Local ties, memories, and lessons from Six Million and One movie at Film Festival

by | Jan 11, 2013 | What’s Happening

Sunday, Jan. 27, 2 pm

“It is amazing how small coincidences can bring about a completely different set of events than we might have thought,” says Elena Baum, director of the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

After reading the film review of Six Million and One in the New York Times, Baum sent a link to Bill Jucksch, whom she has gotten to know through her Holocaust work. Jucksch was a liberator of the Gunskirchen concentration camp. “Bill told me he not only knew about the film, but was actually interviewed in it.” Baum contacted the distributor of the film to inquire whether it could be shown in Tidewater.

Baum also contacted the Virginia Festival of Jewish Film’s screening committee, and the group unanimously voted to make the film part of the 2013 lineup. The fact that local hero Jucksch is in the film, and will speak after it shows, will be a bonus for the audience.

Six Million and One is an intense and surprisingly humorous portrait of documentary filmmaker David Fisher and his siblings, as they retrace the footsteps of their late father—a Holocaust survivor who was once a prisoner in both Gusen and Gunskirchen, Austria. Fisher, an Israeli, travels to the U.S., where he meets American WWII veterans who participated in the liberation of his father and the Gunskirchen camp. This sparks a remarkable journey to Austria by Fisher and his three middle-aged siblings. They joke and quarrel, often disagreeing among themselves as to why they decided to delve into their father’s past. They remind the audience that history and memory require active discussion among the later generations, even if the memories are unpleasant.

For Virginia Beach resident Jucksch, nothing about liberating the Gunskirchen camp should ever be forgotten, and, at 87-yearsold, he feels compelled to remind the younger generations about how horrible it was.

Jucksch was only 19, and a Private First Class radio operator in the 71st Infantry of the U.S. Army in early 1945. After his introduction into the European theater, he traveled more than 800 miles starting in Paris, moving East. Germany had surrendered by late April, but he and his division were still in enemy territory in Austria when they came upon the Gunskirken camp, which was literally, “down a trail in the middle of nowhere.”

All of a sudden, Jucksch and a fellow soldier Pete Carnabucci (who will also attend the screening at the Roper Theater) came upon a small town of shacks, which were clearly hastily built. What took their breath away were the thousands of bodies lying everywhere.

Two guards remained the only Germans there, as most of their compatriots had left knowing Americans were nearby. Jucksch remembers that the guards did not resist opening the gates. “One guard was almost instantly beaten to death by the crawling skeletons, and the other didn’t last much longer,” he recalls. “Pete and I could see the hate, the vengeance. They wanted their due. Many of them would crawl over to the soldiers and get a lick in.”

Jusksch radioed his captain to come see these dead and half-dead people. He recalls that his captain was, “absolutely baffled by the enormity of the camp and the striped clothing everyone had on.” Jucksch, who, like most serving in the military during the war, had no idea concentration camps existed at all, remembers being appalled and confused. “At first, we reacted as soldiers just doing our jobs. I remember radioing something like, ‘We don’t really know what this is, but we need some medics up here.’ But then we saw the thousands of people who would never make it, and were overcome by a great feeling of hopelessness.”

“The real story here is that your father or mother survived to have you, that you have a family,” Jucksch told Fisher.” Now more than ever we must be willing to talk about it. There are so few of us left. If we don’t talk about it, it will just be some event in history books.”

Even since Fisher interviewed him several years ago for the movie, Jucksch’s message has evolved. “People must be aware of how bad religious intolerance is. This stuff can go to a dismal depth, and it’s out there in the world right now. Survivors and liberators of the camps need to get down on paper or speak out about how horrific it all really was. There are so few of us left that it is becoming an absolutely urgent need.

Six Million and One has shown at Jewish Film festivals in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Denver, and will also show in the Palm Beach Film Festival in January. It has won awards at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival and the Krakow Film Festival. It will show at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center on the last day of the Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma* and Howard Laderberg.

For tickets and information, visit simonfamilyj.org, call 321-2338 or the JCC front desk.
*of blessed memory

by Leslie Shroyer