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Film Festivals

A Film Showing Grandchildren of Auschwitz Survivors Who Tattoo the Numbers on Themselves

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Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 4:00 AM
click to enlarge Auschwitz survivors show their tattoos in Numbered
  • Auschwitz survivors show their tattoos in Numbered

It's been over sixty years since the Holocaust, but time has not faded the memories for those who survived it. And as part of this year's 27th Israel Film Festival, a tribute will be made to the Holocaust survivors and their families with a special screening of the documentary Numbered at the Saban Theater on Sunday, April 28 at noon.

This event will highlight the Second Generation movement, which sheds light on the cross-generational transference of trauma and/or coping skills from Holocaust survivors onto their children -- and even their grandchildren.

Numbered shares the tales of those who survived the worst concentration camp, Auschwitz -- the only camp that tattooed its prisoners with numbers -- showcasing the different ways these survivors have coped with the horrors of their past and others' reactions to them since. But it also shows how the children and grandchildren of survivors are getting tattoos of the same numbers their ancestors got, in the spirit of family solidarity.

Hanna Rabinovitz, daughter of Leon Klinger (65640), decided to tattoo her father's number on her ankle after his death. This number had been a part of her family's life: it was the combination to the safe, the luggage lock -- everything. But three days after she got it, she realized she'd gotten the number wrong -- putting 64650 instead -- and had that incorrect number covered with dots.

She later found out that 64650 belonged to Maurice Finsi, a man from Holland who died at the age of 30 in Auschwitz. "Maybe I should've left his number on me if I had known he didn't survive and nothing's left of him now," she says in the documentary. "I erased him. I'm so sad all of a sudden. To think I made little dots of him."

And Ayal had his grandfather Abramo's number (A15510) tattooed on his arm. In the film, while posing for their photo together, Abramo insists his grandson go to a university so that he'll have a better future than Abramo had working as a dockworker at the Tel Aviv port for thirty years. As they examine each others' arms, Abramo asks his grandson why he got the tattoo. Ayal tells him, "It's so I won't forget." Abramo then turns to the camera and says, "This is my victory. Him. My grandchildren. My great-grandchildren."

The film also includes more straightforward recollections from the survivors. There's Daniel (B2823), who shows his number off, seeking attention. "Yeah, it's a sign of prestige today," he says. "I'm a celebrity."

On the other side, there are those who don't want to remember, like Ruth (72430), who got her tattoo removed. "When I started working as a journalist people immediately knew more about me than I did about them. The popular opinion at the time was 'Darwinistic,' that only the cruel survived, those willing to tread over the bodies. So I decided to remove it."

Neither of the directors were filmmakers before this. In fact, Dana Doron is a doctor in Israel -- herself a third generation Holocaust survivor who once made a promise to herself that she would not do anything related to the Holocaust, as her mother wrote books on it and her grandmother constantly talked about it.

But one day, while she was still a medical intern, an old woman came into the ER complaining of chest pains. And instead of listing her physical symptoms, "she showed me her left arm. And she asked me if I knew what it meant," Doron recalls. The woman spent over an hour talking about her time in Auschwitz -- until her daughter came by to get her, apologizing profusely for her mother's behavior. Apparently, this wasn't the first time her mother went to a hospital, sought out a young doctor and complained of chest pains to find someone to tell her story to.

This experience stayed with Doron for a few days, and more Auschwitz survivors came in with numbers, making Doron realize that these people -- and their stories -- "were rapidly disappearing from planet Earth." And she decided that she had to record their stories.

That's where photojournalist Uriel Sinai came in, first thinking that they would simply take portraits of these survivors who were willing to come in, before the project evolved into a documentary, one that asks the questions "How do you regain your identity? How do you cope? How do you come back and make love?" Sinai says.

Interviewing them was easier than imagined. Many of them wanted to talk -- as if this was their last chance to have their story told. "When you talk to someone who tells the same story for sixty years, they have a melody," Sinai adds.

When asked about the idea of second (and subsequent) generations of Holocaust survivors inheriting trauma, Doron said that a review of the film in Israel talked about how, for those generations, "The number becomes a symbol of...'I am here, I am life.' [It's a] life-affirming symbol instead of a death-affirming one. You don't necessarily have to talk about the transference of trauma."

Numbered's Sunday screening at the Saban Theater will include a Q&A with director Uriel Sinai at www.israelfilmfestival.com. A portion of the preceeds will benefit the Fund for Holocaust Surivors.

Follow me on Twitter at @shli1117, and for more arts news follow us at @LAWeeklyArts and like us on Facebook.

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