Holocaust reunion after 80 years recorded in new film with Jersey links
A chance encounter between a former journalist and a Holocaust survivor brought about more than they ever imagined: a friendship, a literary collaboration, and a miraculous reunion with a long-lost survivor.
And now, this meeting has produced a documentary.
The film, ‘Rebuilt from Broken Glass,’ captures the reunion of two schoolboy Holocaust survivors 80 years later and explores their growing past in Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II, becoming separated while fleeing the country and having no idea where the other had gone.
The documentary will premiere Tuesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth El in Voorhees, live and online.
Former journalist Larry Hanover, of Voorhees, is the director and executive producer of the 39-minute film, which benefited from direct input or advice from documentary filmmaker Anthony Giachinno, Oscar winner for “Collette” as best short film in 2021, and Joseph Harris, an archivist who helped Giachinno on this project, worked on the 2016 film “Hidden Figures” and served as the Hannover Film Archive Producer.
The documentary’s roots began 12 years ago when Hanover went to his son’s high school in Voorhees for a program and heard guest speaker Fred “Fritz” Behrend, another Voorhees resident.
That day, Behrend told students about his saga of life as a 12-year-old Jewish schoolboy who witnessed the Nazi burning of Jewish synagogues in Cologne on November 9, 1938, a night known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. He and his family quickly fled to Cuba after his father was arrested and released from a concentration camp, then emigrated to the United States, where Behrend later joined the United States Army and ended up in teaching the principles of democracy to German prisoners of war at a Virginia military base. war over.
“I was captivated not only by his stories of Kristallnacht, his flight to Cuba and teaching democracy to German prisoners of war, but also by his optimism and unparalleled storytelling ability,” recalls Hanover, a former journalist the Courier-Post and the Trenton Times.
Hanover’s fascination with this story led to a friendship, extensive research, and collaboration with Behrend on a non-fiction book titled “Reconstructed from Shattered Glass: German Jewish Life Remade in America.”
Subsequently, unexpectedly and through another chance encounter with a rabbi from the Politz Day School in Cherry Hill, Behrend was reunited the following year with his childhood classmate and roommate, Henry Baum, who had also landed to the United States via England as a refugee.
Behrend had been living with the Baum family for two years so he could attend a Jewish school in Cologne when Kristallnacht happened.
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After their reunion, Baum and Behrend learned that their winter homes in Florida were only 15 miles apart.
“While writing the book with Fred, I knew the story clung to him like a magnet, but it never occurred to me that such an amazing moment would happen after the book was released. From the moment Fred and Henry reunited exactly 80 years after they were last seen each on Kristallnacht, this (documentary) project felt like it was ready to happen,” Hannover explained.
He said events like the Colleyville Synagogue hostage crisis, the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the deadly Charlottesville rally are reminders that anti-Semitism is alive and a growing threat.
“The horrors of inhumanity continue to reappear, including now in Ukraine. I hope this film will remind people of those horrors of which humans are capable, even though the vast majority (of people) offer so many redeeming qualities.”
Now 95 and using a cane, Behrend first spoke to the Courier-Post in 2018 about his life and memoir and a phone call with Baum, whom he has not reconnected with in person. than the following year.
His quest, which culminated in the reunion and now a documentary featuring him, Baum and historic photos, has brought closure and joy to this former schoolboy.
“I find it all very humbling and just unbelievable,” said Behrend, a retired businessman who was once a television repairman in New York City.
“I’ve known so many accomplished immigrants over the years, including Henry Kissinger as well as my friend and fellow Holocaust survivor, Dr. Ruth Westheimer. There are documentaries about them, and it’s hard to believe that ‘there’s one on me.”
Over the years, he has spoken in schools about his life, the Holocaust, and the contributions of immigrants who came to the United States over the centuries. He worked in the military in Alabama as a liaison to former Nazi rocket scientist and immigrant Wernher von Braun, who had surrendered to American troops and soon helped create the American space program as a as a military contractor and later with NASA.
“I tell them not to be afraid of immigrants. They raised this country and I’m proud to be one of them,” Behrend said.
On that night of November 9, 1938, and until the early morning of the following day, the Nazi regime burned down 267 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses across Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland, arrested 30,000 Jewish men and killed nearly 100 Jews in the pre-war days of the Holocaust.
By the end of World War II in 1945, the Nazis had killed 6 million Jews across Europe and murdered another 11 million among targeted groups – the majority of Soviet Union civilians and Soviet POWS soldiers who had fought Germany.
Behrend is expected to attend the public screening at Congregation Beth El, of which he is a member. The screening can be viewed online or live at 7 p.m. at the Synagogue, 8000 Main Street, Voorhees.
The Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Education Center in Cherry Hill are co-sponsoring the event with the synagogue.
Admission is $10. For tickets, visit https://bethelsnj.org/film.
Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey life, history and veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and Daily Journal. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected]
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