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Birmingham native Christine Lahti stars as Jewish doctor who helped
save lives of death camp inmates in Showtime drama.
Larco's restaurants -
family owned for 50 years.
the role. In addition to directing an
Oscar-nominated 1994 short film and
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
a well-received first feature, My First
Mister, starring Leelee Sobieski, she's
n Showtime's Out of the Ashes, a
carved a niche portraying complicated,
Holocaust survivor steps off a
boat at New York harbor, impe-
Lahti received an Oscar nomination
riously hands her battered suit-
playing a scrappy factory worker in
case to her American niece and
Swing Shift and an Emmy as
embarks on a shoe-shopping spree.
Dr. Kate Austin on
The TV movie is the story of Dr.
Gisella Perl (Christine Lahti), the
Hungarian gynecologist who saved
1,000 women by performing
secret abortions in Auschwitz.
phy, I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz;
"She was also a bit of a diva,"
she also interviewed survivors and
perused videotaped testimonials at
The actress (Chicago Hope, The
Steven Spielberg's Survivors of the
Heidi Chronicles) said she was
Shoah Visual History Foundation.
drawn to the film because of its
Like The Pianist star Adrien
unconventional depiction of a sur-
she dieted to achieve an
vivor as less than heroic.
"Gisella had a very mixed repu-
scared myself looking in the mir-
tation," the tall, imposing Lahti
ror," she recalled.
said in .her cavernous Brentwood,
The first day on the set in
Calif., living room on a recent
Lithuania, Lahti turned
Joseph Sargent and
"In videotaped testimonials„
is much harder than I
some eyewitnesses said she was the
bravest person they had ever seen,
said, "I had anxi-
risking her life every time she per-
formed abortions with her bare
hands on the barracks floor.
"Others said she was elitist,
call my husband."
demanding bread as payment for
Sargent said he was "waiting for
medical services. She even had a
Christine Lahti as Dr. Gisella Perl in
to break down, but that
`maid' in .rhe barracks, a patient
"Out of the'Ashes"
never happened. Instead, she
who made up her cot and sewed
translated what was going on
holes in her doctor's coat."
her into an incredibly subtle,
director Thomas Schlamme
Ashes also depicts how Perl volun-
teered, albeit under duress, to assist
allowed us to exam-
the notorious Dr. Mengele, for which
she was initially barred from practicing
through the nine-hour Claude
medicine in the United States.
As such, it's the latest in a small but
While Perl may have been a diva,
horrified," Lahti said. Later, her
growing body of films, including Tim
nevertheless admires her. "As
Blake Nelson's The Grey Zone, that
guilt as she had and as much
presents Holocaust victims not as mar-
she endured she was able to
tyrs but as complex human beings
so much," the actress said.
The actress went on to read books
forced to make excruciating, even
did have a sense of privi-
and watch films on the Holocaust, but
abhorrent, choices in order to survive.
The trend has troubled observers
such as Aaron Breitbart, senior
she was riveted by a 1980s New York
researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal
Out. of the Ashes premieres on
Times article on Perl.
Center, who worries that "viewers
8 p.m. Sunday, April 13,
"I put it in a drawer, and 15 years
don't have enough knowledge and
8 p.m. Thursday, April
later I got the call from Jerry Offsay at
sophistication about the Holocaust to
17; 10 p.m. Monday, April 21;
absorb the nuances.
and 9:30 a.m. Sunday, April 27.
believe the coincidence."
Lahti, however, believes more tradi-
tional depictions in high-profile films
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such as Schindler's List have prepared
viewers for characters like Perl.
"It was ultimately her need to sur-
vive that touched me," the actress said.
"It was the things she did that weren't
so heroic but completely human."
Lahti, who grew up Lutheran in
Birmingham, Mich., says her
Holocaust education began when she
met her Jewish husband of 19 years,
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