After Auschwitz (2017) Movie Script

(somber music)
- [Narrator] Over
one million Jews
were murdered at Auschwitz.
This is the story of
six women who survived.
(guns firing)
With Soviet troops
approaching Auschwitz,
prisoners were forcibly marched
to concentration and
labor camps in the west.
At these labor camps, the Jews
were forced to do grueling work
supporting the
German war effort.
There were no
thoughts of liberation
as the Germans promised
to leave no evidence
of their crimes behind.
- [Reporter] As the
British and Canadian
swerve toward the Zuiderzee,
the Americans cross the Elbe
and the Russians, the Ohre.
Germany is crumbling.
- [Narrator] As
the allied armies
surrounded German
forces, SS guards
fled from concentration
and labor camps,
killing tens of
thousands of Jews
in the final weeks of the war.
- The day before liberation,
we were digging our graves.
That was the order.
They kept repeating it.
You're not gonna get away.
You'll be dead
before they get here.
(rockets soaring)
(explosions rumbling)
- We were in the
middle of a forest.
There were three
factories in this forest.
They were bombing all night long
but we were glad that
they are bombing.
We didn't care even if we died.
(explosions rumbling)
(somber music)
- We woke up very
early the next morning
and we didn't hear
any wake up calls
and no dogs barking.
It was totally quiet.
We took the shovels that we used
for our graves to
dig under the fence.
I was very skinny
and very little
and I was the first one
to get out of the camp.
There was nobody around
me who would stop me.
I started to walk alone.
It was a beautiful spring day.
The sun was getting
up on the horizon
and that's when
I said I am going
to hold up the sun so
never let it go down.
That was the first morning.
The rest of the day
wasn't so great.
- [Reporter] It was long
ago in the spring of 1945
but we'll never forget it.
We saw liberty.
It was a rush of excitement.
It was a feeling that
couldn't be controlled
because it had been
controlled for so long.
- When we looked out of
the door of the barracks,
we saw a man wearing a
completely different uniform
than the Germans and then
all of a sudden more came
and they start to scream,
British, British, British.
They told us that they
are our liberators.
- [Narrator] In April of
1945, American, British,
and Soviet troops liberated
concentration camps
across Europe including
Dachau, Bergen-Belsen,
and Sachsenhausen.
- We were liberated
by the Russian.
The day of liberation
was May 8th, my birthday.
I was 19 years old.
They opened the gates and
they said you're free.
- On the sixth of
May, the American army
arrived here welcomed
by every captured.
They made from us people again.
They brought us food,
white bread, potatoes,
eggs, sugar.
- God bless you,
I'm glad we're here.
- Thank you very much.
- Thank you very, very much.
- I am the officer
commanding the regiment
of Royal artillery
guarding this camp.
Our most unpleasant
task has been
making the SS, of which
there are about 50,
bury the dead.
- [Narrator] British soldiers
who liberated Bergen-Belsen
were greeted by 27000
unburied corpses.
- Those German SS
carried the dead bodies
on a big pile.
I said we cannot let
them carry the bodies
and I start to scream.
And I start to walk
to carry the bodies
and put them on a big pile.
- [Reporter]
Throughout the world,
throngs of people hailed the
end of the war in Europe.
It is five years and
more since Hitler
marched into Poland.
Years full of suffering
and death and sacrifice.
Now the war against
Germany is won.
- I was liberated
in January '45.
That's when I went
to the Russians.
I was scared of the
Russians because I didn't
know what they were
gonna do to us.
When they first came in,
they raped a lot of girls
that were left behind
but I became a nurse
in the Russian army.
- [Reporter] Allied soldiers
have silenced German guns
but allied doctors still fought
against the deaths the
Germans had left behind.
Typhus and dysentery
were as common
as a cold in the nose.
- I was a skeleton and
physically completely broken.
The Red Cross doctors gave
me a blood transfusion
and the numbness dissolved.
- [Narrator] Liberation did not
come quickly enough for many.
Of the 55000 prisoners
liberated in Bergen-Belsen,
more than 13000 would
die in the next 12 weeks
as a result of their
years of mistreatment
at the hands of the Nazis.
- I stayed in Bergen-Belsen
'till beginning September.
(somber music)
I had the most
fantastic experience.
We were loaded on
wagons in Germany
after labor camp
because the Russians
were coming from one side
and Americans from the other.
We went to the nearest station.
From there we marched
in to Theresienstadt.
To us, it was like coming home.
The elation you cannot imagine.
- [Narrator] Well
intended liberators
told the survivors
you're free, go home.
- That moment was
one of the saddest,
most difficult
moments of my life.
I know that my mother
did not make it.
My sister never came back.
I have no idea what
happened to my father
or my brother so
what am I gonna do?
Where am I gonna go?
- Having the Germans
gone, the Russians there,
and not having food,
were pushing us
into survival mode and we
went and looted the city.
When I broke into a house, I
destroyed whatever I could.
I just had to express my anger.
I stole a white
table cloth and apron
because girls wore aprons.
The little cup, and
I thought we could
make Kiddish with, it
has the initials of EF,
my grandfather's initials,
so I thought I had a
right to have this cup.
- I walked into a restaurant
and the restaurant owners
asked me are you
coming from a camp?
And I said yes and he
says go in the kitchen.
They will feed you.
I said we have six
people out there.
We all are hungry
and they fed us.
- We were orthodox
Jews so we broke
into a butcher store
and I took this half pig
and I carried it
back to this house
that we decided to occupy.
15 of us camped
out in the hallway
and my mother said
okay, we gonna cook it
and it smelled
horrible and of course,
we hadn't eaten for a long time.
Heavy food and we all got sick.
- The military did not
know how to feed us.
They wanted best for us
so to condense sweet milk,
fat food which we
could not digest.
We were hungry and couldn't eat
so there was sicknesses
because of the food.
- The civilians were
leaving town already
and believe it or not, I
felt so sorry for them.
They were carrying their
bundles like we did.
