In the late 1930s, following the ferocious anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht, a determined group of young German Jews left behind everything that was dear and familiar and immigrated to Chicago. Here, these refugees set out to create a supportive community for themselves and others fleeing Nazi persecution, eventually establishing the Selfhelp Home for the oldest among them.
REFUGE is a one-hour documentary that reaches back
more than seventy years to give a voice to its last generation of victims of
Nazi persecution and tell the story of this singular community that has provided
a safe haven to more than one thousand Central European Jewish refugees and
survivors. REFUGE weaves together historical narrative, archival footage and
deeply personal testimony to explore the lives of six Chicagoans against the
context of the Nazi cataclysm and how a small group of them came together to
care for their own. The film illuminates the lost world of Central European
Jewry prior to World War II--middle class, educated, cultured--and the
remarkable courage, resilience and character of its final generation at Selfhelp.
In their own words, these refugees and
survivors, now in their late eighties and above, speak vividly of loss of family
and of place, of separations, and of decisions that meant the difference between
life and death. They describe the myriad paths to survival: fleeing to the
Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, hiding in the French countryside, being taken in by
English families as part of the Kindertransport, and as slave laborers in
Auschwitz and other concentration camps. And of those, who perished—husbands,
parents, siblings, children. Yet, theirs are also stories of renewal, of finding
love and creating new families, and of starting again in a new land.
The film moves back and forth between these
stories and examines how the trajectories of their lives came together at the
end at Selfhelp. And it reaches into the near future, when the last eyewitnesses
to the Holocaust, those who have animated Selfhelp and given it its unique
mission and meaning, will be gone.