A national audience for What We Carry

by | Mar 2, 2018 | Other News

Close to 200 people interested in seeing the three newest films of survivor Alfred Dreyfus, liberator William Jucksch, and rescuer Dame Mary Barraco, attended a screening last December at the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

These first-hand accounts—both powerful, yet intimate—are accompanied by vintage suitcases with artfully created mementoes representing milestones of each survivor’s personal journey. What We Carry answers the urgent and timely call to keep alive the stories of Tidewater’s survivors and heroes. The films were created by award-winning filmmakers Janice Engel and Amber Howell of Los Angeles; and the vintage suitcases by Perry Deglandon of Virginia Beach.

Following the film presentation, Brad Pomerance, host of Jewish Life TV, moderated a question and answer session with Engel and Howell. Both Pomerance and the audience were visibly moved by what they had just witnessed and asked questions about the filmmakers’ involvement with the program, what they learned from the experience, and their message for future audiences.

In 2010, like communities around the world, the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater was faced with the sad and impending reality that Holocaust survivors, liberators, and rescuers were aging and passing away. The Commission wondered: How will the lessons learned from their harrowing stories of survival be kept alive? How will future generations know the names and faces of these local survivors and witnesses of war? How will students and adults be led, by the examples of these heroes, to be upstanders, rather than bystanders, in the face of evil and hatred?

The concept of What We Carry was Tidewater’s answer to these daunting questions. Survivors willingly sat through hours of filming, re-living their horrific memories, and re-telling their painful stories of survival because “nobody should be discriminated against because of their religion,” as survivor David Katz, of blessed memory, said. They entrusted the Commission with their stories and were promised that they would be used to reach the broadest possible audience. For years, the Commission’s Speakers Bureau of survivors personally shared their moving stories with students, the military, and the community-large. They felt it was their duty to share the horrors they experienced and witnessed, so they would not be repeated. These films could not have come at a better time, as David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach passed away shortly after their pieces were completed.

In the summer of 2017, Mickey Held and Deb Segaloff were named co-chairs of What We Carry National, keeping the promise of spreading these stories beyond Tidewater. Many communities had active Speakers Bureaus for years, but most had not developed a format to bring the stories to audiences once their survivors no longer could. UJFT’s Holocaust Commission hopes to provide What We Carry as that format. Ronnie Jacobs Cohen, director of the Holocaust Commission from 2003 through 2010, is serving as national strategist for a six-month period—tasked with exploring interest, regionally and nationally, and seeking future funding for the stories of local survivors, rescuers, and liberators to be heard beyond Tidewater.

So far, the What We Carry films have been shown to UCLA Hillel students and faculty and received critical acclaim. Three presentations are planned for Jacksonville, Florida in April, in commemoration of Yom Hashaoh. Links to the films have been shared with Federations throughout the nation and a great deal of interest has been expressed. Outreach is being made to museums, synagogues, and churches for future presentations.

The community is being asked to share contacts outside of Tidewater—museums, schools and universities, civic groups, synagogues and churches—that might consider bringing What We Carry to their community. For this endeavor, future funding is also being sought.

To learn more about the What We Carry National program or to share contacts, contact Ronnie Jacobs Cohen at rcohen@ujft.org.

In light of recent school shootings and hate crimes, these incredible films and suitcases are extraordinarily relevant in teaching respect for all humanity. The Commission is passionate about making sure the message of survivor Hanns Loewenbach, of blessed memory, is never forgotten—“Evil does not need your help, just your indifference.”