiar face. “We had agreed with my father that we would all go home and meet again there. But no one came back.” Alex visited Germany for the first time in 1972 as an Olympics sports reporter for ABC, where he was forced to witness the murder of the Israeli team. Since his retirement he has been speaking to school groups “so they will pass on our story to make sure it never happens again. Tikkun olam - I see it as my responsibility to try to leave the world a better place than I found it.”
The documentary film “Kinderblock 66” will be shown at various film festivals in the USA and Israel. Producer Steve Moscovic is also seeking a German TV station to translate the film into German.