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Making history about history

Cedar Crest residents document Holocaust memories

Created date

July 24th, 2012

Asking survivors to share their Holocaust experience is no easy task. But that s just what a committed group of Cedar Crest neighbors have done. The Erickson Living community s in-house TV department and its resident volunteers have produced a groundbreaking documentary featuring people who lived through one of history s most devastating events. Now, they all live at Cedar Crest, in Pompton Plains, N.J.

Many perspectives

It s not just about conditions in the camps, says Michael Dygos, TV coordinator. It s a whole story of the war, when it was over, being freed, and the emotion through all of that. The documentary features people from varying backgrounds. We have one resident with a German background whose family hid Jewish people, Dygos says. We have people involved in kindertransport [child refugee efforts]. We have survivors people who actually were in the camps and the ghettos. Each survivor shares his or her story in an often-emotional interview. Some of the interviews are emotional, very tough, but they ve all survived. The courage is amazing. I m awed every time, says Doris Sinofsky, who lives at Cedar Crest and helped produce the film. Doris says the documentary had been an idea for some time, but they only recently decided to move forward. It s something we ve wanted to do, but we ve been afraid, she says. How do you get people to talk? That s the hardest part. Doris and Dygos turned to Cedar Crest Pastoral Ministries Manager Bert Moore. He conducted 17 interviews, each lasting an hour to an hour and a half. We expected the interviews to last 30 minutes. But Burt seems to draw [the story] out of them because he s so kind and considerate. They feel comfortable talking to him, Doris says. The pastoral ministries department at Cedar Crest supports an interfaith community consisting of mostly Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant faiths. Many community members participate, so they were familiar with Moore before the project began.

Cathartic sharing

Moore says he had heard snippets of people s stories through building relationships with them, but I wanted to hear more. From his perspective, he saw a special opportunity in each interview. [The stories] are all so different you could say miraculous in how they survived, he says. Some participants had told their stories before, for example, for Steven Spielberg s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, while others had not. Doris and Dygos say that oftentimes family members have no knowledge of the pain and suffering their relatives experienced. It s important now to share these stories with us, with their families, Doris says. But it s also a catharsis of sharing, of getting it out. No matter how often they had shared their experiences, These events are so strong, some [participants] would get emotional teary-eyed regardless, Moore says.

Common beginning, common ending

Moore kept each interview comfortably conversational, but he did focus on some chronological questions, such as where they were born, where they lived during childhood, what they remember of their childhood, what they remembered of attitudes changing and how they perceived that as a child, how they came to the United States, and how they ended up at Cedar Crest. We are so fortunate to have so many people with so many different experiences, from such broad backgrounds, here at Cedar Crest, Moore says. During this particular project, he says, They all had this common story, yet they all ended up here. The Cedar Crest TV studio has previously filmed documentaries; the most recent focused on veterans. They premiere their films in the on-site performing arts center, which seats 250 people, usually drawing a packed house. This is going to be good. This is going to be special, Doris says. They re all stories of survival, amazing stories what movies are made of.