Their children, they
were walking out of town
and I even told my mother
I feel sorry for them
and my mother just looked at me.
How can you feel sorry for them?
- The fact that the war was over
and we kicked out the
Germans and kicked out the SS
from Theresienstadt,
all that was happy.
Then of course the curtain fell.
Everybody gone, nobody survived.
Everything gone, stolen.
Where do you start?
- [Reporter] Then it
began, the homeward trek.
Home was Holland or
Russia or Belgium
or Czechoslovakia or France.
- We did not have a home.
We don't have four walls.
We want to look
for our loved ones.
We did not know how to start it.
- [Narrator] Some
11 million people
were displaced in Europe
with very little support
to help them return home.
With the complete breakdown
of European society,
there was no way for survivors
to know if any of their
family members remained alive.
- We didn't know where to go,
who was waiting for us,
so we went in groups
through the forest
and the forests
were very dangerous because
there were dynamite.
(explosions rumbling)
We walked and walked
and walked for days.
Sometimes we slept
where the cows are.
We had sore legs but we walked.
People ask did you
feel hatred or anger?
That was not on our
minds at the time.
On my mind was how am
I gonna survive now?
- All the train
tracks were bombed
and trains were
sometimes coming,
sometimes weren't coming.
We got out of this station
and we were looking
for food again.
There were no people around
these destroyed cities
and we walking and
there's this plaza
and there are two old
people killing the lice
in each others hair.
I felt ashamed looking at that
because they had no humanity.
They were old and that's
all they had, each other
and the lice.
I remember coming
back to the station
and I said we have to
go, we have to get home.
We have to get back to normal.
- The conductor, he spoke Dutch.
I went right to Amsterdam,
to the train station.
I got off the train and
I was all by myself.
A policeman came up to me
so I said I was in a
camp and I wanna go home
and he said where's home?
- We headed back to
Prague where I came from.
I knew that there
was no home anymore.
That was gone.
I was standing on
Wenceslas Square, no money.
Where could I go?
It was the most shocking moment.
- My cousin came down and
I said where's my mother?
Where are my
brothers and sisters?
And he started to cry and
he said there's nobody
came back yet.
- [Narrator] With train
tracks often destroyed
by advancing allied troops
or retreating German forces,
survivors had to overcome
incredible obstacles
as they tried to
make their way home.
- The train rides were amazing
but you never were
inside the train.
You only sat outside the train.
Whether it was on the bumper
or whether it was
on top of the car.
- [Reporter] A hundred
mile journey takes
days instead of hours.
And the ordeal is one that
only the fittest can face.
- Me, my sister,
decided that we're gonna
go back to Poland.
Perhaps somebody's alive.
So we went from one
train to another.
We arrive after one month
and we went to our home
and this was a disaster.
- When we want to
back to Miskolc,
it was not a victorious entrance
into a city which
was waiting for us.
The population said
why did you come back?
More came back than left.
You want your stuff back,
you're never gonna get it.
- The Polish people wouldn't
let us in our house.
They were wearing our clothes.
They had children,
they went to school.
They had babies in the buggies
and we were orphaned,
homeless, hopeless.
So we set on the step and cry.
- [Narrator] Violence
against Holocaust survivors
was widespread.
Several thousand were
killed upon returning home.
- They caught two Jews
and they blamed them
for black marketing
and they tied them
to a horse and buggy and
dragged them through the city
and of course they were killed.
- We have a lot of anger.
We did not know how
to use this anger.
- [Narrator] Facing
no other choice,
many survivors
returned to Germany
to live in displaced
persons camps.
- I was very angry and
when I arrive to Germany,
I hate them so much.
I hate the ground,
the bloody ground.
I hate every person.
When I was riding
in the streetcar
and I saw an American soldier
was kissing a German girl,
I'm shamed to say but I pushed
her out from the streetcar.
I couldn't calm down myself.
I think if I had gun I
would kill lots of people.
I just couldn't forgive
them what they done to us.
- Everybody who survived went
to the rail station everyday
to wait not just
for your own family
but for anybody who came back.
- Every time a train came
in I would go to the station
and see if any of
my family came back.
I just was hoping my
mother would be there
and she was only 48.
My brother, he was
married, had a little girl
and I was almost sure my
oldest brother would come back.
- I never expected my
mother and I didn't
have much faith in
finding my sister
but I was hoping that
my brother and my father
would maybe survive.
- The anticipation of
knowing that now we would
find out who was
there and the joy
when we arrived to the
station in Miskolc.
My brother was there.
- I never found any of my family
and I had a huge family.
I never saw anybody come back.
- [Narrator] According
to a post war survey,
75% of the survivors
were the only member
of their family to
survive the Holocaust.
- There is a school in Budapest
where survivors register
and I stayed there all day long
reading names hoping that I'm
gonna find somebody I know.
There was not one
name that I recognized
so it got late
afternoon and we decided
we're gonna go out and see
if we can find some food
and I reached the door
and the door didn't open
because somebody was pushing
it from the other side
so I stepped back
and the door opened
and my brother stood there.
We just held on to
each other and cried.
- [Narrator] Entering Auschwitz
on January 27th, 1945,
Soviet troops only
had to open doors
to storage buildings
to reveal seven tons
of human hair, 836255
dresses, and thousands
of pairs of shoes.
- The scope of it.
We realized often see'd
people were coming in.
- Went around that six
million of us were killed.
I just can't believe anymore.
I don't believe anybody.
- I did break down when I heard
how my father and
brother was killed
but we hardly talked
about all these aunts,
uncles, cousins, grandparents
who disappeared from our lives.
- I stopped counting at
50 but those were cousins
and second cousins and numbers.
The only one that really
meant a lot was my father
because he was all I had.
The rest, there was
no mourning for them.
It was sad, we mentioned
it, we counted them
but it, you know,
you adjust to it.
- My brother and
I found my father
in the tuberculosis
sanitarium called Kirsch.
He asked me whether
we were at home
and whether I saw in the
backyard a little aluminum
milk can.
