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INTRO from Producer/Director
Voices of the Shoah
|QUOTES FROM REVIEWS:
"A stunning sculpture in sound" -- The Jewish Week
"Powerful and moving." --Philadelphia Inquirer
"Remarkable and rending." --David Elliott, San Diego Union-Tribune
Their Stories Survive, on CD
|"...this project pricelessly evokes the sweep of the century in all its optimism and despair, becoming an important handbook for understanding history."
"Poignant" -- Jewish Bulletin
"One of the most important collections to ever emerge on the spoken word scene."
"Ground breaking... doesn't get bogged down in politics and scholarly rhetoric. The focus here is closer to home: real people reacting to the unfathomable... it can't help but bring to mind parallels of hate even in our own time...
--CheckOut.com (Rated 8 of 10)
"a rich resource..."
--Arizona Education Assoc. review
[Notowitz understands that] "...the deep eloquence of a single human voice can serve as the most powerful testimony of all."
Originally published in The Jewish Week May 5, 2000, By George Robinson
A famous sculptor once explained the process by which he created a large hand from a block of marble, "I take a hammer and chisel and chip away anything that isn't a hand."
For David Notowitz the process of creating a documentary isn't much different. "You just take this big hunk of rock and say to yourself, 'Where's the essence of this?' And you keep chipping away until something emerges that is what you were looking for when you started."
Notowitz's newest project is a stunning sculpture in sound, a four-CD set called "Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust," available on Rhino Records. An audio documentary narrated by Elliott Gould, "Voices" draws on over 180 interviews, "about 80 percent" conducted by Notowitz himself. He had to chip away over 600 hours of tape to find the four hours that were "what you were looking for when you started."
What Notowitz was looking for was something that hadn't been done before in the ever-growing field of Shoah documentaries, an audio record of the Holocaust. After a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial in Washington, Richard Foos, the president of Rhino Records, had been surprised to find that there were no projects specifically conceived for audio documenting the Shoah. He contacted Notowitz and set the project in motion.
Notowitz is no stranger to this topic. He edited both of Yale Strom's acclaimed Holocaust-cum-klezmer documentaries, "The Last Klezmer" and "Carpati." For this project, he wanted to document not only the horrors of the death camps and the murders in the forests. He wanted to help preserve memories of Jewish life in Europe before the darkness descended.
For Notowitz, recreating some sense of a rich, complex pre-war Jewish culture was a significant part of making "Voices."
"There were some questions no one else had asked the survivors I spoke to. People would ask them, 'What was life like before the war,' but just that one question. I wanted to see the whole range of experience these people went through so you could feel their loss."
"That was very important to me," he says. "That [cultural richness] is what we can reach for today."
In the five and a half years he spent working on this project, Notowitz came to believe that "Voices" was an important way of addressing a question that most Jews are asking now.
"What does it mean to be a Jewish person today,'" Notowitz asks. "Too many people focus on the Holocaust as their identity in the Jewish world. That's a major problem, because that's not what makes a Jewish identity. People don't know what else there is. A lot of people don't have any touch with the wealth of Jewish knowledge and experience that's out there."
His film work, needless to say, stood him in good stead, but there are significant differences between film and audio editing and production.
"There was at least one story I wanted to use that I ended up not including because the speaker's English wasn't clear enough for most people to understand," Notowitz explains. "Without the visual cues [or subtitles] that you get in film, it would have been hard to follow her."
On another level, though, audio is a richer medium.
"That's the power of audio compared to video; in film or video, you see the house and it fills your senses, it doesn't leave as much room for you to become connected to it through your own experiences, your imagination. I tried to use that space to invite the listener in."
Similarly, Notowitz decided to omit his questions and to use narrator Elliott Gould sparingly.
"I wanted to have the survivors be speaking directly to the listener, not to the interviewer," he explains. "That would have just been one more wall between the listener and the survivors. It's most important to hear the survivors talking."
And that is what one remembers most vividly from hearing "Voices of the Shoah," the survivors talking. "The survivors are extremely powerful, strong for having gone through this," Notowitz says, echoing a famous passage from Hemingway.
"They came out with desire to rebuild their families, to have kids again."
