Tag Archives: Auschwitz

Auschwitz survivor spends 71st Valentine’s Day with soldier who rescued her

A Hungarian Jew is preparing to spend her 71st Valentine’s Day with the Scottish soldier who rescued her from Auschwitz.

Edith Steiner was 20 when John Mackay’s commando unit liberated her and a number of other Jewish prisoners from the concentration camp in Poland.

She caught the eye of the then 23-year-old John at a village hall dance to celebrate their liberation but he was too shy to approach her.

Continue reading Auschwitz survivor spends 71st Valentine’s Day with soldier who rescued her

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UTA Lands ‘Son of Saul’ Writer-Director Laszlo Nemes

‘Son of Saul,’ the Hungarian helmer’s debut, won the Grand Prix award at Cannes earlier this year.

One of the hottest agency pursuits at Cannes this year has finally made his choice. Laszlo Nemes-Jeles, whose Son of Saul wowed audiences on the Riviera and nabbed the festival’s Grand Prix, has signed with UTA, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Nemes’ achievement was all the more impressive given that Son of Saul, an Auschwitz drama about a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner who tries to arrange a proper burial for the body of a young boy, was his directorial debut.

From left, actor Todd Charmont, director Laszlo Nemes, screenwriter Clara Royer, actors Geza Rohrig, Urs Rechn, and Levente Molnar pose for photographers as they arrive for the screening of the film Saul Fia (Son of Saul) at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
From left, actor Todd Charmont, director Laszlo Nemes, screenwriter Clara Royer, actors Geza Rohrig, Urs Rechn, and Levente Molnar pose for photographers as they arrive for the screening of the film Saul Fia (Son of Saul) at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau) 

As buzz spread around Cannes, the Hungarian-born helmer quickly became one of the festival’s most-desired unsigned talents even before his film won its second-highest honor.

Son of Saul is set to play the Toronto International Film Festival, as it moves on to the fall festival festival circuit prior to its release by Sony Pictures Classics.

Hungary already has announced the film as its official foreign-language submission for the 2016 Academy Awards. Nemes, who was raised in Paris before studying filmmaking at NYU, was previously nominated for best short film at the European Academy Awards.

Cannes: ‘Son of Saul’ Epitomizes Spirit, Ambition of Hungarian Cinema, National Film Fund Chief Says

'Son of Saul' Epitomizes Spirit, Ambition

At the Cannes Film Festival, Hungarian film “Son of Saul” was one of the standout pics, winning acclaim from critics, selling to buyers worldwide, including to Sony Pictures Classics for North America, and winning both the festival’s Grand Prix and the top prize of the international critics’ body, Fipresci.

Laszlo Nemes’ Holocaust drama, which was the only directorial feature debut in Cannes’ competition, and the only pic from Eastern Europe to play in that section, is the source of great pride for Agnes Havas, CEO of the Hungarian National Film Fund, as it was a 100% Hungarian-financed project.

“The film is closest to our spirit,” Havas told Variety.

Nemes and the film’s producers, Gabor Rajna and Gabor Sipos, had gone on a tour of Europe trying to find co-production partners, but were unsuccessful.

Havas’ fund stepped in with 75% of the budget — Euros 1.1 million ($1.2 million) out of a total budget of Euros 1.5 million ($1.63 million) — and the rest came from the Hungarian tax credit, which is also public money.

Havas and the fund’s five-strong decision-making committee had great faith in the project and in Nemes’ talent, she says. His route to directing his first feature was not swift, but the time was well spent.

He moved to Budapest in 2003, and was Bela Tarr’s assistant for two years, working on such films as “The Man from London.” He later studied directing in New York, and helmed three short films, one of which, “With a Little Patience,” competed at the Venice Film Festival.

All three shorts were supported by the Hungarian state. During this period, he was able to hone his craft and identify those who would later join his crew on “Son of Saul.”

The film’s cinematographer, Matyas Erdely, and sound designer, Tamas Zanyi, in particular played a key part in the film’s success.

When Havas attended the premiere screening of the film at Cannes, she was struck by the audience’s response and its effect on the director.

“That was a very uplifting moment for us because there was silence in the hall throughout the screening, and then at the end credits everybody stood up and applauded. Laszlo opened his arms to receive the warm reception,” she says.