Well, when the Germans
came in to Hungary,
they dug up the backyard looking
for I guess treasures.
Then the Russians,
and sure enough
on top of all this mess
is this little milk can
and there is 300
American dollars in it.
We lived on those 300 dollars
for a long, long time.
My father died
four months later.
- You lost everything.
Not only people
but your apartment.
Even the money was changed.
I thought I was going
back to the same world
which I left which
of course I didn't.
- Nothing was as it had been.
Kids didn't go to school
as they should have.
Parents were not
with their children.
It was a crazy
upside down world.
- I was angry that
I can't get back
what they done to us, that
I can't get back my family
and I kept going back to Poland.
Why did I go back?
I had to calm down.
I said come on Rena,
you're free now.
You better be nice.
- I found a job with HIAS,
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
They needed someone
speaking English
which I was fluent in.
We processed thousands
of immigrants
who left DP camps
and immigrated.
- [Narrator] Countries
outside of Europe
did not open their
doors to survivors.
Strict quotas kept many
from finding new places
to call home.
- As soon as we saw the
destruction of our homes,
we were too scared
to stay in Miskolc
so we moved up to Budapest
where there was more of
an organized Jewish life.
The Jewish community now
set up a community kitchen
and they wanted my
mother to manage that
and Russians came to eat there
but the Russians didn't
just eat, they drank
and they become very
vicious and crazy
and so I always had to hide
because they liked girls.
(speaking in Russian)
(somber music)
- My brother and I bought up
a lot of English parachutes
which were made of pure silk.
At that time it was fashionable
to have these full circle skirts
and we were painting the skirts
and selling them.
We were doing very well.
- Kids could relate
to other kids.
Only among ourselves.
We were not exploring
it with adults.
Our doors were locked.
There was one night when
we were around the campfire
and started to deal with it.
What's our role now?
What do we need to do to
prove that we are worthy
of survival?
So we kept asking
how do I fit in now?
And that was a little
bit of mourning.
Otherwise, we tried to
just stay quote strong.
- You would be
surprised how quickly
we adjusted to a happy life.
We had fun.
I was 23 years old.
- I was still a kid.
Maybe I had a body like a woman
but I was still an innocent girl
with no experience.
I just didn't
wanna have anybody.
- I had a boyfriend
and his sister
was a seamstress so I
had beautiful clothes.
I didn't have anything when
I came back from the camp.
He was not Jewish.
He was gentile.
Later, one woman said
did you know he was gay?
And I said he was nice.
That's why I liked him.
- [Female] You wanted
to belong to somebody.
My brother had his girlfriend
and they were gonna get married
and here I was, what am I
gonna do when they get married?
- When Emil came to
town he was the leader
of the organization.
It wasn't like a
romantic relationship.
I wanted to get his
attention so I wrote to him.
I'd like to meet with
you at this and this time
on this and this corner.
It has to do with
the organization.
And he saved that note.
- We received a note on
a big bulletin board.
I saw that Szlama Majzner
was looking for me.
Szlama Majzner was my
good and close friend
in Piotrkov Ghetto.
We worked together
in underground
and we started to
love each other
so when I saw the
note, my life changed.
- I met Bernard
before the Holocaust
when I visited my brother
at a forced labor camp
in Hungary and he
started to come around
and later we got married.
- Szlama took a blanket
and he made me a jacket
and a little purse.
I was so thankful to him for it
and we made legal our status.
So Szlama was my husband now.
- My future husband Fred told
me that my father was dead
so I went from the arms
of my father to Fred
being with me.
Wedding, we met at lunch time,
went to the city office.
Two of his colleagues
were witnesses
and we took them to lunch.
Not a flower in sight.
- [Narrator] It was
not uncommon for there
to be six or more
weddings in a single day
at a displaced persons camp.
- He came to
Marbuch from Munich.
He told my sister he
wants to marry me.
There was 10 people
at the wedding.
The dress from a
parachute and the veil
and the flowers was
from a Christmas tree.
I marry him in Marbuch, 1946,
and I went to Munich
and life was hell.
- There's this everyday saying,
we want to show Hitler
that we live again.
Marriages happen
because of the big hole
in our lives, the loneliness.
We did not have anybody
and when we found
the same person
with the same experiences
we'd have this bond
and we'd hold him to it.
- Was 1946.
There still was
antisemitism going around.
I just didn't know
how to take that.
I thought shall I go
to the United States
but when we were
liberated, the Americans
in the army, they
had segregation
and that's one
thing I didn't like.
The people I stayed
with, they said well,
we're gonna immigrate
too to America.
We don't wanna stay in Holland.
There's nothing here.
I had my visa in three months.
- I intended to stay in Prague
and then two years later
the communists came over
so everybody rushed out.
I had my visa in three weeks
because I was born in Germany.
We waited three years
for that quota number.
My daughter was nine months
old when I left Prague in 1948.
- Just had my daughter
so it was difficult.
I had to stay in Germany
five years til I got the visa
to come to here.
- In 1950, the Cold War
start to come to us.
Europe was wondering, oh, we
will have a third world war.
So we were all ready to
run from Europe again.
We received our affidavit,
and we went to Detroit.
- [Reporter] Past
the Statue of Liberty
and into New York Harbor
sails an army troop ship
with over 860
refugees from Europe.
Victims of Nazi persecution.
Many of them spent
long terrible months
in concentration camps
but this is a happy day.
- I had three cousins
waiting for me on the plank
where you come off the boat.
- [Reporter]
Relatives and friends
are here to meet the newcomers
and they get a welcome
they'll never forget.
America opens her heart to those
who long for life and liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.
- I was happy to
see them but still
I was kind of scared.
- America was a dream for us.
When the boat came close to the
Statue of Liberty, we cried.
- My heart was going like this.
Our ship arrived just as
the World Series was going
and there were some
Americans with little radios
listening to the results.
- [Announcer] In comes Snider
followed by Furillo
with the two runs to tie
up the ballgame three all.
