Survivors of Holocaust speak out in local film

WGTE documentary talks with local community

  • Aron-Wajskol

    Aron Wajskol

  • Jewish students from the area interviewed Holocaust survivors.
    Jewish students from the area interviewed Holocaust survivors.

    Aron Wajskol will never forget what he recalls as the persecution, hunger, slavery, and death marches of the Holocaust.

    Mr. Wajskol was 15 and living in Lodz, Poland, when the Nazis forced his family into the city's new Jewish ghetto, the second largest in Poland. He later endured labor camps and the Buchenwald concentration camp before escaping into a forest in April, 1945. The choice, he said, was between certain death as a prisoner and possible death in flight.

    But, he implored, "it's not about what happened then, but what might happen if the world isn't attentive to things like that in the future."

    Voices and memories like his, though, will not be around for much longer. Mr. Wajskol, now 87, is one of fewer than a dozen Holocaust survivors remaining in the Toledo area, and northwest Ohio's Jewish community is worried that younger generations will forget the lessons of the Holocaust after the last of its survivors die.

    Aron Wajskol
    Aron Wajskol

    That concern prompted Hindea Markowicz, daughter of Holocaust survivor Philip Markowicz of Sylvania, to recruit local filmmakers and Jewish seventh to 12th graders to produce a documentary about six of Toledo's Holocaust survivors.

    The film, Bearing Witness: The Voices of our Survivors, is to make its premiere on WGTE-TV30 Thursday at 8 p.m. as part of the station's Toledo Stories series. Al Negrin, William Leons, Clara Rona, and Rolf Hess are the other local survivors who share their stories alongside Mr. Wajskol and Mr. Markowicz.

    "Many children, both Jews and non-Jews, don't know what happened, or why it happened," explained Ms. Markowicz, who is the director of the Ruth Fajerman Marko- wicz Holocaust Resource Center of Greater Toledo. "World War II is like ancient history to them."

    It is a worry repeated by many of the adults involved with the project and one that the documentary seeks to allay. On camera, the students interview the survivors directly, forging what Ms. Markowicz and others hope will be a personal connection to those whose stories they hear.

    "The students are really our last link to the Holocaust. We need them to tell their children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren that they knew people who lived through this themselves," said Ms. Markowicz.

    Hindea Markowicz broached the idea of students working on the documentary.
    Hindea Markowicz broached the idea of students working on the documentary.

    To produce the final film, Heather Elliott-Famularo, a filmmaker and BGSU professor, interspersed the interview footage with archival materials from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

    She twice traveled to Washington to retrieve the videos, maps, and photographs that will appear in Thursday's premiere and will, she hopes, put into context the personal stories. She described the finished product, a 57-minute movie edited from more than 20 hours of interviews, as a balance between the global and the personal.

    "We have our six survivors in Toledo, who we see every day, who live these incredible lives. But they're just a tiny fraction of all the people who lived through this tragedy," Ms. Elliott-Famularo said.

    Darren LaShalle, director of content at WGTE-TV, estimated the message of Bearing Witness will reach between 8,000 and 10,000 viewers when it makes its debut. As in all the films in the Toledo Stories series, it chronicles the lives of interesting people from northwest Ohio, he said.

    Yet for the survivors, the documentary does more than merely tell stories.

    "The Holocaust was such a human tragedy, a calamity for all of humanity," Mr. Markowicz said. "People need to remember and educate themselves, to make informed decisions in the future."

    Contact Jessica Shor at: or 419-724-6516.