While the focus of most events and ceremonies on Holocaust Remembrance Day is on the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis, local filmmaker David Blumenfeld’s short documentary Remember Me places the spotlight on the survivors who made their way to Israel.According to a recent study by the Myers JDC Brookdale Institute, about half of the estimated 233,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel lack money for their homes. Remember Me focuses on three survivors who open up about their daily struggles living in poverty, and about how they were eventually helped by a non-profit organization called House to House.
The organization, founded in 1999 by Ohio immigrant Darla Oz, offers aid to some of Israel’s neediest citizens. But after reading a 2007 story in The Jerusalem Post about the economic hardships faced by 86-year-old survivor Leopold Rozen, Oz also established Project Dignity in order to provide assistance to survivors and improve their substandard living conditions.
“I already knew about House to House because I was friendly with Darla. She initiated the idea of making a film, approached me, and raised the funds for it,” said Blumenfeld, a native of New Orleans who moved to Israel in 2000. “But it wasn’t until I went out with her and saw what the organization did that I got moved and saw how important their work was.”
Interviewing dozens of survivors for the documentary, Blumenfeld chose to focus on the lives of three – Rozen, Ronnie Markovich and Tova Farkash – who talk about their personal experiences during the war, their arrival in the Jewish Homeland and their daily struggles living in poverty.
“When I went out and saw some of the living conditions and how they’re suffering, and then how they’ve been transformed by House to House, it really inspired me to put my heart and soul into the film,” said Blumenfeld.
In one scene, Rozen describes the dilemma he faced on a daily basis. “My whole life is hard… I’ve gone hungry many times. I’d rather die than ask someone for a piece of bread.”
ROZEN, WHO recently passed away, was aided by House to House with a monthly stipend and regular visits and phone calls, as are Markovich and Farkash.
“Even though he went through so much, Leopold was so full of life,” said Blumenfeld. “What he told us was that he wanted to be remembered. That’s how we got the title of the film. Basically, these people just want to be touched, to have someone there for them. They’re lonely and they have nobody.”
According to Blumenfeld, the challenge in making Remember Me was to tell all three stories in such a short time frame without creating three separate films.
“The three survivors came from totally different places with different stories of survival. For each of them, there’s a pre-war life, their incredible stories of survival, and then their coming to Israel. What I did was try to combine the three stories into one Holocaust story,” he said.
Blumenfeld, who co-produced the successful 2008 documentary Circumcise Me: The Comedy of Yisrael Campbell, and whose photographic work has appeared inNewsweek, TIME, Esquire, and the New York Times Magazine, has his own connection to the Holocaust – his grandfather’s mother and brother were both killed in Treblinka.
“I’ve been working on a film project for about five years about the town in Poland that my grandfather came from. So, I feel more connected to the Holocaust now than I ever was,” he said.
A screening of Remember Me to benefit House to House will take place on Wednesday night (April 14) at the Kehilat Yedidya synagogue in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood in the attendance of some survivors.
Blumenfeld hopes that the film will help open eyes to the plight many survivors still face on a daily basis, much like his own eyes were opened.
“I was really blown away to hear how much they struggled in Israel. These are people upon whose back this country was built, and they were forgotten.”