Posts Tagged ‘Tad Taube’

Join me at the UNAFF screening of Irena Sendler documentary!

Saturday, October 20th, 2012
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Yayyy for Mary Skinner!  Her film about Irena Sendler, In the Name of Their Mothers, is an “official selection” at this year’s United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF).

Sendler is the Polish Holocaust heroine who, with her team from the clandestine organization Żegota, saved about 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II.  The story has only surfaced in the post-1989 world, since Sendler’s reputation was suppressed by the Communist regime in Poland.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23,  Skinner will host a special “behind the scenes” event at the Mid-Peninsula Media Center, 900 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, with a photo exhibit of many never-before-seen images from the film.  Humble Moi will be “in conversation” with Mary.  (I’ve interviewed her before here and here and here and here.)  More about the UNAFF event here.  The film will begin at 9:15 p.m. at the nearby Oshman Jewish Community Center – directions here.

Here’s what philanthropist Tad Taube wrote about Sendler in the April 26, 2011, Los Angeles Jewish Journal:

“Sendler was a dedicated social worker before the war, and her wartime activities on behalf of the Jews were a logical extension of her early commitment to do what she felt was just. … Denounced to the Gestapo, arrested and tortured, Sendler was able to escape, only to be hunted down as a “dangerous communist” by extreme-right elements in the Polish underground.

“Safety eluded her even after the war, when she was arrested by the communist authorities for having been active in the general Polish underground rather than the communist one. Again imprisoned and tortured — she suffered a miscarriage — Sendler was eventually freed from prison but became a ‘nonperson’ in the eyes of the communist state. Yad Vashem remembered her, awarding her a listing in 1965, but she was otherwise surrounded by official silence, even after the communist government fell. …

“We were not alone.”

“Midrash teaches that the children of Abraham, fleeing Egypt, were joined by other slaves, who wanted their freedom no less desperately. Even then, we were not alone. And throughout the ages, thanks to those whose love of freedom and their fellow human beings was more powerful than the shackles of prejudice and fear, we never really were. Nor shall we ever be.”

Trailer for the film below.  See you there!

Mary Skinner: A life changed by 9/11

Thursday, August 25th, 2011
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Mary Skinner (right) with Elzbieta Ficowska, one of Sendler's rescued children

Mary Skinner was hunkered down on the West Coast, reconsidering her 20-year career in New York, when she watched her colleagues in Two World Trade Center die on 911.

According to an article in More magazine:

But as the catastrophe unfolded, Skinner’s hesitation disappeared.  “I knew friends were caught on certain floors and didn’t make it,” she says. I felt: I need to be there right now. I’ve got to go back. I had devoted my talent, heart and brain cells to helping somebody make a little more money on currency arbitrage.  In the face of what was going on in the world, I felt like, that’s a sin.”

Two months later, Skinner boarded a plane for New York – without a job or a place to live, and for the first time in her professional life, without a plan.

She found temp office work, reconnected with old friends and took writing classes. She enrolled in a documentary filmmaking class at the New School, wanting to make a film about her Polish-born, Catholic mother, Klotylda, who was orphaned and imprisoned during World War II and cared for by strangers afterwards. Klotylda wouldn’t agree to be her subject. Haunted by her mother’s experiences, Skinner continued with her research, uncovering more stories of children saved by heroic strangers.

I interviewed Mary here and here and here and here. She eventually went to make a movie about Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler, the PBS film In the Name of Their Mothers. The article gets it wrong: Sendler didn’t save hundreds of children; she saved thousands.

Skinner’s story has a happy ending:

The film’s reception was “beyond anything I could have imagined,” Skinner says. “But I didn’t feel elated. I was frayed, out of money and scared to death.” In the US, the film was rejected from film festival competitions (a DVD release in Poland broke conventional festival rules), but won multiple European prizes.  Skinner started showing her film at churches, schools and libraries. The philanthropist Tad Taube, a major PBS donor, happened to attend one of the screenings and was so moved that he arranged for Skinner to meet with the head of programming at the local PBS affiliate. That day, Skinner came with a PowerPoint presentation, prepared to make the most important pitch of her life, but as she sat down with the station chief at a polished table surrounded by staffers, he said, “This is a powerful film.  We want to ask you if you will allow us to take it national.” In the Name of Their Mothers had its U.S. debut on Sunday May 1, 2011, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Now that’s a story we tell here.

The woman the Soviets kept secret: Film on Holocaust heroine Irena Sendler Thursday!

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010
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Some time ago I wrote about Mary Skinner‘s new documentary,  In the Name of Their Mothers, about Irena Sendler and the women of Żegota.

Another opportunity comes at 7 p.m., this Thursday, at the Language Corner.  Followed by a Q&A conducted by yours truly.

I really wouldn’t miss it, if you haven’t seen the film already. Tad Taube, president of the Koret Foundation and founder and advisory board chair of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies, offered not only praise, but help, saying the film “should be seen by every Jew in the United States” when the film had a screening earlier this year at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.

Irena Sendler, with the women of Żegota, saved 2,500 babies and children from the Warsaw Ghetto (I also wrote about some time ago here).  The film tells you how they did it, and why.  It includes rare footage of Sendler, who died in 2008, interviewed by her friend, the fimmaker Mary Skinner.

I know, I know.   That’s more than twice as many people as Oskar Schindler saved.  So why have you never heard of her?  It’s so easy for those in the U.S. to forget that there was no happy ending after the end of World War II for half of Europe.  Poland was swallowed in the Soviet maw, and Polish patriots were on the hit list — remember Ashes and Diamonds?  Or Katyń, another Andrzej Wajda film.

Some time ago I wrote about the Auschwitz hero and martyr, the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe.  While at Auschwitz in 2008 (a horrible place to “visit,” I know, but Adam Zagajewski convinced me that my work in Poland would not be complete without this trip), I spoke with one of the researchers there, Piotr Lipiński.  Kolbe had offered his life to save a Polish soldier and father — no one ever made such an offer in the history of the camp.  The place was designed to discourage any vestiges of humanity.

Wished she had done more..

I asked Piotr how they could be absolutely sure no one else had ever made the sacrifice.  He told me the Soviets had tried and tried to find some alternate hero — someone who was not a Polish Catholic priest.  The best they could find after years of efforts was a schoolteacher may have volunteered, though others claimed he had been pushed forward.

Such was life under the U.S.S.R.  The Fall of the Wall in 1989 is bringing many names of heroes to light. Think of Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki.  The communist regime in Poland censored any mention of his name in the public record.

The comparisons with Schindler are limited.  One has to remember that Poles could be shot on the spot without trial for helping Jews; Schindler was a German industrialist. In any case, Sendler’s friend and my friend, Lili Pohlmann, objects strongly to any comparisons.  Quite right.

But let me make one more:  Despite this post, I’m not a big fan of movies, but I did see Schindler’s List.  I was impressed by the ending, when Schindler desperately wished he could have done more.

Apparently, Irena Sendler, too, used to wake up at night, remembering, wishing, she had done more.  She said it often to her friends.