- It made an impression.
- [Reporter] This is
Manhattan, business center
of New York City and
heart of the city's life.
Millions pour into
the area every day
to work and shop but
where do all these people
come from and how
do they get here?
We stopped at Rumpelmeyer's.
My friend told me
try a Coca-Cola.
- Perfect refreshment
every time.
There's nothing like
ice cold Coca-Cola.
- The first Coca-Cola I
ever drank and the last one
and she said order cinnamon
toast and that I liked.
That was the specialty
of Rumpelmeyer's.
The plentiness of everything,
I couldn't get over it.
Go to a store and see
all the food there.
All these newspapers
and magazines.
I felt overwhelmed by it.
- [Reporter] Hurry,
hurry, hurry, hurry.
The world is so full
of a number of things
and we don't want to miss any.
- I didn't like New York.
It was too big for me.
I had to go underground
and every time I put money,
somebody else went before me.
I was still not sharp enough
to know what's going on.
- I flew from Prague
to Paris and from Paris
to New York City.
My brother-in-law drove
us to Allentown, Pennsylvania
and he drives into
the driveway and I see
two little children in costumes
and I say why are they dressed
in these costumes?
It's not Purim.
And he says to me
no, it's not Purim
but tomorrow is Halloween.
- I came to Hoboken, New Jersey.
Was dark and dirty and
I said this is America?
As a child when
you hear America,
you dream it's all fairy tales.
Cinderella and princes and
everybody lives in castles.
- September 24th, 1950.
My cousin set up the
chuppah and we got married
in his living room.
He said you have to have guests
because they will
give you presents
and he invited a bunch of
people who I didn't know
but my mother couldn't be there
and Emil didn't have siblings.
This is not how it's
supposed to happen.
- Everybody wants to
make some kind of a life
for themselves.
They didn't talk
about the camps.
They just wanna blend in
to the American crowd.
- Whenever I mentioned anything
about the concentration camps,
stop, don't talk about it.
You're now in
America, forget it.
- What bothered me was
my only living uncle
did not ask so many questions
and I came to the conclusion
that he was afraid to know.
- Later, when I met a cousin
who took us under his wing,
he started to ask questions
and when I told him
that after the war we looted
the city, he was horrified.
That was not right
to do, to steal.
That shut me up.
That was it.
I knew I couldn't talk
because we were judged
by the standards that they had.
And didn't understand what
other standards were there.
- The war was behind me.
My war was struggling
where my next 15 dollars
will come from to pay my room.
- I wanted to go to work.
There was a little Italian
foreman in Felix men's wear
in Allentown who saw my picture
in the paper and
so he gave me a job
hand finishing the
men's wear garments.
He was wonderful little man.
- I had a job a
week and lost it.
Had a job for two weeks or
three weeks and laid off.
Was a bad time,
it was a recession
and New York was very tough.
That was the worst
time in America for me.
- I didn't wanna
stay in New York
so I didn't make
lots of connections
because my sister lived in
California in the Valley.
- My husband Emil got
a job in the Valley.
He was the principal
of a Hebrew school
so I thought that
we hit the jackpot.
- My aunt insisted that
we come to California.
- My husband said California.
- My cousin said Uncle Jaap
had a diamond factory
in Santa Monica
which is the nicest place to be
and that's where
we're gonna move.
- One of our good
friends decided
to go to Los Angeles and Szlama
said that's a good occasion
to close the door of Detroit.
- [Reporter] Train travel
USA, America's best buy
in transportation.
- We took a train ride from
New York to Los Angeles.
It was very luxurious
train with a sleeper
so it did not remind me
at all of the cattle car.
The train stopped and it
was staying for a long time
and they said that a little
girl fell into a well.
- [Reporter] The
eyes of America turn
to these rescue operations
in San Marino, California.
Down this tiny 14 inch
pipe lies the body
of three year old Kathy Fiscus.
Since Kathy fell, she
has been heard only once.
After 42 hours, the 94
foot mark is reached.
By nightfall on the third
day, her body is recovered.
The world salutes a brave
endeavor that ends in tragedy.
- I thought to myself
look what they are doing
for one child and
here in Auschwitz,
thousands of children
were murdered.
- I remember the
day when we arrived,
the sky was so blue.
People were walking
around without coats,
it was wintertime.
And I saw these palm trees.
I never saw palm trees before.
And I see this beautiful country
from the top of Coldwater Canyon
and I said to my husband
I'll never leave here.
- Greenery in front
of every house
which doesn't appear
in Boston or New York.
- It's just the opposite
of what it was in New York
where everybody
looked into your face
and you had no space or air.
Here there was so much
space and so much air.
It was wonderful and
it was also something
that you couldn't hold on to
like being in space floating
rather than holding on to
a building or something.
- We walked up and down
streets in Hollywood.
Saw a little single but
it was 85 dollars a month
and we had 105.
So we walked some more.
It was a heat wave in March
and in the end we came back
and took this apartment.
- I had a cousin
here who was a doctor
who was a Holocaust survivor
and he had a friend
going back to Europe
to find out whether
anybody survived.
We arrived and we
had a beautiful home
to live in, no rent.
That was a wonderful beginning.
- [Reporter]
Flourishing in peace
with 67 million people
gainfully employed,
the United States today
represents an achievement
in good government to ensure
the great majority a way
of life that is
physically gratifying
and spiritually uplifting.
- My husband went to look
for architectural work
and I was looking
for secretarial work.
I go to this agency
on 7th Street
and she said yes, I have a
job as a showroom secretary.
608 South Hill.
Vogue Optical, it was called,
and it was selling frames.
- [Reporter] These damsels
have an eye for what's chic.
Their vision is 20-20.
Never mind the other
measurements for now.
Styles range from
the streamlined
to the daring and dramatic.
With or without glasses,
there's no denying
the eternal feminine.
- It turns out they
came from Pilsen
where my grandparents lived.
Small world.
- I went to a real estate agency
and it was pretty insecure work
because I was the only
Jewish girl there.
