Steve Gonzer is former teacher from the Wilmington-area. He's now settled in Middletown, Del., working in a career that had never thought he'd be. Gonzer works for the Halina Wind Preston Holocaust Education Committee. He himself is Jewish, and some 20 years ago his group decided that it would be a good idea to start documenting on tape the experiences of men and women who survived or who saw the Holocaust first-hand.
The group figured that it would be good to do so because many of the men and women were becoming very old and in danger of passing away without anyone ever knowing what they saw or heard. The process of documenting these experiences, however, was somewhat unprofessional. There was no real guidance or direction. For nearly two decades, Gonzer helped to record various interviews on videotape.
Gonzer told me, when I sat down to interview him, that no one ever thought these fragmented recordings would be turned into documentary, certainly not one that would be screened at a film festival and then later adapted into a DVD that schools, churches, and others would get and show. Gonzer said it just sort of snowballed.
Yet, here he is. He was a former teacher. He never went to film school. He never was trained on how to work cameras or editing equipment. He never learned the ways of journalism or documentary-work. He says he merely used common sense. He says he had a vision in his head. He asked a million questions. He got a lot of advice from people who were knowledgeable. He had a passion and he simply never gave up.
Once he made the decision to produce and direct this documentary, which was about four years ago, he went to work on collecting all these interviews and recordings, some going back to 1989, doing new interviews, culling together archival footage from places like the Library of Congress, and even writing narration. He had a lot of material. This documentary will actually be the first part to a four-part series, which includes not only testimonies from Holocaust survivors who now live in Delaware, but some liberators as well, men who served in the military who went over there to fight and rescue those enslaved by the Nazis.
If you go to see this documentary, and I encourage all who can to do so, what you get will be a lasting statement of local men and women, possibly even your neighbors, who have lived to talk about an ordeal that is probably one of the most important in history, in terms of being a reminder of how ugly humanity can get and how the idea of "never again" is one onto which we must hold.
That's the statement Gonzer wants people to walk away with. I myself want people to walk away with the idea, in terms of filmmaking, that this is a man, Steve Gonzer, who didn't know much about filmmaking but had a passion. It wasn't a misguided passion like Ed Wood, but he had a determination to make a movie, and in a place like Delmarva, where you wouldn't think it would possible, he put together a great cinematic product with an important message. That's what I want people to see, if only as a side note to the film's main message.
NO DENYING: DELAWAREANS BEAR WITNESS TO THE HOLOCAUST is as Gonzer writes in the opening narration. It's "sincere, heartfelt testimonies." It's for the most part evolved from memories, some that haven't been revealed until now, not even to families. It's just 13 old people sitting down and talking to us. Yet, it's all very powerful.
Most are survivors. Some were actually in concentration camps, either work camps or death camps. Some were merely young children who saw the beginning of the German occupation but then escaped Europe before capture and arrest. Two were liberators who served in the U.S. army who came and saw the wake of death and destruction.
All tell powerful and disturbing stories. Some of the most memorable are Alexandra Linett who tells of how she was chased and beaten, as well as the heartache her family felt over leaving some of the relatives in Europe to die. Another is Dr. Jacob Beutel who recounts a six-week march, which resulted in many deaths, how he never remembered a single sunny day, the constant fear in the camps, but yet he came away with no prejudice. Morris Freschman talked of how people behaved going into gas chambers knowing their fates, and how he witnessed exterminations equally the population of Wilmington.
They're stories that make you listen, that make you pay attention. The only criticism I had was for all of the interviews no additional information is given besides their name and when their interviews took place. Fred Rau was one of the liberators who is last to speak in the movie. Where was he from? How old is he now? What does he do now? Where does he live now? More biographical information on the interviewed people would have been helpful, but beyond that, this is a good documentary.
Four Stars out of Five
Unrated but intended for those ages 12 and up
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.