The winner of best historical documentary at the New York International Film Festival in 2011, “The Rescuers,” was screened at the Konover Auditorium Wednesday evening.
The event was co-hosted by the University of Connecticut Hillel and the Center for Judaic studies and contemporary Jewish life and the United Nations educational, scientific and cultural organization. Within the evening’s audience was the film’s executive producer, Joyce Mandell, and the director, Michael King.
The documentary followed a woman named Stephanie Nyombayire, a Rwandan anti-genocide activist and Sir Martin Gilbert, a renowned Holocaust historian. The documentary chronicled their journey across Europe, interviewing Holocaust survivors and the descendants of the diplomats who saved them. The documentary drew parallels between the Holocaust and contemporary genocides, such as Rwanda.
“Stephanie’s story is so important. She shows that genocide is still happening and there are diplomats their too,” King said.
The film went to many locations. Diplomats at various consulates at these locations went to extreme lengths to aid Jewish refugees who were trying to escape Hitler. In particular were France and Denmark, where the diplomats had a direct hand in getting Jewish people out.
One story told in the film was that of France in 1940. One man, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, worked himself to physical exhaustion, processing thousands of visas for Jewish refugees to enter neutral Spain. Mendes collapsed at his desk while signing documentation. He also managed to have the fees associated with that documentation ignored or waived, allowing even more Jewish refugees the ability to escape.
Another narrative told in the documentary was in Denmark. The King of Denmark had been placed on house arrest and the Nazis enacted martial law. George Ferdinand Duckwitz, an attache of Nazi. Ferdinand warned Danish Jews that Hitler was going to deport them. He orchestrated with the Swedish prime minister the escape of 95 percent of the Jewish peoples in Denmark.
“The Mission of the film is to tell the unknown story of these diplomats. So few people know about these stories,” Mandell said.
The documentary was full of those stories, of people like Ferdinand and Mendes, such as Hiram Bingham, Varian Fry and Frank Foley. Following the screening there was a question and answer session about the film with King and Mandell.
“How many people do you know that would risk their lives and jeopardize their country to save lives?” asked King during the talk back.
King was asked what motivated him to make the film. He said, “I was teaching in Florida when Joyce called me about the exhibit on Ellis Island about the diplomats. She told me how impactful it was. We discussed it and I did some research and I realized it was a wonderful story.”
“Being this Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, we usually hear about the bad things and the bad attacks. I wanted to be able to connect this to good and bring a new light to the holocaust,” Nathan Schachter, a fourth semester theater studies and communications major, said.
Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.