- I just didn't trust
too many people.
I looked around
and I saw the poor,
I saw Beverly Hills but
I was always nervous.
I never knew who was behind me.
- There was constantly the
memories were haunting you.
You wake up in the
night, I was crying.
- I had very tentative
connection to other people.
I didn't feel I fit in.
- You feel always an outsider.
We didn't have a great
circle of friends.
We were really happy
together alone.
We were independent.
Struggling very much.
- I built a friendship
with a colored lady,
A nursery school teacher
and I said come over,
we'll have a cup of tea.
She said no, I'm not going
to white people's houses.
I could not comprehend this.
- I joined an organization
which was called
Shelters For Israel
because they were
Hungarians who were here
during the war.
- We didn't keep in touch
with the immigrant group.
It was more important
for us to have friends
among the Americans and
we joined a couples club
Well that was the the
most distant group
that I could be in.
I had no relationship
to that group
but we went because that's
what you're supposed to do.
- When I went with my
Boyle Heights girlfriend
to movies, I see in
Hollywood beautiful women.
I said could I ever
look like them?
And she surprised me.
She wrote a letter
to Glamour Girl
and one day I got a
phone from the studio.
- From Hollywood, glamour
capital of the world,
we present glamour,
glamour, Glamour Girl!
The program where
everyday we take a lady
selected from our studio
audience the previous day
and in the following 24
hours, we glamourize her
into an exciting, thrilling,
brand spanking new personality.
- Next day, they cut my hair,
the makeup in the studio
and they got me the clothes
and I was on television
and all of Boyle Heights
they still call me glamour girl.
- On Pico Boulevard
was a movie theater.
My day off, I still
learned a lot of English
from going to the movies
and across the street
was a little coffee shop.
The guy was making
his own donuts
and he introduced me
to Eli and Eli said I'm
gonna marry that girl.
This dream house
you and I will share
Was planned for
us by Frigidaire
I really can't
believe my eyes
In every room a new surprise
I married him after six months.
In my cousin's house
because my mother-in-law,
she was from Russia and
because I didn't speak Yiddish,
I wasn't Jewish.
- [Narrator] Here on
a warm, January day,
the sunshine is glorious.
No wonder Los Angeles
is the promised land
for migrating millions.
- Not one person asked
me what happened to you?
They were so reluctant
to even mention
that I was in the
concentration camp
so how can you feel well
when this major thing
in your life is not mentioned?
- When everybody kept telling
me leave the past behind,
I felt maybe that's
what I'm supposed to do.
Starting a new life,
being in a free country
and do what you have
to do for the future.
See the USA in
your Chevrolet
America's asking you to call
Drive your Chevrolet
through the USA
America's the
greatest land of all
- It took us a month or two
before we had enough money,
300 dollars, to
buy an old Chevy.
It looked like a bomb.
- We bought a green Chevrolet
a year after we came here.
- 1950, I bought a Chevy.
Big beautiful Chevrolet.
- [Narrator] Remember,
more people buy Chevrolets
than any other car.
- I believe in
assimilation to a point.
- Assimilated American, I
wish I could feel it now.
I am so anxious to
put out the flag
because I wanna be
sure that they see
that I am an American.
- [Reporter] In a world
torn between forces
of freedom and slavery,
I am an American
takes on new meaning.
- I received my
accreditation from the Bureau
of Jewish Education to
teach Jewish schools.
- I actually wanted
to be a doctor
but I was too old
so I went to school
of social work for 11 years
until I got my masters degree.
- My schooling was interrupted.
I wanted to be a nurse but
I also had to make a living.
- Somebody introduced
me to a young man
whose name was Rudi Gernreich.
He was a Viennese
dancer and he decided
that he wants to design the
costumes for a dance group
so we made these
costumes and then he also
was friends with Stroheim
and he hired Rudi
to design for a film
with Lana Turner
and of course Rudi says Renee,
you have to come with me.
We were immigrants.
I mean the whole country
consists of immigrants.
[Erika] I didn't think
I was an immigrant.
[Erika] I was a Hungarian
Jewish survivor.
- [Renee] As an
immigrant and a survivor.
- [Eva] More like a
newcomer than a survivor
That word survivor
never occurred to us.
- I had to take
the bus to Westwood
and I saw a sign
nursery so I got off
and I told them
with sign language,
I said me work babies and they
gave me a piece of paper
so my cousin called them
and was movie star,
Ricardo Montalban.
And Georgiana, Ricardo's wife,
said something
tells me I want her
so my cousin says she
doesn't speak English.
Says okay.
My husband don't speak
good English either.
- I wanted to learn English
and I wanted to fit
into the American way.
- I just felt that
everybody felt so secure
and everybody was so self
assured, I liked that.
- In '58, we became citizens.
- [Reporter] Many of
those taking the oath
are newly naturalized citizens
and the last seven
Hungarian refugees
who have sought freedom
on America's shores.
- When I got my citizenship,
I had this feeling,
now I am an American.
- Your vote is your chance
to do a really important
job for your country.
- Your vote could be
the one that counts.
- See you at the polls.
(upbeat music)
- I voted in every election
and so did Fred, my husband.
- [Reporter] In the
little Cumberland
Pennsylvania township
voting headquarters
near Gettysburg,
America's first citizen
signs the register as the nation
goes to the polls.
Together with the First
Lady, the President
is among the early voters.
His Democratic opponent,
Adlai Stevenson,
arrives to cast his ballot.
At the four corners of the
nation, democracy is at work.
- We listened to Stevenson
and liked him a lot.
- I've talked with small
businessmen all over the country
who get smaller and smaller
and poorer and poorer
while big business
gets bigger and bigger.
- [Erika] He's the
one that I voted for.
- We had great respect
for Eisenhower.
He was the one that
liberated Dachau
and he brought in the
citizens of Germany
to look at dead people that
were all over the place
and then he brought his
military people over.
- [Narrator] We continued to
uncover German concentration
camps in which conditions
of indescribable horror prevail.
