At The Movies
Bringing The War Home
Jewish undertones favor "The Weather Underground," a new
documentary chronicling 1960s radicalism.
Underground who grew up in a suburb of Newark,
asserts that social justice was not emphasized
Special to the Jewish News
from the bimah in the 1950s.
"There wasn't anything I can remember in the
he Weather Underground contains more
Jewish characters than any other film this form of Judaism I received that promoted ethics or
altruism," he recalls in an e-mail from New Mexico.
year, with the exception of Capturing the
"Jews like to congratulate ourselves on being more
Images from 1969 of Mark Rudd of "The Weather
ethical and socially conscious, but I don't Underground."
It's hardly surprising that a documentary
quite see it. Our congregation, for exam-
about a committed group of anti-Vietnam
ple, had nothing at all to do with inte-
War activists — who splintered from
gration or civil rights during the whole era natural to oppose racism and war caused by our
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to
country. After all, we had many times asked our-
of my childhood."
form a radical, violent group dedicated to
selves, 'If you had been a German, would you have
So what drove so many Jews — includ-
overthrowing the U.S. government —
gone along with Nazism?' [So] how could we acqui-
would feature an abundance of Jewish voic-
esce to our American forms of Nazism?"
es. But there's more to it than meets the eye. Filmmak er Sam
Former Michigander Green, 20 years Rudd's
"It's a very Jewish story, but not explicitly
Green is a former
junior, earned his master's degree in journalism at
York) — to the barricades in the 1960s?
so," says former Detroiter Sam Green of San Detroiter and
U.C.-Berkeley, and encountered similar attitudes
Growing up in the shadow of World
Francisco (born in 1966 in Flint, the film-
U-M gra d.
researching the film with co-director Bill Siegel of
War II and the Holocaust.
maker earned his undergraduate degree in
"German anti-Semitism was a form of
1989 at the University of Michigan). "They
"It was a common refrain, even beyond the
racism, and it wasn't such a big jump to see the
were inspired to do what they did by their upbring-
Underground: 'We are not going to be
ing, but didn't tie it directly to Judaism."
They weren't going to be compla-
Mark Rudd, a prominent figure in The Weather
"Hidden children are
generally very adaptable,
but for some of us, the
bonding mechanisms are
altered or broken," Slesin
said. "I think that children
have only so many bond-
ings in them. At some
Spirit (1987) and Deborah
point, they don't 'take' any-
Oppenheimer's Oscar-winning Into the
Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles
Arms of Strangers: Stories of the
The filmmaker speaks
Kindertransport (2000). The films are
from personal experience.
n 1993, filmmaker Aviva Slesin traveled to
especially poignant because only 10 per-
Born Aviva Leibowitch in
Lithuania to meet Matilda Salenekas, the non-
1943, she was smuggled
Jew who hid her from the Nazis when she was a cent of Jewish children survived the war.
Slesin's affecting but unsentimental
of a Jewish ghetto in a
small child. She had no memories of Salenekas,
Matilda and Juozas Salenekas hid Aviva
documentary focuses on the
whom she had not seen since 1945, and the
Slesin as a member of their family in
psychological aftermath of hid- Lithuania during World War II.
placed with Salenekas and
two women did not speak the same language.
ing, such as the sense of aban-
her husband, Juozas, when
"But the feeling between us was so power-
she was 9 months old.
ful," Slesin said by phone from her Manhattan
into adulthood and the difficulty re-
Slesin, who has never married or had children,
home. "We both wept, and I understood that
bonding with parents.
vaguely remembers that when her mother returned
in some strong way we were connected. I
Alice Sondike, who was sheltered on a
from Stutthof concentration camp two years later, "she
began wondering whether the experience was
farm in Poland, describes the revulsion she
was a stranger and I didn't want to go with her.
similar for other hidden children, and if they
felt when her mother, Julia Melcer, returned
Like most survivors who had hidden their children,
had memories of their rescuers, what the rela-
Slesin's mother had been greatly altered by the war.
tionship was about."
"I was covered with lice, and she was try-
"Many of the returning parents were themselves
Slesin's curiosity led her to produce and direct
and they were grieving," the director said.
a documentary, Secret Lives: Hidden Children
era. "What she looked like when she came
"They looked like hell because they had been to hell
and Their Rescuers During World War II, which
back. ... I didn't believe she was my mother."
joins a particularly heart-wrenching sub-genre
Melcer, sitting next to Sondike, nods, and adds what
Over the next decade, Slesin lived a nomad's exis-
of Holocaust cinema: documentaries about child sur-
her daughter said: "Don't touch me with your Jewish
tence, relocating to Munich, New York and Montreal
vivors by filmmakers with a family connection to the
as her mother married, was widowed and remarried.
Other relationships also proved strained.
"It was not a happy time for me," she said of the
Examples include Pierre Sauvage's Weapons of the
Filmmaker chronicles the lives of Holocaust's hidden children
and the non Jews who rescued them.