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April 5, 2013     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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April 5, 2013
 

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PAGE 2A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, APRIL 5, 2013 By Toby Axelrod BERLIN (JTA)--I was 23 when I first met my cousin Gilbert Michlin. He was sitting at a brasserie near his office in Paris wearing a dark suit with a folded handkerchief poking out of the breast pocket. His short, dark hair was perfectly combed. He said, in charmingly ac- cented English, "There is one thing I must tell you: I was in Auschwitz." Of course, I already knew. But I had never met a survivor before, let alone our French cousin, who had been a slave laborer for Siemens at the death camp. After the war, Gilbert went to study in the United States Courtesy Toby Axelrod A 20-year-old Gilbert Mi- chlin in Washington, 1946. and eventually returned to Paris to become the European director of telecom products for IBM. That day in the late 1970s, Gilbert, then 53, had Courtesy Toby Axelrod The official ID photo of Gilbert Michlin upon his return to Paris following World War II, 1945. no more to say about the Holocaust. Instead, he told me how miraculous it was that he'd met his French wife, Mireille, in America. "A girl from Marseilles and a boy from Paris would never meet in France," he laughed. "Someone should write a novel." We met again over the years. But it was not until 2006, when he and Mireille visited my adopted home city of Berlin, that I really got to know Gilbert. Berlin had been one of Gilbert's last stations on his way to liberation. Now he and three other men had been invited back to share their recollections with the public and meet representatives of the German company that had Story on page 15A Photo by Toby Axelrod A gravely illGilbertMichlin, theAuschwitz tattoo showing on his arm, is comforted by his wife, Mireille, August 2012. By Peter L. Rothholz JNS.org Journalist Steven Press- man first learned of the 50 children rescued by Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus in 2002 from his wife Liz Perle, the Krauses' granddaughter, who had possession of a formerly hidden and unpublished man- uscript written by Eleanor decades earlier. That manuscript spelled out in detail the Krauses' mis- sion to rescue Jewish children shortly before the outbreak of World War II, launching Pressman on an extensive quest for more information that took him to Europe and Courtesy HBO. The children rescued by Gilbert and Eleanor graus. to archives in Jerusalem and Washington, DC. A first-time filmmaker, Pressman started collecting footage in 2010 and is now set to reveal the Krauses' story in his documentary, "50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus," which will debut this Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 8, on HBO. When the President Hard- ing ship of the United States Line arrived in New York from Hamburg on June 3, 1939, among her passengers was a group of 50 unaccom- panied Jewish children from Vienna, rescued from Hitler's persecution of the Jews by the Krauses, a remarkable couple from Philadelphia. News of pogroms against the Jews of Germany and Austria became ever-more alarming after Kristallnacht, November 9,1938, and Gilbert Kraus felt it was necessary to do whatever he could to help bring them to safety. But American immigration laws at the time were highly restrictive, and quota limi- tations meant that waiting times for a U.S. visa were as long as five years. While the American Jewish community did make tepid efforts to ease these restrictions, they were not successful. Anti- Semitism was rampant in the U.S. at the time, and even many Jews did not want the immigration laws to be eased. Gilbert Kraus (then 42 and a successful lawyer) and his wife were unwilling to stand idly by. Armed by the example of Britain, which admitted 10,000 Jewish children, they hoped to work within exist- ing U.S. immigration laws to improve the situation. To strengthen their position, the Krauses first secured the sup- port of the members of B'rith Shalom, a Philadelphia Jew- ish fraternal organization to which their family belonged, and obtained assurances of affidavits of support for a mod- est group of just 50 children. Kraus was eventually re- ferred by the U.S. State Department to the American Embassy in Berlin, where he made a personal appeal. In spite of the obvious risks faced by a Jew traveling to Nazi Ger- many, he left for Berlin in the spring of 1939 to meet with the Jewish leadership there and Debut on page 15A a new Edmon J. Rodman The spherical design of the LED "light stage" at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in Los Angeles allows the subject to be lit from many angles. By Edmon J. Rodman LOS ANGELES (JTA)--In a dark glass building here, Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter shows that his memory is crystal clear and his voice is strong. His responses seem a bit delayed--not that different