Israeli filmmaker discusses Holocaust documentaries

Israeli poet and filmmaker Haim Gouri discussed excerpts from his award-winning documentaries and described how he made films Thursday night at the Elliott School of International Affairs building.

A striking scene from one of his documentaries juxtaposed disturbing footage and photographs of poverty, starvation and hardship in the Warsaw ghettos with scenes of celebration at a carnival just a few blocks away.

“It was happening, and nobody paid attention even on the other side of the block,” Gouri said. “It was amazing to see the blindness.”

Gouri was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1923 and worked in displaced persons camps after World War II to aid Holocaust survivors. As a soldier in the Israeli military, he fought in the 1948 War of Independence and the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“These films are a voice for those who cannot speak,” he said, referencing his trilogy of Holocaust documentaries: “Flames in the Ashes,” “The Last Sea” and “The 81st Blow.” His films center on the Holocaust, Jewish resistance during World War II, the Jews’ mass exodus to Israel and issues surrounding Jewish identity after the Holocaust.

Another striking scene from a film showed female Holocaust survivors showering in a camp.

“It is in such great contradiction to the gas showers, a shower of life rather than death,” Guri said. “You can see them already putting (curls) in their hair after being in the camps for so long.”

Gouri gave a brief introduction to his work and later discussed the films’ creation to the 60 students, professors and area residents at the event.

“My English is not exactly Shakespearean,” Gouri said with a thick accent. He later asked for help translating words to English from a few Hebrew-speaking members of the audience.

With the help of a translator, Gouri explained another moment from his documentary. In the scene, a man describes being separated from his wife after waiting in line at the camps. He watched the red from her jacket growing smaller and smaller as he stood in line. The man never saw his wife again.

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