I made this visit deliberately
in order to be in a position
to give firsthand evidence
of these things.
If ever, in the future,
there develops a tendency
to charge these allegations
merely to propaganda.
- And he said I want
you to remember this
because there will
come a day when people
will say this never happened.
- I had my qualms
about having children.
I said what for to bring
children into this world?
It still was a wall between
the real world, and our world.
- It was criminal to put
children in our world
because we had
absolutely no one.
If something had happened to us,
my husband was 52 when
she was born and I was 37.
That's old.
- I was a little scared
but I was grateful
that I'm gonna have a
child in United States.
- Many people lost
their first child.
I had a baby.
He lived only three days.
It's very big tragedy.
It proved that the future
cannot be better than the past.
I faced the loss of that baby
and then I go back to work.
You can't mourn
when you wanna live.
- When I was pregnant,
Fred wanted me
to stop, I've
never worked since.
I was always home
when she came home.
- Helen was born 1953.
This was the big
event in our life.
A colossal happening.
I was ready to face
the world again.
- I think when you have
children, you change.
You completely become
a different person.
You have something to care
about, somebody to love.
Somebody to one day
you get love back
and that's what life is.
- When the children were born,
I think we were all relieved
and happy and joyous.
We didn't allow the
sadness to move in
until mostly when we
were more normal life.
Not when we had these
joyous celebrations
although we did talk at
that time about our losses
and when we told people
how they were named.
- [Linda] And Eli said
whatever you wanna name them
Your family comes first.
They've been killed.
- In the Jewish religion,
you name your first child
after if your parents are dead.
But I feel differently about
the death of my parents
and the death of my sister.
My father had papers for us
to come to the United States
in 1937, just before
the trouble started
and my mother refused to come
but my little sister,
16 years old, innocent,
why didn't she have
the chance I had?
I had a vision that
my sister came to me
and told me that I'm
gonna have a little girl
and I must name her Klara
after her and I did.
- All parents have the anxiety
but for us it was a repeat,
almost like expected that
something can happen.
- I wouldn't let
'em out of my sight.
I never had a babysitter.
When Steven went the
first day to school,
I didn't leave that gate.
I stayed there until he
was in and he come out.
- When the kids were
younger, they start dating,
I slept on the couch.
When they arrived, I opened
the door and I went to bed.
- I was never over protective.
She'll confirm that.
I was a tough bitch.
And she turned into a
very wonderful girl.
- My Jewishness I don't flaunt.
In the beginning
especially I would hide it
because I was sure it
would create some problems.
- Steven wanted to
go into boy scouts.
That day they called him,
we're gonna pick him up.
It didn't sound right,
the pick him up.
The truck reminded me of
the truck that picked me up.
- [Reporter] A day of
worship and of dedication
for boy scouts of many faiths.
Onward for God and my
country is the theme
of the encampment.
- I saw these kids
in brown uniforms
and I said that what
you're gonna give my boy?
And he said if he's
gonna be taken in
to the boy scouts.
I said oh no, he's not going
to boy scouts, forget it.
They looked like little Nazis.
(in German) Ein Volkswagen
- And we were on the freeway
and there was a
Volkswagen behind my car.
Benjie, who was
the second child,
said Mom, the Germans
are after you.
- Trust.
It took probably a long
time til we trust people.
We did not trust ourselves
in the beginning.
We must realize that
we were six years
out of normal human life.
- Damaged, yes.
It changed our attitude
towards many things.
- When I worked at
Kaiser, all the cases
of loss were referred to me.
I never told them that's
what you should do.
- I had a Kosher
business, a deli
and a restaurant that my
husband used to work there
and the kids, I had somebody
home taking care of them.
I work from five in the
morning to midnight.
I made all European food.
I had a very
successful business.
- [Female] Is this crepe?
- Yes, it's a crepe chic
camelback reversible dress.
- Let's see another crepe
dress on that wild Arlynne.
- Well we call this
the roaring 20's.
- Oh Renee, what
a fabulous dress.
- Saks Fifth Avenue really
believes in this look.
- I was in every major
department store,
Saks Fifth Avenue,
Nieman Marcus.
- [Female] Wish you
could see these colors.
Renee really believes in color.
- We were promoting colors.
Because the world was
drab and everything
seemed to be sad and depressing
so we wanted to, you
know, color it up.
I began to feel human
when on my clothes
there was a label which
said Renee Firestone.
Then I kept saying
to myself well,
this is not A12307 any more
This is me.
- Your great grandson
and his mother
are going to have
Thanksgiving Dinner with us.
- Did you ask, Lisa?
- No, Bob did.
- [Announcer] Here is a
bulletin from CBS News.
- From Dallas, Texas, the
flash apparently official.
President Kennedy died at one
p.m. Central Standard Time.
Two o'clock Eastern
Standard Time.
Some 38 minutes ago.
- I was in New
York buying fabrics
and one of the secretaries
ran into the room
and said Kennedy was shot.
- When Kennedy was
shot, I remember
how we all cried in the car.
- [Reporter] A
shocked nation weeps.
(somber music)
- I was so shaken up by that.
It destroyed my
fantasy about America
which was a point
of security for me.
- [Reporter] Those who sell
and all who manufacture
what is sold know
that American women
often have the deciding voice
in whatever we come to buy.
- I couldn't imagine that
in the United States,
some people live on the streets
and don't have enough to eat.
After the war for quite
a few months I lived
like a homeless.
- Why can't you do something
for the poor people
where they sit on the streets?
I was there, I know
what it is to beg
for food money.
You have the power to help.
Why not?
We shall overcome
- The civil rights movement
was a wonderful awakening
for all of us.
- The pharmacies
of a great society
have been shot down on the
battlefields of Vietnam
making the poor,
white and negro,
bear the heaviest burden both
at the front and at home.
- On Fridays,
Saturdays, and Sundays,
I used to cook big pots of food,
pack it in my car and
we fed the homeless.
- My children never
asked questions
and I never told them.
