THE SAGA BEHIND THE HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS’ STORY
Behind the documentary “Kaddish,” a contemporary look at survivors of the Holocaust, is a story of a film maker’s tenacity and perseverance.
It is that of director/producer Steve Brand, who has fought for nine years, enduring the rejection of numerous grant proposals, to bring his vision to the screen. The books on “Kaddish” are still not balanced; the film is not a commercial success and probably never will be. But Brand feels he has succeeded in what he set out to do: to share a look at collective courage that, he says, is often overlooked.
Yet he did not make the film he originally set out to make.
“The film I wanted to make initially was a film about how people coming out of Europe--either refugees or survivors (of the Holocaust)--were able to re-establish themselves and start new lives over again,” Brand said during a recent visit to Los Angeles. “It has been a continual problem, a fact of life throughout Jewish history: being uprooted from one culture, starting all over in another, and all the while maintaining some sort of ethnic identity.”
That, at least, was the original idea. It was good enough to earn him a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Even with the seed money, the project stalled. “It went nowhere fast,” Brand admitted.
Then he met Yossi Klein at a conference on Jewish films in 1976. It would prove to be an apt encounter. “He was a writer looking for a film maker,” Brand recalled, “and I was a film maker looking for funding. He found me, and the search for funding continued.”
They read each other’s film proposals. “His was a little more on the apocalyptic side,” Brand said. Klein was concerned that there was a possibility of another Holocaust, “but there was enough in common about survivors, the whole problem of starting new lives, that we decided to work together.”
The two would examine three families whose lives had been touched by the Holocaust. Klein’s family--whose father, Zoltan, was a survivor--would be one of the three.
Then six months into filming, Zoltan, who had escaped the Holocaust by hiding in a pit in the forest for half a year, died. “At that point, Yossi’s role in the film had to change from the co-producer to the subject of the film,” explained Brand. At that point, too, “Kaddish” became a chronicle of how one young man dealt with his legacy of horror. This was far from the film Brand had intended to make, yet, remarkably, its effect was exactly what he had hoped for: Before our eyes, we saw two victims of the Holocaust--Yossi and his father--surmounting it.
“And I think the film goes beyond being a story only of interest to a Jewish audience,” said Brand, himself the son of Holocaust survivors. “The father-son dynamic is something that a lot of people can relate to. It cuts across a lot of lines. It shows through time the whole process of becoming your own person--breaking away--that we all go through.”
It is also, Brand argues, an educational film, replete with haunting images of slaughter from the Nazi concentration camps: “Unless your own family had been through it or unless you had learned about it in school, why would you know about this?”
Indeed, as Brand was visiting Los Angeles, President Reagan was visiting the infamous cemetery at Bitburg. “That whole thing is a prime example of insensitivity toward the Jewish people,” Brand said of the President’s visit.
“To endure all the hatred and still want to be Jewish . . . is remarkable.”