She describes Nemes as “a very modest guy,” but adds that he is ambitious when it comes to playing his part in world cinema.

“He could have made a feature earlier, but he, along with his co-writer Clara Royer, put together the structure of the script with meticulous care,” she says.

When Havas met with a delegation from Prague’s FAMU film school, she told them:

“This is your film too. It is the only film from Eastern Europe in competition, and we share a common history — especially in this respect,”

referring to the fact that the Nazis took Jewish people from across Eastern Europe to Auschwitz, where the film is set, and the other death camps. Havas is now focusing on the new projects that have received funding from her organization.

These include Gabor Herendi’s period romantic drama “Kincsem,” which is about a champion racehorse.

The project, which received 97.8 million HUF ($344,000) from the film fund, focuses on a feud between a Hungarian aristocrat, Erno Blaskovich, and an Austrian military man, Otto von Oettingen, and Blaskovich’s tempestuous love affair with von Oettingen’s unruly daughter, Klara.

It is set to begin filming in July. The film is produced by Tamas Hutlassa (“Land of Storms”) and is co-produced by Herendi, who had a box office hit in Hungary with “A Kind of America.”

Another highlight of the slate is Roland Vranik’s “The Citizen,” which is set in modern-day Budapest and deals with the sometimes difficult issue of immigration through a love story told with humor and empathy.

The main protagonist is Wilson, who lost his family in a war in Africa, and fled to Budapest as a political refugee. He now works in a supermarket as a security guard and his one aim in life is to become a Hungarian citizen.

The film is based on a screenplay co-written by Vranik and Ivan Szabo (“Land of Storms”). Vranik’s first film, “Black Brush,” won the main prize at Hungarian Film Week, and his second film, “Transmission,” enjoyed success at film festivals around the world.

“The Citizen” is being produced by Karoly Feher at Popfilm. The fund contributed a production grant of 310 million HUF ($1.09 million).

Lastly, “On Body and Soul” is the latest film from Ildiko Enyedi, who won Cannes’ Camera d’Or for “My 20th Century.”

The romantic melodrama “On Body and Soul” is based “around the duality of sleeping and waking, mind and matter.” Speaking about the project, Enyedi has commented:

“What would happen if you met someone, who dreamed the same as you or, to be more precise, had been meeting you in the same world every night for years? Would you be pleased? Or would you feel that you had been in some way robbed? And what if this specific individual didn’t exactly appeal to you? What if you actually hated that person?”

The film is produced by Andras Muhi and Monika Mecs’ Inforg-M&M Film. The fund contributed 430 million HUF ($1.51 million).

Son of Saul’s astonishing recreation of Auschwitz renews Holocaust debate

László Nemes’s drama of a Sonderkommando’s private grief amidst public horror demurs from the usual spectacles of Holocaust – and ratchets up the aural impressions.

The leading actor in an acclaimed film about prisoners employed in body disposal at the concentration camp has urged for greater understanding of the horrors such men faced

The star of one of Cannes’s most controversial – and acclaimed – movies so far has launched an impassioned defence of the Sonderkommando, the group of concentration camp prisoners who oversaw the deaths of millions in the gas chambers and then disposed of the bodies.

Geza Rohrig and, left, László Nemes, the director of Son of Saul, at the film’s press conference. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/EPA

Géza Röhrig, who makes his screen debut in Son of Saul as a Jewish man forced to perform such tasks, reacted with anger to the suggestion, made by a journalist, that members of the Sonderkommando were “half-victim, half-hangman”.

“There has to be a clarification,” he said. “They are 100% victims. They have not spilled blood or been involved in any sort of killing. They were inducted on arrival under the threat of death.

They had no control of their destinies. They were as victimised as any other prisoners at in Auschwitz.”

Röhrig conceded that such confusion did persist, with even Primo Levi having insisted that the Sonderkommando were in some sense collaborators.

“Of the 20 or so who are still alive many didn’t reveal their work even to their families after the war because they were regarded so negatively. But in 2015, no one should call them part-killer.”

