Holocaust Commission adds three powerful films to What We Carry program

by | May 6, 2016 | Featured

Premiere of short documentaries at free screening Sunday, May 22, 2 pm, Sandler Center for the Performing Arts

“My name is Alfred Dreyfus.
I was born in Rastatt, Germany in 1923.”

“My name is Mary Sigillo Barraco.
I was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1923.”

“My name is William John Jucksch.
I was born in McAllen, Texas in 1925.”

The opening scenes of three new mini documentaries premiering on Sunday, May 22 at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts are simple and charming.

A lilting piano composition plays behind the engaging faces and clear voices of the films’ three senior subjects.

As photographs from their past appear onscreen and happy childhoods are recounted, there is no hint of the changes ahead—the difficulties these three will endure, and survive, as teenagers and young adults growing up during the Holocaust.

Alfred Dreyfus, Dame Mary Barraco and Bill Jucksch share the stories of their unforgettable experiences in the newest additions to What We Carry, the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s unique, multimedia educational program.

Each person is the narrator of their own 20–30 minute film, which combines interview footage with archival clips, still images, and an original musical score. While a What We Carry presentation is designed to be broken into sections with docents contributing background information between film chapters, the films will run in their entirety at the premiere.

The movies follow the format award-winning filmmakers Janice Engel and Amber Howell used when they created the first What We Carry documentaries, which featured the stories of Holocaust survivors David Katz* and Hanns Loewenbach*, Kitty Saks, and Dana Cohen.

Premiering to a standing room only audience at the Tidewater Community College Roper Performing Arts Center in 2012, those films have now been seen by more than 20,000 students, military and community members. The program has been presented at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Holocaust museums, schools, educators’ conferences, military installations, and featured on JLTV’s nationwide broadcast, The J Report.

“What We Carry speaks to today’s students and communities, but also reaches into the future by creating a strong and lasting impact on viewers,” says Wendy Juren Auerbach, chair of the Holocaust Commission.

“With the voices of those who witnessed the Holocaust disappearing rapidly—and that includes survivors, liberators and Righteous Gentiles—we realize how important it is to record and share their stories in a way that touches people’s sense of humanity,” Auerbach says.

Holocaust Commission volunteers and the What We Carry committee have spent months planning the special event.

“None of us knew what we were getting when we asked Amber and Janice to work with us on this—years ago,” says Mickey Held, co-chair of What We Carry with Deb Segaloff. “We knew we wanted to preserve the stories in a way that was meaningful and in a format that we could take into other settings.

“I believe we have impacted the way the Holocaust has been taught, says Held. The way audiences respond to this format—they’re transfixed and they become invested in the individual’s story.”

What We Carry is designed to be mobile, adaptable for a variety of settings—large and small. In addition to the films, vintage suitcases filled with personal artifacts and mementos seen during each person’s narrative accompany the presentations. The suitcases are designed to be interactive, giving audiences something tangible that connects them even more strongly to the messages shared in the films.

The portable format has proven effective, and Holocaust Commission volunteers take films and suitcases to schools, military bases, churches and community groups on a weekly basis. The presentations are entirely free, except for the occasional cost of shipping to requested sites outside of the Hampton Roads area. The Commission tries to find grants to help defray those expenses.

“My hope is that we will be able to share this program across the United States, and that we’ll have the funding for this program to always be free,” says Held. “And my fervent wish—and it’s almost too late—is that other communities will film What We Carry stories of their own.

“I have such pride in the fact that even though we are such a small community, we have created this amazing program,” Held says. “What We Carry is a legacy our Federation has given to future generations.”

Jay Klebanoff, UJFT president, expresses appreciation and admiration for the dedication of Commission members, and the importance of the work they do.

“The impact the Holocaust Commission achieves through the What We Carry presentations and its other educational and outreach programs is impressive, and will be even greater with the addition of the three new What We Carry film,” says Klebanoff.

“The UJFT is grateful to the Holocaust Commission volunteers and to the generosity of Jewish community and other donors, whose contributions ensure the stories and lessons of the Holocaust will not be forgotten,” he says.

Audience members at the premiere will have an opportunity to hear from What We Carry filmmakers about the making of these mini-documentaries and how this project forever changed their perspectives on life. Engel and Howell, who were not able to attend the 2012 screening, are looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction, as these films are shown for the first time. They will hold a question and answer discussion after the final film is shown. Also attending will be Perry Deglandon, the artist who created all seven suitcases— one for each What We Carry film. The suitcases will be displayed at the premiere.

Harry Graber, UJFT executive vice-president, encourages the community to attend the premiere, where he believes members will be both emotionally moved and intrinsically inspired.

“The critical messages that are inherent in the work of the Holocaust Commission and delivered so beautifully in the texture of each frame of What We Carry, represent the essential values of the UJFT and our people,” Graber says.

“The opportunity to take our experiences, regardless of their horror and combine them with our teachings so that they may be a light onto and for other people is one of the beautiful experiences of being a Jew.”

RSVPs are not required for the premiere, but are appreciated. Reply online at www.JewishVA.org/whatwecarrypremiere, email info@holocaustcommission.org, or call 757‑965- 6100. The Sandler Center is located at 201 Market St., Virginia Beach.

Due to subject matter, parental guidance is suggested.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford