JERUSALEM (May. 31)
Fifty years after a German businessman saved them from death in a Nazi concentration camp, 125 Holocaust survivors gathered here last week to participate in the filming of the final scene of a Steven Spielberg movie about the remarkable story.
The movie, called "Schindler’s List" and adapted from the book by Thomas Keneally, recounts the story of Oskar Schindler, a wealthy Catholic industrialist who singlehandedly saved the lives of 1,100 Jews.
Many of the 125 survivors who gathered here May 27 had not seen one another since the end of the war, and the reunions were filled with tears and laughter.
Perhaps the most emotional moment was when they embraced Schindler’s wife, Emily, who was flown in from Germany to participate in the filming.
Twenty-five of the survivors were flown to Israel at Spielberg’s expense, and the chance to appear in the film proved both exciting and heart-wrenching.
Spielberg filmed the survivors visiting Schindler’s grave in the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion. Schindler asked to be buried in Israel in 1973, when the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial declared him a "righteous gentile." He died a year later.
"There are no words to describe how I feel," said Edith Wertheim, who now lives in Fort Lee, N.J. "In the filming at the cemetery, we stood by the grave of the man who risked everything and spent every penny he had to save our lives."
Wiping a tear from her cheek, she smiled sadly and said, "I’m sorry, but I get very sentimental. I cry all the time, ever since the war. Only my brother survived. Everyone else in my family perished."
TRIP BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES
Taking his wife’s hand in his, Sam Wertheim continued, "For many years we held back our feelings and tried to forget our past. But this trip brought back the memories. It’s bittersweet. The memories are horrible, but it feels good to pay honor to the person who saved us."
The shoot in Jerusalem followed months of filming in Krakow, Poland, the city where Schindler managed to save the large number of Jews.
Born in Germany, Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party, moved to occupied Krakow in the early 1940s to launch a business. There, the vibrant Jewish community of nearly 70,000 was being systematically wiped out. Most of Krakow’s Jews were either shot or sent to concentration camps. Only 5,000 survived the Holocaust.
Seeing Nazi brutality face to face for the first time, Schindler and his wife secretly denounced the Nazis and vowed to protect as many Jews as humanly possible.
In a daring move, Schindler built a factory camp to employ Jews. When the Nazis wanted to send these employees to concentration camps, Schindler swore they were vital to his industry and had to remain at the factory.
This action put the Schindlers in grave danger but ultimately saved over a thousand lives.
Known as "Schindler’s Children," the survivors are now in their 70s and 80s.