On My Mind: 'Kinderblock Survivors'
The idea for the film "Kinderblock 66" came during a sudden trip to Buchenwald in 2009.
Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz Photo: reuters
Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, inspirational stories of courage and
survival are still emerging. One such episode took place in Buchenwald, where
904 Jewish boys were found alive in an isolated barrack when US soldiers
liberated the camp on April 11, 1945. Kinderblock 66, a new film appearing
across the US, sheds new light on this story.
The film’s creator, Steve
Moskovic, is an award-winning New York filmmaker whose father, Alex, is a
Moskovic told me he had learned a lot over the
years about his father’s experience in the camps, first in
“He came face to face with Josef Mengele, who
selected him for one of his bizarre medical experiments, but was spared when
typhus broke out,” says Steve.
After his father retired in 1993, he
regularly visited schools near his Florida home to talk about his Holocaust
experiences, but not until three years ago did Steve learn about his time in the
Buchenwald children’s barrack.
“They are nonchalant,” says Moskovic of
his father and other survivors. Indeed, a solemn calmness is evident among those
who appear in the film to retell this extraordinary story about the will of
youngsters to survive, and the unique circumstances of this concentration camp
that allowed for a courageous inmate, Antonin Kalina, a Czech communist, to help
The idea for the film came during a sudden trip to
Buchenwald in 2009. The elder Moskovic, with his son beside him, had traveled to
Prague to testify in favor of reparations for survivors. They then decided to go
to Buchenwald. It was Steve’s first time, and Alex’s first return after 64
years. They learned from the tour guide about plans to bring as many Kinderblock
66 survivors as possible to the 65th anniversary of the liberation.
in the US, Steve conceptualized a film and contacted Rob Cohen, an experienced
writer and director with whom he had worked many times before. With the
assistance of a Michigan State professor, Kenneth Waltzer, who has done
considerable research on child survivors, they found three other Kinderblock
survivors – Naftali Furst and Israel-Laszlo Lazar, now living in Israel, and
Pavel Kohn in Germany – to be, with Alex, the primary subjects. Also in the film
are interviews with other survivors, American liberators and Germans who manage
the Buchenwald memorial.
Buchenwald, located only six kilometers from
Weimar in central Germany, was originally built as a labor camp, not a death
camp, and its prison population was made up predominantly of political
dissidents brought from Nazi-occupied European countries to work for German
Communists assumed a leadership role among the prisoners, both
serving the Nazis they so despised and, where possible, aiding fellow prisoners.
As the camp population grew to as many as 100,000, the Nazi SS increasingly
relied on these communist block leaders to keep certain parts of the camp
At the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945, more than 1,000 Jewish
teenagers, separated at Auschwitz and other death camps from their parents, were
gathered in Buchenwald. The Nazi SS placed them in an isolated area, called the
Little Camp, far from the main gate.
It was there that Kalina proposed
housing the boys in their own overcrowded barrack, which was named Kinderblock
66. Kalina and his comrades became, essentially, guardian angels for these
“Buchenwald was at this point chaotic,” says Cohen, who wrote the
script and directed Kinderblock 66. “It was a perfect storm that this could
happen at all – hiding 1,000 Jewish boys in plain sight inside a concentration
Kalina counseled the boys to assert, when asked, that they were at
least 16 years old, since the Nazis considered anyone younger unfit to do labor.
He collected the yellow stars they had been forced to wear, and arranged for
classes in math, and even Yiddish, taught by older Buchenwald
When the SS sought out Jews in Buchenwald to send on marches
in cold winter to die, Kalina would explain that no Jews were in the children’s
barrack. Still, some of the children died from disease, hunger and the harsh
conditions of their ordeal.
The film also covers the effort to secure Yad
Vashem recognition of Kalina, who died in 1988, as a righteous among the
nations. That would be a well-deserved posthumous honor to an individual who
defied the Nazis to save nearly 1,000 youths.
These boys had lost their
families to the gas chambers and would find out after the liberation just how
alone they were.
Indeed, they were very much alone in Buchenwald, and did
not know at the time whether this would be the last stop on their horrific
“We are the embers that did not burn in the great fire,” says
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of