I remember there was some
program on television
and they were quite young
and I made them watch it.
- It's very hard
for certain people
to tell their young ones
about their awful life.
They have certain secrets.
Not everything can you
share with your loved ones.
- I never much talked
about the whole experience
but Paulette always
had Jewish friends.
You absorb it if
you're not dumb.
- I think they just
lived in our house
and breathed it in.
- Klara says I remember when
I was about five years old.
We were on the bus and
an American soldier
asked you Miss, what is
that number on your arm?
And you said oh, that's my
boyfriend's telephone number.
I was in the Navy and I
put my number on the arm.
And she says I know
that that's not true.
I know that you were
never in the Navy.
- In late 60's, I
went to Camp Ramah
and I became a
counselor and a teacher.
The kids wanted to know what
the tattoo was on my arm
so I told them the story.
- We start to talk to Helen
when she was three years old
about our experiences
on her level
and I used the same
method with the children
in nursery school and in
kindergarten later on.
- Klara started to ask questions
when she was 14 years old.
She said you know mother,
all my friends in the
school have grandparents.
What happened to
my grandparents?
And then she went to the
library and educated herself.
- Grandchildren are a great joy.
They wanted to know
and they asked me
to sit down and tell them.
The way they relate
to us, the love
and the affection
which our children
could not express that
openly is such joy.
- My grandson, every
time we were together,
he had questions for me.
About life in Czechoslovakia,
certain camp situations.
Always questioning
and every time
there was something
sad, he would come
and put his arm around me
without saying anything.
It moved me incredibly.
- My grandchildren
went to Auschwitz.
They know their roots,
they know who they are.
They know who I am.
They tell me Baba, we love you.
What this means to hear
this word I love you?
- Our grandson, because
we were quite open
about what we went through,
wrote a little essay.
What is the Holocaust?
We were not only numbers
but we looked like this.
You will tell that you
talked and saw a Survivor
which told you the
story of Shoah.
- The Holocaust miniseries,
that's when it started
to be a conversation.
There was an
opening of the door.
- [Narrator] It's an
extraordinary story
of courage and heroism
against the odds.
- What has he done,
why are you taking him?
- Routine questioning.
- No, what is his crime?
- Of course I saw it.
Very well done.
- Trains aren't going to Russia.
- Where are they going?
- Treblinka, the death camp.
- Holocaust survivors
didn't care much for it
because it didn't really
portray the reality
of the concentration
camps but the fact
that somebody even thought
to make a film about it
and that the public
at least remembered
through that film that
there was a Holocaust
was very important.
- [Male] The young
generation, for their benefit,
should learn from our tragedy
because what happened once
to us can happen again.
The only alternative
is tolerance.
- The Simon Wiesenthal Center
was coming to Los Angeles
and the Rabbi explained to me
that they need somebody to
tell their Holocaust stories
and I said I don't think
I remember anything
and he said last
night in the Valley,
one of the Jewish cemeteries
and a Jewish temple
was desecrated.
- [Reporter] Hate shows
itself in an ugly form
with a swastika
on the glass door
near the playground
of a Jewish synagogue.
- That night I had a nightmare
that I was in Auschwitz.
That the ground was blood red.
They were pushing and
shoving us, the Kapos.
Suddenly I woke up screaming
but they told us never again.
And I called back the
Rabbi and I said you know,
don't count on me
because I don't know
how much I remember
but I'm willing to try
and that same night, he
took me to a Mormon temple.
The church was packed and they
were showing a film
called Night and Fog
and I see these bodies
being bulldozered
and I went berserk
and I started to cry
and I couldn't stop crying.
The lights go on and
I started to talk
and I'm telling you
that I have no idea
where those words
were coming from.
- We are the witnesses and we
have the mantra of telling.
I was always with
my camp sisters
and we don't know who will live.
Each one of us
said when one of us
will survive, we need to tell
and I tried to
keep to the promise
that I will tell.
I start speaking in
schools, in churches.
I'm begging you, the
ground of Auschwitz
is bloody and I
have to remind you
not to let anybody
build or destroy it.
It's a cemetery for
the whole world,
for our children.
Everybody have to go and visit
and the ones who
say it's not true,
we'll be glad to take
them in a cattle train,
bring them there and
leave them there.
I felt so proud that
I, the Polish refugee,
came to this country
and I can come
to Sacramento and
speak for the people.
This was my thrill.
- You would have thought
this overwhelming tragedy
would be the last.
And look at it.
We're going through
the same things.
We have dictators again.
This is going to
forever pursue us.
I don't think
teaching this, that,
or the other about the Holocaust
is going to make the
slightest difference.
- I am very frustrated
about what's going on
in the Sudan today and Darfur.
I think it's an outrage.
Cambodia, Rwanda,
Kosovo, you name it.
Didn't people learn
anything from World War II
and from the Holocaust?
After I retired from designing,
I devoted my time to the past.
Good morning.
- [Renee] In the
beginning, I didn't care,
if they wanna hear it.
As you know I am a
Holocaust survivor
I wanted to tell because I felt
that the world is
beginning to forget.
- Humanity is responsible
for what happened.
- Now it is really an obsession.
I speak almost every
day because of that.
- I read Franz Werfel's
The 40 Days Of Musa Dagh
and I learned about
the Armenian Genocide
and I couldn't get over
it, that it happens
to some other
people such things.
That's why I keep talking about.
It is a psychological need.
I don't wanna stay isolated.
I wanna be connected
to the world
and if you understand,
I am connected.
If you can't understand
it, I am alone.
- [Male] The list
is an absolute good.
The list is life.
- Schindler's List
had done a lot.
Testimony of the people
will do much more.
- Among the many
who were liberated
from the concentration
camps was a 20 year old girl
from Czechoslovakia.
She is here with us tonight,
ladies and gentlemen.
Renee Firestone.
- I was asked that
I come to Washington
to present to Steven Spielberg.
Well I couldn't believe that.
I thought that somebody's
playing a joke on me.