The film, which has attracted a raft of five-star reviews, is also the debut of its 38-year-old director, László Nemes. Set as the Allies approach in October 1944, it unfolds over a day and a half as the prisoners plot a rebellion and Saul comes across the body of a young man to whom he wishes to give a proper burial. Its vivid, handheld shooting style, which gives the horrors of the Holocaust a new immediacy, can be regarded as an attempt to honour the dead in appropriate fashion, as its protagonist does.

Nemes and his co-writer drew inspiration from the testimony of such prisoners written at the time, but said they wanted to avoid “the stuff of books”.

“We didn’t want to stand back from the situation, to establish a historical distance. We can’t put post-war emotions on it. We didn’t want to make a beautiful film full of icons, or for it to be emotional in the conventional sense. Because after several months, these men are empty of conventional emotions.”

Son of Saul

Though many audience members have confessed to finding the film a troubling watch, graphic content is largely kept blurred in the margins of the screen; the camera’s focus remains on its leading man’s face. Likewise the audio mix tones down the terrors.

“A really realistic sound would have heard nothing but people crying because they were dying,” said Nemes. “We tried to be very restrained. Cinema seems more and more keen on giving more and more. I think less is more and the right way was to rely on the imagination of viewers to reconstruct something that cannot be reconstructed. For them to create in the mind the experience of the extermination camp.”

The film is the only Hungarian title in competition. The producers had hoped it would be a co-production but funding bodies in France and Israel turned it down on account of the subject matter’s “riskiness”.

It is expected that the film, which tackles a time in history Jean-Luc Godard famously felt cinema had failed to properly address, will go home with a prominent prize next Sunday evening. Nemes’s direction has taken the lion’s share of praise, but many are also tipping Röhrig, whose traumatised detachment fills almost every frame.

“The expectation was for me to dance in a very small area in a very minimalist way,” he said. “Usually you are able to shine and create moments. Not here.” The actor also said the experience of the shoot had triggered a personal crisis of faith. “As a person who believes in God, I had an experience making this that was very struggling and hard.”

Former Nazi Guard Oskar Groening Kisses Holocaust Survivor Eva Kor During His Trial

“Nothing good ever comes from anger. Any goodwill gesture in my book will win over anger any time.”

Those were the words penned by Eva Mozes Kor, an 81-year-old Auschwitz survivor after she was kissed and embraced by a former Nazi guard during his trial.

Former SS Sgt. Oskar Groening is being tried in Germany as an accessory to the murder of at least 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz. Groening, now 93, admits he kept watch as thousands were led to the gas chambers at the concentration camp.

Közvetlen hivatkozás a képhez

Kor, who was subjected to horrific medical experiments at Auschwitz, testified last week at Groening’s trial. On Friday, she approached the former SS guard in court.

Kor wrote in an op-ed for The Times of London that she wanted to “thank him for having some human decency in accepting responsibility for what he has done.”

Groening’s reaction, however, took Kor — and everyone in the courtroom — by surprise.

He kissed Kor on the cheek and embraced her.

“I was a little bit astonished,” said Kor, who according to the Times of Israel traveled from Indiana to Germany for the trial. “It was not planned. This is what you see when you see two human beings interact. He likes me, how about that? I am going back to the U.S. with a kiss on my cheek from a former Nazi.”’

On Friday, Kor shared a photograph on Facebook of her and Groening holding hands. She penned a long caption to accompany the moving image.

“I know many people will criticize me for this photo, but so be it,” she wrote. “It was two human beings 70 years after it happened. For the life of me I will never understand why anger is preferable to a goodwill gesture.”

Kor said that she still holds Groening accountable for his actions during the Holocaust.

“He was a small screw in a big killing machine, and the machine cannot function without the small screws,” Kor wrote. However, Kor added that she forgives the man, and believes that there may be value in bringing “the victims” and “the perpetrators” together to “face the truth, try to heal and work together to prevent it from ever happening again.”

According to the AP, Groening was “indicted under a new line of German legal reasoning that anyone who helped a death camp function can be accused of being an accessory to murder without evidence of participation in a specific crime.”

At the first day of his trial last week, Groening acknowledged sharing the “moral guilt” of the murders.

“I ask for forgiveness. I share morally in the guilt but whether I am guilty under criminal law, you will have to decide,” he told the court, per the BBC.

