The University of Rhode Island’s film professor Robert Cohen’s documentary was shown at the United Nations in New York City yesterday as a part of an annual celebration in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Free and open to the public, the film was followed by a question and answer session from Cohen about the film. Other events, including special exhibits and other lectures, have also been displayed throughout the week at the U.N.
Cohen was humbly excited about the honor. “While I appreciate that it’s an honor, it really makes me proud for the Harrington School of Communication,” said Cohen. “This is the level that everyone there works at. I think it says just as much about the Harrington School and about URI that it does me.”
The documentary, titled “Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald,” follows four holocaust survivors’ return to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany for a commemoration ceremony on the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.
But these were not just any survivors, these men were a part of what later came to be known as the Buchenwald boys. This group of around 904 young men aged 13 to 15 were systematically hidden from Nazi soldiers by a communist group of inmates who worked inside of the camp.
Cohen explains that these boys were separated from the adults and placed in a far off section of the camp that was overridden with typhus, an infectious disease. The communist inmates converted an old barn into barracks where nearly 1,500 boys stayed throughout the war. When the camp was liberated on April 11, 1945, 904 of those boys were still alive, all because the organized group of inmates that helped hide them.
The film details the emotional journey of four Buchenwald boys, Alex Moskovic, Israel-Laszlo Lazar, Pavel Kohn and Naftali-Duro Furst, as they make their way back to Germany from all corners of the world for the ceremony.
Reflecting on the process, Cohen said the making of the film involved many “beautiful, emotional challenges” including connecting with survivors that did not speak English. He also recalls being specifically emotionally struck when he was interviewing Furst.
Furst told the story of how the boys were all liberated with nowhere to go, scattered, unbeknownst whether they were orphans or homeless. He recalled a conversation between he and his father, who told his family that if they all survived the end of the war, to meet back at their home. When Furst arrived, nobody was there to meet him.
“The next day, his father showed up,” Cohen said. “Then the next day, so did his brother, and then there was news that his mother was in the hospital in the city. You can count on one hand the number of nuclear families that survived the Holocaust, it’s a miracle. All other three men lost their families. [It was] such a powerful moment.”
Cohen recognizes the vast quantity of Holocaust stories and tried to be “as individual as I could,” he said.
One of these ways was how those stories were told. He and his crew taught the old men they documented to use flip cameras, so that they could speak into the camera on their own.
“That sort of visual memoir is a real strong part of the movie. It’s technically unusual, and not typically how a documentary happens,” said Cohen.
Rebecca Romanow, interim director of the Film/Media Program in the Harrington School saw the film during Holocaust Remembrance Week in February 2013. She feels that this is a unique holocaust story.
“The film looks at the Holocaust from a very different angle than many other films have done,” she said. “The characters are extremely compelling, and seeing these characters in their old age going back to Buchenwald is captured so wonderfully by Rob-the audience can feel the depth of the trauma that these men feel.”