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CJL to present first Holocaust film series

August 29th, 2003

Did you know that the Coalition for Jewish Learning, the education program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, has a film library that includes more than 250 films about the Holocaust?

Moreover, did you know that many of these films — features and documentaries — have never been shown in Milwaukee or have played here for only very short times?

Laurie Herman, CJL’s librarian and media center coordinator, is afraid too many people do not know this. The collection contains “so many wonderful films — foreign films, little-known films. And nobody knows they exist,” said Herman, who also teaches Holocaust history at the Milwaukee Jewish Day School.

This is one of the reasons that CJL’s Holocaust Education and Resource Center has created its first Holocaust Film Series.

In addition to calling attention to the films in its collection, of course, the series also furthers HERC’s mission, according to its former coordinator, Melissa Kerbel, for whom this was her last project before she moved to Georgia this summer with her husband, former Congregation Beth Israel spiritual leader Rabbi Paul Kerbel.

“Our mission is to educate the community about the Holocaust and promote remembering the Holocaust,” she said in a telephone interview. “We wanted to make it possible for the community to view Holocaust films they otherwise wouldn’t see.”

The six films selected will be shown on roughly one Thursday evening per month, at 7 p.m., from September to May, in a large screen video format in the Ritz Theater of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. A discussion will follow. The films will be:

• Sept. 4, “Train of Life,” a French feature film [with English subtitles] in a quasi-comedy style about French Jewish villagers who stage their own deportation as a way of escaping the Nazis. This was chosen to start the series because it is “a little less heavy” and “lighter in tone” than most, said Herman.

• Nov. 20, “Out of the Ashes,” starring Christine Lahti as Dr. Gisella Perl, a Jewish physician who performed abortions on women in Auschwitz to save their lives.

• Dec. 18, “The Last Butterfly,” a drama about a French mime taken prisoner by the Gestapo and sentenced to perform in the Terezin “model” ghetto.

• Feb. 19, “Anne Frank Remembered,” the Academy Award-winning documentary about the Dutch Jewish diarist and a film Herman said is “appropriate for school-age children.”

• March 25, film to be announced. Herman said the organizers have a film in mind, but haven’t had a chance to preview it yet.

• May 20, “The Grey Zone,” an extremely explicit dramatization based on the true story of a group of Sonderkommando — Jewish prisoners forced to help operate the Auschwitz gas chambers and crematoria — who revolted.

Admission is free but donations will be accepted. For more information, call CJL, 414-962-8860.

Leon Cohen