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Holocaust survivors share stories in new film

Brooksby residents offer firsthand look at Jews’ experience in wartime Europe

Created date

August 9th, 2016
Eleven Brooksby residents share their stories of escaping Nazi Germany in the film Out of Darkness: Survivors of World War II.

Eleven Brooksby residents share their stories of escaping Nazi Germany in the film Out of Darkness: Survivors of World War II.

When Anna Smulowitz Schutz joined the pastoral ministries staff at Brooksby Village in 2005, she couldn’t foresee the impact that the Peabody community’s residents would have on her.

“I was born in Germany in a displaced persons’ camp after World War II,” says Schutz. “My parents survived the Holocaust, but my grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz. Most of my other family members were also killed. It left a deep wound.”

Over the past 11 years, Brooksby residents who survived the Holocaust opened up to Schutz about their experiences.

“For me, it was healing to hear their stories,” says Schutz. “I began to feel a sense of urgency to capture as many stories as we could. If we don’t talk about what happened, it will be forgotten.”

Schutz approached Chris DeThomas, Brooksby’s television and audiovisual manager, about the possibility of capturing the survivors’ stories on film. DeThomas, a self-described “documentary buff,” felt a documentary format was the best way to tell their stories.

Eleven Brooksby residents agreed to be interviewed for the film. All shared their personal stories and the impact of the Holocaust on their families. They shared their experiences as Jews in Germany, Poland, Greece, and Austria. One resident, Richard Connuck, was an American soldier who told of liberating Jewish prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp.

“We collected an hour of raw footage from each participant,” says DeThomas. “The challenge was to narrow down each interview to five minutes of film.”

Kristallnacht, night of broken glass

Brooksby residents Warner and Amely Smith are both Holocaust survivors. Warner was born in Nuremberg, Germany, site of the historic Nazi rallies. 

“The city was crawling with Nazis,” says Warner. “I remember riding my bike down the street very fast, so Nazi children wouldn’t knock me off my bike.”

Warner says that, as a child, he didn’t bear the same weight his parents did.

“I was worried about not getting knocked off my bike,” says Warner. “My parents had many more concerns—safety, economic pressures. My father’s business was taken over.”

With clarity of detail that stems from a young child’s memory, Warner recalls sitting on top of the icebox because there was broken glass all over the floor. That was the evening of November 9, 1938—Kristallnacht—when Nazi Germans invaded Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses, smashing windows and leaving a trail of broken glass.


Brooksby resident Rita Kaplan was born in Memmelsdorf, Germany. Hers was the only Jewish family in a village of 500 people.

“As the situation for Jews became more dangerous, my grandmother’s sister had friends in London who were willing to take me in,” says Rita, who was 14 at the time. “I left Germany on the Kindertransport in January 1938 and spent eight months with Mark and Mary Levy in London before I sailed on the Laconia to the United States.”

Kindertransport was a rescue effort that took place in the nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. The British government agreed to accept unaccompanied Jewish children who were transported to England via train and placed with volunteer foster families.

Once in the United States, Rita was reunited with her parents and brother, but her grandparents and aunt died in concentration camps.

“You hear the phrase ‘never again,’” says Rita. “That’s why I share my story, so we will never again experience the horrors of the Holocaust.”

Groundswell of support

The film featuring Brooksby residents was a year and a half in the making. 

“As I was going through the footage from the interviews, I had to take a step back to compose myself,” says DeThomas. “As the father of a three-year-old and a three-month-old, I couldn’t imagine having to put my children on a train, not knowing if I’d see them again.”

The film, entitled Out of Darkness: Survivors of World War II, premiered at Brooksby in early May. 

“We had an overwhelming response from the community,” says Schutz. “We had to set out overflow seating for the first showing because so many people wanted to see it.”

The documentary has since been shown twice more at the Peabody community.

“People were coming back to see it a second and third time,” says Schutz. “They were riveted. The outcome was so much more than I could have imagined. This film stirred an emotion among all interfaith traditions at Brooksby.”

‘Organically branching out’

That groundswell of support from residents is opening up new doors for Out of Darkness.

“The film is organically branching out,” says DeThomas, who counts the film as the most important project he’s worked on to date. “I’ve had requests from teachers in Marblehead and Swampscott who want to show it to their students.”

For Warner and Amely, the opportunity to participate in the film allowed them to revisit the past in a way that brought healing.

“I traveled to Nuremberg in 2003,” says Warner. “It took me 62 years to go back. This film was another way to remember and speak up for those who can’t.”

To view Out of Darkness online, visit