If found guilty, Groening could face three to 15 years in prison.

Groening is known for being one of the few Nazis who has spoken publicly about his role in the genocide. He has said previously that he chose to speak out in the hopes of silencing Holocaust deniers.

Witold Pilecki, The Spy Who Volunteered for Auschwitz

Witold Pilecki
Auschwitz concentration camp photos of Witold Pilecki, taken in 1941

On 19 September 1940, Witold Pilecki, a Polish soldier, went outside during a street round-up in Warsaw to be captured. Along with around 2,000 civilians, Pilecki was taken to Auschwitz, where he was assigned the inmate number 4859. He had volunteered for a secret undercover mission: to get inside the camp, gather intelligence and report back to the Allies.

Under the pseudonym Tomasz Serafinski, he arrived at the camp between 21 and 22 September and saw Auschwitz for the first time.

“We were struck over the head not only by SS rifle butts, but by something far greater,” he wrote. “Our concepts of law and order and of what was normal, all those ideas to which we had become accustomed on this Earth, were given a brutal kicking.”

Pilecki’s clandestine intelligence, received by the Allies in 1941, was among the earliest describing the appalling conditions of the Nazi death camp. His work, published into English for the first time in 2012, stands among the few diaries of camp inmates, alongside the works of literature and memory by Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel.

World War Two and Polish Secret Army

Pilecki was born on 13 May 1901 in Karelia, Russia, where his family had been forcibly resettled by Imperial Russian authorities after the Poland’s January Uprising of 1863 and 1864 was suppressed.

Witold Pilecki
Pilecki co-founded the Secret Polish Army in 1939(Rotmistrzpilecki)

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Pilecki was mobilised as a cavalry-platoon commander and assigned to the 19th Infantry Division – part of the Polish Army Prusy.

After his platoon moved towards Lwów, modern-day Lviv, in Ukraine, they disbanded after eastern Poland was annexed by the Soviet Union. Pilecki returned to Warsaw with his commander, Major Włodarkiewicz.

On 9 November 1939, the two men founded the Secret Polish Army, Tajna Armia Polska, one of the first underground organisations in Poland.

As the resistance movement grew, Pilecki became the organisational commander of the group. By 1940, the organisation had around 8,000 men – over half of which were armed – across Warsaw, Lublin and other Polish cities. It became part of the Home Army in 1941.

Auschwitz

In 1940, Pilecki presented a plan to his superiors – to enter Auschwitz and gather intelligence. Little had been known about the camp at the time, and it was thought to be an internment camp or large prison.

At Auschwitz, while working in various commandos and surviving pneumonia, he organised an underground Union of Military Organisations to improve morale, provide news from the outside, distribute extra food and set up intelligence networks. He witnessed at first hand, what was happening inside the camp.

Soviet prisoners of war were the victims of the first gassing by Zyklon B,  which was made up of poisonous hydrogen cyanide, later used to murder the Jews in 1942. At the time, Pilecki was fortunate enough to be on a work assignment beyond the gates of the camp.

“The men had been so tightly packed that even in death they could not fall over,” Pilecki wrote of the murdered inmates.

Witold Pilecki trial
The show trial of Pilecki, who sentenced to death and executed in 1948(Wiki Commons)

The organisation provided the Polish underground with information about the camp from October 1940 – just weeks after Pilecki arrived.

His reports were forwarded to the British government and in 1942, his resistance movement broadcasted information on the number of arrivals, deaths and the conditions inside Auschwitz.

Escape

Pilecki’s reports, later known as Witold’s Report, were a main source of intelligence on Auschwitz for the Western Allies. While he hoped the Allies would drop arms or troops into the camp or that the Home Army would organise an assault, the Gestapo began to seek and kill the resistance’s members.

On the night of 26 April 1943, Pilecki decided to escape. Assigned to a night shift at a camp bakery outside of the perimeter fence, he and two comrades overpowered a guard, cut the phone line and left – taking with them documents stolen from the SS.

Trial of Pilecki (1948)

Months later, Pilecki fought in the Warsaw Uprising, after it broke out on 1 August 1944. As officers fell, it was reported, he disclosed his true identity. He spent the rest of the war in German prisoner-of-war camps at Łambinowice and Murnau, before being arrested by the Ministry of Public Security in May 1947. After a show trial, he was executed one year later, on 25 May 1948.