from other survivors I have known who are reluctant to speak openly about their ex- periences-but he's doing just fine for a 3-D image. In the offices of USC's Insti- tute for Creative Technologies, Gutter, who as a teenager had survived Majdanek, the Ger- man Nazi concentration camp on the outskirts of Lublin, Poland, sounds and looks very much alive. His hologram-like image projected on a screen is a prototype for a project of the University of Southern Califor- nia's Shoah Foundation called New Dimensions in Testimony. It's an initiative to record and display 3-D, interactive testi- monies that according to the organization "will preserve the dialogue between Holocaust survivors and learners far into the future." Recalling my conversa- tions with survivors, I wonder how a 3-D representation, no matter how well intentioned, can match the experience of making live eye contact with someone who is reaching out with the story of his or her own private hell. "We wanted this to be as inti- mate as possible," says Stephen Smith, the executive director of USC's Shoah Foundation, a veteran ofmakingsurvivor tes- timony available to the public. "There is very little time," he adds, pointing out that most survivors are now in their 80s and 90s. The plan is to make the interactive testimonies avail- able through 3-D installations installed in Holocaust mu- seums and schools, allowing students and others to have a question-and-answer session with a survivor. Paul Debevec Shades required: Edmon J. Rodman finds a smaUer version of the LED light set used for the USC Shoah Foundation's 3-D project intensely bright. Smith makes it clear, how- ever: "We are not trying to cre- ate a fantasyland experience." In speaking with students and accessing their needs about the Holocaust, Smith says he finds that they aren't that interested in historical detail. Rather, they want to know "things about the human experience--if the survivors were successful, hateful, if there was justice." To create a new form of dialogue, Smith is planning on asking 10 survivors a bat- tery of 500 questions to build the means for a conversation. For the demo Paul De- bevic, the associate director for graphic research at the USC Institute for Creative Technolo- gies, explains that Gutter was shot on a 26-foot spherical "light stage" with seven cam- eras--50 will be used on the final--illuminated with more than 6,000 LED lights, which I could see captured his every gesture contour and wrinkle. Later I try out a smaller set, similarly lit, and immediately need sunglasses. Debevic, alongwith RonArt- stein and David Traum, who are working on the project's inter- active component, explain that a language program is being createdthatwill cross-reference the words of a question with the recorded answers and pick the best possible response. After donning a headset and mike--in the final version this will not be necessary--Art- stein begins the conversation with Gutter. "Can I ask you a few ques- tions?" he asks politely and distinctly. "I will answer any questions you might have for me," a casual Gutter replies. "How did you survive?" Artstein wonders. "It was chance. It was faith. Itwas... itwas acombination of 1,000 things," Gutter answers. The next question brings Gutter even more to life. "Can you sing a song for us?" Artstein asks. USC Institute for Creative Technology Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter as appearing on the hologram-like interactive presentation developed by the USC Shoah Foundation. Gutter, who was once a part-time cantor, responds by singing a Polish lullaby he learned from his mother-- "The children are going, going down the road. The little sister and her brother they cannot contain their wonder At how beautiful the world is." Then it's my turn to put on the headset. I have come with my own questions that in speaking one on one with a sur- vivor would seem too probing and painful to ask. But here it would be like talking to the TV, I thought, so I could dispense with the social conventions and fire away. Yet in asking a question that would be difficult to ask even privately, I pause. "Do you believe in God?" I ask finally, after pushing a laptop button. "Yes. I believe there is a power higher than human beings and I'm not quite sure what it is," Gutter answers, suddenly soundingand appear- ing much more present than a projection. "We are looking to get a suspension of disbelief," says Debevec, describing what fic- tion writers need to achieve so their work is believable. The overall effect is better than the cloying slickness of Siri and more relatable than the countless holographic movie appearances of gauzy futuristic presidents or villains. Children will love the inter- activity. But deniers will hate it, as testimony from survivors like Gutter challenges their own projections. As Gutter continues to an- swer my question about God, the 3-D captures the fullness of his arm motions and ear- nestness. "You are allowed to stand up and question," he says. Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@ gmail.com.