By Janet R. Kirchheimer

Israeli novelist and survivor Aharon Appelfeld stated, “After the death of the last witnesses, the remembrance of the Holocaust must not be entrusted to historians alone. Now comes the hour of artistic creation.” Taking this statement literally, I’m producing BE•HOLD, a cinematic film that showcases poetry written by survivors, their descendants, and modern poets, both Jews and non-Jews, encountering and struggling with the Shoah and its aftereffects.
 
My parents were born in Germany. At sixteen, my father was arrested on Kristallnacht and sent to Dachau. My mother was six when she was backed up against a wall at school for refusing to say “Heil Hitler,” and kids threw rocks at her. Her parents were able to get her out to a Jewish orphanage in Amsterdam, the Israelitisch Meijes Weeshuis. There were one hundred and four girls. Four survived. My mother was able to come to America with her parents and an older sister. My father’s parents, an older sister and younger brother were murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. My parents both lost over ninety-five percent of their extended families in various camps.
 
Each Sunday morning in the summer when I was a kid, we’d pack up the station wagon and drive to the beach just like other American families. We’d sit at the same table in the pavilion and eat our lunch– my parents, brother, and me. Next to us was a large Italian family– parents, kids, grandparents, relatives and other visitors. I’d watch them from our table, that big family, mine so small. As the daughter of survivors and a poet, I’ve written about the Shoah and in 2007 my book, “How to Spot One of Us” was published. Poet Cornelius Eady says “poets write to figure out the world.” Poetry is my craft and the way I can try to come up against the Shoah and try to understand the world I was born into.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry: the shortest distance between two humans.” For all of the stories I heard from my parents, I always knew much could never be spoken. What better way to bridge that chasm between what can be spoken and what cannot than through poetry? Its power lies in what is on the page, what is not, what it hinted at, or stated outright. It is why I am making BE•HOLD. I believe that the languages of poetry and cinema can be brought together for profound and powerful results, and am caught up with the possibilities of expanding the limits of what is purely literary and purely visual.

The team behind BE•HOLD is Richard Kroehling, a two-time Emmy award winning director, who directed “Einstein” for the PBS American Masters Series, and Sundance Independent Spirit Award winner Lisa Rinzler as cinematographer. BE•HOLD grapples with some of the large questions of the Shoah, such as remembrance when the survivors are gone and the persistent presence of genocide. We feel a duty to present poems in a way that will spark conversation and urge viewers to learn more about the Shoah. The wide range of works in BE•HOLD conveys a profound literary response to the Holocaust, and the film also imparts the ongoing relevance of the Shoah: that the past is not simply in the past, but rather the past is a vital part of the present and future.
 
For the next generations, we need inventive ways to ensure that the Holocaust will not be forgotten. It is my hope that BE•HOLD will be an important legacy to those lost, to the survivors and their descendants, and an innovative way to remember for coming generations and the future.
 
For more information or to support BE•HOLD, reach Janet R. Kirchheimer at 212-779-3300 x111, jkirchheimer@clal.org, or on Facebook at BEHOLD: A Performance Film.