Those of us who
survived the Holocaust
were worried that soon our
stories will be forgotten
but after Schindler's
List, a miracle happened.
You, Steven, created
the Shoah Foundation
and recorded tens of thousands
of Survivors' testimonies.
Thank you for what you
have done for all of us
and of course what you
have done for history.
You are our hero.
Thank you, Steven.
We also were invited
to the White House
and I kept thinking
would my parents
believe that this
is happening to me?
(speaking in Yiddish)
- This means in
all our frivolity,
we have a certain sadness.
- Things can get faded.
Things can be forgotten
and that's a danger
when our memories fade.
- People were asking
me why don't you
take your number out?
How can I remove this number?
This number is
really the Holocaust.
This number is part of me
which will never leave me.
- I never did put
the war behind.
To this day, I'm not
pathologically connected to it
but obsessed by it.
(singing in Hebrew)
I needed to go back and
physically touch the place.
When you see it physically,
when you touch the bunks,
then you know that
this is how it was
and I saw the barrack
where the latrines were,
where you have 200 holes
next to each other.
That expresses the humiliation
and the infection but it
also expressed the community,
the 200 holes
brought us together
and that we were able
to talk to each other.
That place the only
place where we felt
we would not be
overheard or punished.
- No one can understand
what we went through.
Americans cannot imagine it.
If they didn't live through
it, they can't understand.
- The chimneys were
burning 24 hours a day
and the smell ate
itself into our flesh.
For years I could
smell it on myself.
- I don't think a normal person
could ever understand
that a thousand people
are pushed into a
room where they know
that they are gonna die.
I don't even wanna think about
what it was like for my mother
to be in a gas chamber
fighting for her breath.
Was she thinking that her
children may die the same way?
That haunts me even today.
- I went to every
block, all over,
and I said did that
really happen to me
or I'm just dreaming.
But it wasn't a dream.
I went back three times.
The last time, I said
goodbye Auschwitz,
I will never come again.
- Every time I see
one of those trains,
my God, that was pretty terrible
but I never think of it.
I don't know, maybe
I'm superficial.
I don't think so but
what's gone is gone.
I put it behind me.
I'm not going to dwell on things
that make me miserable.
- I always have
nightmares, you know.
I dream I'm back and
I'm digging the ditches.
Last year I went
to Cedars Sinai.
I was in the ER room and to
me it looked like Auschwitz.
I saw a door and it was
the door from Auschwitz
where you had to go through.
I saw a guy sitting
there on a chair.
I thought it was
the guy that put you
to the right or the left.
And I had a German nurse.
A little blonde and
her name was Gretchen.
So, I grabbed her and I
said now I got a chance,
I'm gonna kill you.
This is Auschwitz.
If I go, you go.
And they got me off
of her of course.
They tied me up.
They said I don't know
anything about it.
I was two weeks in the hospital.
I don't remember anything.
- The last survivor of
the Armenian Holocaus
passed away and I
was thinking about us
and then what?
And then what?
- There is this emptiness
like a big hole.
It is an impression that's
physically imprinted
in my body.
- It's a pain that's
in your mind really.
It's almost takes
your breath away.
- I guess I still
carry it in me.
It probably is imprinted
in me that I have judgments
which other people don't have.
- I am dealing with the
mark that I am a survivor.
I went through a
period in my life
which was destroyed.
I witnessed the
destruction of a culture
which was in bloom
for thousands years
and especially the
last hundred years.
We thought that
we can build us up
and we failed in it
and I cannot come
to grips with it.
- Where is home?
It's an interesting question
to ask when I'm 86 years old.
Home is sacred place.
What it looks like
or what it has
is not as important as
the stability of it.
- Now as I think about my death,
I also think about my past.
I think about my childhood
almost like a dream.
Each time I went back,
I lost a little bit
of that unity that
was my family.
I couldn't see it as the
home that I used to live in
so it doesn't exist.
My husband, I already
had a lifetime with him.
Fighting and loving.
We took the whole gamut.
- Mainly fighting.
- He died in a
home with a family.
My Mother and my
Father were murdered.
It's a totally
different feeling.
I keep thinking
about my parents.
That they never had
a chance to know me?
They really never had a
chance to know who I was.
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
When you're 90 years old, the
uncertainty's right there.
- I am not afraid of death.
I know it must come.
With all the
tragedies in my life,
I had a full life.
I love life.
I love the curiosity of life.
I like every day of life.
I like the sunshine,
I like the rain.
I love the falling
of the leaves.
I love every minute.
I would not change
my life, not one bit.
- I wish of course
always my mother
could have seen me
married and have children
and that she could
see the grandchildren.
My granddaughter
Kelly, she's already 33
but I live for her.
All my kids, after they got
married they lived with me.
Nobody left me until I,
I never said you gotta get out.
As far as I'm concerned,
the whole shebang
can move back in.
- I'm very excited that
I live to 80 years of age
and my husband 86.
That we were both able
to have two children
and grandchildren and
this is the best thrill
of my life that I lived
to see a fourth generation
and I hope that
this baby, one day,
will see the film
and when will learn
about his grandmother, what
she accomplished in her life.
- I made an appointment
for a physical
and they found I had
cancer of the lung.
Within a week I was operated
and I'm one of the 5% who
survived more than five years.
It's 13, so am I lucky?
- Dear Mom, you've reached
a remarkable milestone
on so many levels.
Happy birthday and
many many more.
- I am a fatalist,
I accept my fate.
Not only because I survived and
I'm still functioning at 92.
I mean somehow I was lucky.
- There is a joke
about the German Jews
when they went to
Israel they always said
(in German) Bei Uns
at our place, this
is how it was.
The same is with us.
It's like how it was at home.
At home, how long
did I live there?
14 years, 15 years?
Why is it still my home?
Why was that life more
important than my life now?
It shouldn't color
everything in my life now
but it does so
when I'm homesick,
I can't find the place
where I'm homesick for.
I'm home where I am.
(somber music)
(upbeat music)