Josh Falcone – General Assignment Reporter –
As part of Holocaust Remembrance Day which took place this past Sunday, Apr. 7, in a jointly sponsored event between the Judaic Studies and philosophy departments, Southern hosted Robert Katz, professor of art at the University of Maine at Augusta last Thursday. Katz screened his film “Were the House Still Standing: Maine Survivors & Liberators Remember the Holocaust” and discussed the design of the multimedia Holocaust survivor project Katz created for the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine.
Katz said he had the design of the project long before the area for it was constructed.
“I came up with a concept before the architects came up with the design of the building,” Katz said. “So I was able to tell them kind of what was jumping around in my head and they were able to create what I imagined as designer.”
It took him about five years to create the project for the center, he said.
Katz told a story about how he had vague recollections of his grandfather staying with his family at various times. Katz said what he remembers most about his grandfather was him having a thick accent and whenever discussing his origin, Katz’s grandfather always called it the old world. Katz said one of the last things his grandfather gave him before he passed away was a bunch of envelopes that he had received from all around Europe because his grandfather remembered that he collected stamps.
“He said he was giving them to me because I collected stamps,” Katz said, “but today I don’t think that was the reason he gave those envelopes.”
Katz discussed the long personal journey he took to find his story to tell about who his ancestors were. Katz said when he was younger he wanted to be a bull rider, a profession hard to gain entrance into for a young man hailing from Brooklyn, N.Y. Katz said he decided to head to what he thought was the state with the most cowboys and bulls, Montana. Katz said he found work on a ranch and one morning while on a buffalo hunt with some Croix Indians who started telling stories of their ancestors, and when it was his turn to tell the story of his ancestors, Katz said he had no idea what their story was, this led him back to the envelopes his grandfather gave him before he passed.
Katz sent out letters to the addresses on the envelopes explaining who he was and what he was looking for, not knowing if he would ever hear back, he said. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Katz said he took a journey to the village where his grandfather was from in Poland, and eventually learned all about his ancestors.
“I left Poland with a wealth of stories to tell my children,” Katz said.
Katz thought the story was over, but he soon learned of a 16mm film shot in the village in 1938 that featured his grandfather’s family by an American filmmaker and that was now in the hands of an elderly gentleman living in Manhattan. Katz was able to get the film and this led to the beginning of the Holocaust survivor project.
Katz screened a 45-minute cut of the full 90-minute film for those in attendance at Southern. The film features various residence of Maine who survived the Holocaust as well as the men who helped liberated them. Katz said the full film delves into the lives of those featured.
“The film develops the lives of all the survivors seen in the film,” he said.
Audience member Marie Bryk said the film was extremely hard-hitting and that she plans to take a trip to the Holocaust & Human Rights Center of Maine.
“The way that the film is set-up was great, the use of sound really expands on the stories being told on screen,” she said.
Katz said that the film is not detailing the Holocaust; there are aspects of the Holocaust that are not touched on.
“This is not really a film about the Holocaust,” Katz said. “It’s a film about sixteen people.”