We have to tell these stories over and over again - an interview with Johnathan Andrews
In Hungary, since April 16, the memorial day of the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary has been on April 16th. We talked to Johnathan Andrew, the director of his film about the history of the 92-year-old Veronica, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor.
The Secret Survivor (The Secret Survivor) presents the story of a Hungarian Jewish woman, Veronica Phillips, who was deported from Budapest in December 1944 to the concentration camp in Ravensbrücke. How did you find your story? I met Veronica after the film about Lina Amato. Lina Kantor Amato is an Italian Holocaust survivor, whom I also made a film about. Soon after, the Embassy of Israel approached me and asked if I would like to meet another survivor, Veronica Phillips, because she would be their guest during Zikaron BaSalon. Originally, I was about to shoot the event, but I wanted to meet Veronica first, and when she started telling me about her life, it immediately aroused my interest. It was also very intimate, which I experienced on the occasion of Zikaron BaSalon: there were one hundred or one hundred and twenty people, including many children (seven to eight years old) who went to Veronica and talked to him about her life.
What is the story of the two women different? Lina Amato was only eight years old when Gestapo left for them and was given to an Italian family. His recollections are very different from Veronica. Veronica lived a whole different life at the age of eighteen. We met several times - ninety two years old, constantly sending e-mails - many times when I asked a question. I think this is the fundamental difference: you don't have to search for books after the story because there is a living witness.
When did the theme of the Holocaust become important to you? This is a very difficult area. Lina's story was different, she didn't experience the camp, deportation, anything like that. I got closer to the Holocaust through it, and it opened my eyes to many things I had never dealt with before. The story of Veronica, however, is much more complex and intense because he has also experienced that everyone has been taken away from their house. He told him he remembered how his aunt shouted, "do nothing with my son!" But after gathering people, they began to look for the boy and, as they found, was shot in front of his mother's eyes. He remembers for a moment, for example, the way they arrived at the concentration camp in Ravensbrück, remembers the dog breeding or how the Germans shouted: schnell, schnell (fast, fast). The world, which he experienced and shared with me, I think the action is even more committed. What he gave me from his memories was translated into the language of the film. The whole thing was filmed as an interview inspired by the Basilica of Zikár: a very special experience to sit and listen to someone who tells his life. It really interests me; The Holocaust as an issue is also excited, but mainly to bring the story to as many people as possible.
In the recent past, many films about the Holocaust were born. Why do you think many people are now working? By now, seventy years have passed, and since then there has been no direct relationship between the adult generations, nor has it been. When I found the opportunity to work with Veronica, I didn't say I couldn't say no, because only a few survive. These are things that need to be done now. To avoid such injustices, we have to tell these stories over and over again.
Is it the role of Veronica as a microbiologist and geneticist after the war? If he had stayed in Hungary after finishing school, I didn't think his story would end in the same way. His life is remarkable from this point of view, because at that time women were not necessarily in the scientific sphere. Although this is not the focus of the film, we have included it in the text, worked for more than forty years in education, yet distrustful of what happened during the Holocaust was carried out by well-trained professionals. He also talks about her having eight miscarriages: the chemicals that were put into the food and drink in the concentration camp have completely ruined the women's bodies.
Veronica is currently living in Johannesburg, and the film also affects many countries. How is it related to events in Hungary? Hungary was very important to me because Veronika is a Hungarian Jew. She still has a Hungarian passport, remembers the country, and has traveled to Budapest many times. When I started to deal with his story, it soon became clear that Hungarian leadership also played a role in deportation; but I wanted to show the extremely complex political situation in which it could happen. I didn't want to talk about the Hungarians without their involvement.
A few years ago he started his own program, named #GETPeaceProject. This includes the story of Lina Amato and Veronica Phillips. As a professional photographer and storyteller, I decided to invest in an important project for the next twenty years of my life: I want to share stories with the film. An area of my studies was anthropology, which emphasizes, among other things, the importance of cultural relativism. You can really understand a culture as part of it, not as an external observer. And for the sake of understanding, I think you can achieve tolerance, but most of all through respect.
How can this be achieved? Lina once told me, "I'm surprised to be a Jew, but a Muslim and a Catholic saved me." Similar things make us sad and happy. I think this is the essence of unity.
Johnathan Andrews photographer, film director, documentary director, author, founder of Johnathan Andrews Academy, producer, freelance journalist. In 2018 he introduced two Holocaust survivors, First Story of Lina Amato, followed by Veronica Phillips, The Secret Survivor.
Zikaron BaSalon (Hebrew means "remembering in the living room") is an annual recurring event that is held on the eve of the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Day in Yom, and for which Holocaust survivors are invited to present their stories to those present. At the event, family members, friends, acquaintances gather in the house of someone, and talk about the events of the Holocaust in conversations, chants, readings, and stories. The tradition was launched in 2011 in Israel with the aim of involving younger generations in commemorating the Holocaust. Today, thousands of living rooms worldwide tell personal stories and talk to Holocaust survivors.