Video by Eli Mandelbaum
"One can be taken out of Auschwitz, but you can never take Auschwitz out of him." This is the premise of a new film called Opening Night, which aims to ensure that the new generation connects to the story of the Holocaust. The 15-minute movie follows the character of Mark, an Auschwitz survivor, played by legendary Israeli cantor and Broadway star Dudu Fisher. Opening Night is set in 1971, and deals with Mark's silence regarding the atrocities he went through during the war, particularly the loss of his relatives. One day his son discovers photos of his past family, which was annihilated in the Holocaust, and confronts him.
Film co-director and co-producer Danny Finkelman says that this moment in the movie triggers a chain reaction, which eventually leads Mark –- who after the Holocaust abandoned his former career as performer -- to once again take the stage. On the opening night of the show, the survivor finally opens up to his family, particularly to his son, about his personal history.
Fisher's own father was a Holocaust survivor, but the actor tells The Jerusalem Post that he did not need his father's help in order to identify with his character. "I know how difficult it is for an entertainer not to be on stage, because if you take myself… I love the stage. I want to die on the stage," he gushes.
Mark decides to audition for a show that he played in back in Poland - the last performance he gave before the Holocaust - when he sees that it has come to America, where he now lives. For Fisher, this is a particularly touching point in the film: "To take this desire and to hide it under the carpet of life, and decide not to do it anymore, after what happened in Poland, and then to see the moment when he sees that the show is coming from Poland to New York, to take this decision to audition for the role again… this is amazing." Finkelman says that while most Holocaust films highlight and capture survivors during the war, not many follow them after the war as they try to battle with this own demons.
Cecelia Margulies, who collaborated with Finkelman in the production and direction of the film, is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors and the storyline, though fictional, is to a great extent based on her own personal story. Margulies tells The Jerusalem Post that whereas her mother spoke about her experiences of the Holocaust all the time, and even wrote books about it, her father didn't say a word about his past. Like the character Mark, Margulies eventually found out that her father had had a wife and a family prior to the war, and they finally started communicating about his past.
As what is called a second generation survivor, Margulies has dedicated much of her life to Holocaust education: "it's in my genetics," she explains. "I was very affected by my parents' experiences." Margulies, who is also a composer, conveys the message of Holocaust remembrance through her music, and that is how she and Finkelman met; the worked together in Krakow on a Holocaust survivor film called Rainbow in the Night, inspired by a song Margulies had written under that title.
The artist sees film and music as a learning tool. "I see a world today that has growing anti-Semitism, I saw a lot of Holocaust denial going on and this is at a time when survivors are dwindling," she says, in remarks that are particularly poignant ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday. "Once the survivors are gone, I'm worried - where will the proof come from?" "Each survivor is a reminder and a message of the truth, each story is a gateway to the future for the Jewish people and the world at large and we need to ensure that the story is told for prosperity," she adds.
"Knowledge and education is a source of prevention." Even during the making of the film the directors noticed the educational impact the story was having on the multicultural and multi-faith cast and crew. Indeed, Finkelman says that most of the actors had no idea about the Holocaust. One of the crew members was Palestinian and he says she hadn't previously known about the scale of the Holocaust; being involved in the film motivated her to do some research into the history of it, and she was shocked by her findings. It was a similar story with Chilean cinematographer Maurizio Arenas, Finkelman relates, who couldn't sleep for nights after being exposed to the history of the Holocaust: "it opened up a whole new world to him about our nation and out history." "It was a microcosm of the world," Margulies adds. "You could see the learning experience within the crew itself - if that's any indication in terms of what a film can do in terms of education." The film is currently being pitched to various festivals, before being shown at theaters.