Pilecki’s report on his undercover mission at Auschwitz, hailed by The New York Times as “a historical document of the greatest importance”, was published in English under the title The Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery.

Two Jewish rescuers who operated in German-occupied Hungary to receive reward for their bravery

Seven decades after the end of the Second World War, two Jewish rescuers will be rewarded for their efforts to save their fellow Jews during the Holocaust.

The B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem and the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews During the Holocaust (JRJ) have decided to confer their joint Jewish Rescuers Citation on Berta Davidovitz Rubinsztejn and Gyorgy (Yitzhak) Gyuri, rescuers who operated in German-occupied Hungary.

Rubinsztejn, 92, was born in Poland and fled with her family across the Carpathian Mountains into still-unoccupied Hungary. In 1942, Rubinsztejn made her way to Budapest, where she joined the Zionist youth movement Habonim Dror, volunteering to participate in its underground rescue activities.

She and other Habonim Dror members assumed a Gentile identity, and met in a park to plan operations and weapons smuggling.

As Rudolf Kastner – a leader of the Jewish Aid and Rescue Committee – negotiated the departure of a train-load of Jews from German-occupied Hungary to neutral Switzerland in 1944 with SS officer Adolf Eichmann, the goal of the organization became to put as many orphaned children onto the train after identifying them in the streets of Budapest. One of these children was eight-year-old Meir Brand.

Brand was smuggled with two young cousins into Hungary in August 1943 after his parents sensed that the liquidation of the ghetto they had lived in for two years was near. After a three-week hike to the Slovakian border, Brand arrived in Budapest and was abandoned.

Posing as a Gentile, he lived on the streets for nine months, scrounging for food and sleeping in bombedout buildings. When Rubinsztejn found him in April 1944, she instinctively knew he was Jewish and took him home, nursing him back to health.

In June 1944 Rubinsztejn put herself and about ten Jewish children – including Brand – on the Kastner train.

Rubinsztejn dedicated herself to Brand’s recovery throughout the trip – including an incarceration in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – until they arrived in Switzerland and later made aliya.

Rubinsztejn emigrated from Israel to the United States in 1960, where she resides with her family. She was very involved with many organizations including the Bronx Democratic Party.

She is active in the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York, where she organizes the monthly “Café Europa” gathering of Holocaust survivors.

B’nai B’rith will confer the citation upon her in New York City.

Gyuri, 90, was born in Budapest and grew up in northeast Hungary. He joined the Hashomer Hatza’ir movement while living in Nyíregyháza, and eventually moved back to Budapest in 1942 to publish short stories and articles in Hashomer Hatza’ir’s newspaper.

He took part in underground activities and in the summer of 1944 was sent by the movement with three comrades to South Transylvania in order to open a new route for the “tiyul,” the Zionist underground’s clandestine operation to smuggle Jews from Poland and Slovakia into Hungary and then on to Romania.

However, they were soon discovered, caught and deported to Auschwitz. Gyuri survived and returned to Budapest after the liberation.

Gyuri finished his university studies in 1960, and worked as a locksmith, librarian, teacher and journalist, writing mainly on pedagogical issues. He published several books in Hungarian, including his 2001 work Survival: A Long Letter to My Grandchild.

Gyuri still resides in Budapest, where the citation will be presented to him by David Gur, chairman of the Society for the Research of the History of the Zionist Youth Movement in Hungary and a founding member of the JRJ Committee.

The Jewish Rescuers Citation was established in 2011 by the Committee to Recognize the Heroism of Jews who Rescued Fellow Jews

During the Holocaust and B’nai B’rith World Center to set right the historic record – that thousands of Jews were active in rescue efforts throughout Europe, putting their own lives at risk in order to save other Jews from deportation, hunger and death at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

To date, nearly 100 citations have been presented to rescuers who operated in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Hungary.

“We are proud to honor these two Jewish heroes and gratified that through our decade-long efforts there is growing acknowledgment that their recognition as models for Jewish and human solidarity is long overdue,” said Alan Schneider, director of the B’nai B’rith World Center and a founding member of the JRJ Committee.

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