In fact the birth rates in the Jewish displaced persons camps after the war were phenomenally high, and the achievements of survivors in the United States, Israel and Europe since the war have been considerable. For Notowitz, that is another important lesson to be gleaned from his four CDS.
"If we can get strength from that, well, that's what I hope these CDS convey," he says.
"Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust" is distributed by Rhino Records, which is donating all of the profits from the project to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, for distribution to agencies that provide aid to Holocaust survivors and their families.
Copyright 2000 George Robinson
George Robinson is author of Essential Judaism
Voices of the Shoah
Narrated by Elliot Gould, this four-CD set is almost exclusively comprised of the voices of Holocaust survivors. As they tell their stories, the nightmare of the Shoah-the attempted annihilation of all Jews in Europe-unfolds as a living memory of one of mankind's most horrific periods. All these stories are first-hand accounts of Jews from this period. Some, of course, were very young at the time, but many were adults living a "normal" life before the Nazis imposed their will. They are true witnesses, and in various voices--some measured and calm, some choking with emotion--they tell their stories.
We are taken from the time before the war when life was relatively idyllic, through the persecution and eradication of Jews, to the re-establishment of Israel as a permanent Jewish state. There are far too many stark and dramatic anecdotes to single one out, but to hear an American soldier, the only Jew in his company, describing the sight of railroad cars full of skeletons-the only sign of life being a few eyes moving-makes abundantly clear the absolute horror of the Holocaust.
For these survivors, the Shoah is not merely history, but an unforgettable, permanent part of their beings. Through their remarkable voices, we are reminded that this evil was in fact witnessed, and with powerful documents like this, should never be forgotten. Rhino Records should be commended for this project and for understanding that the deep eloquence of a single human voice can serve as the most powerful testimony of all. --Wally Shoup
(The below article also ran in San Mateo Times, Fremont Argus, Hayward Daily Review, Alameda Times-Star, and the Tri-Valley Herald)
"Voices" CD Preserves the Holocaust
By Natali T. Del Conte STAFF WRITER
Siegfried Halbreich survived six concentration camps before being liberated by American soldiers in April of 1945.
Sonia Meyers' husband was killed by invading Nazis. She went on to survive in the Jewish Ghetto and several Jewish work camps before she was liberated in January of 1945.
Cesia Kingston survived a forced march to Danzig/Gdynia and the Auschwitz death camp before her liberation.
Their common denominator: survival.
Each of these remarkable people can be heard among other Holocaust survivors in "Voices of the Shoah," an audio documentary on the World War II Holocaust.
The project was released in March in order to be available for Yom Hashoah, commonly known as Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is today.
Producer David Notowitz was born and raised in San Carlos. He moved to Hollywood after obtaining his degree in theater arts with a concentration in film and video production at the University of California Santa Cruz. He is well known in the Jewish community for his work on the video documentaries "The Last Klezmer" and "Carpati."
When the president of Rhino records, Richard Foos, visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., he was astonished to find that an audio documentary on the event had not already been done.
"Voices of the Shoah" is now the first and only existing Holocaust audio documentary. Rhino Records has pledged to donate all earnings to various agencies that provide legal services, scholarships, job training and other aid for immigrants and people in need.
Rhino, in collaboration with John R. Fishel of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, approached Notowitz with the project five years ago.
"At first I was hesitant because there are a lot of projects that have been done on the Holocaust," says Notowitz. "When I went in to it, I didn't understand what was going to happen but ended up with a powerful sense that life is a good thing and that we can get over anything. These people are astoundingly powerful people."
Approximately 6 million Jews were murdered during the Shoah, which is Hebrew for Holocaust. However, the documentary does not focus on that morbidity. Notowitz emphasizes that listening to stories of personal triumph will inspire people to slay their own dragons.
"These survivors are people who, although they've seen the worst in humanity, still come out of it with a drive to rebuild their families and choose a life of caring for people; a life of hope," says Notowitz. "I figured that if they could go through their lives like that, then we have a lot that we can learn from them."
The documentary consists of four compact discs or cassette tapes of first-hand Holocaust experiences which are narrated by actor Elliott Gould. The set also comes with a 100-page hardbound book with complete transcripts of the audio selections and historic photographs provided by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Jewish Federation of the Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
Listeners can put a face with the voice using the pictures in the margins. Short essays explain in detail the historical occurrences that the survivors elude to.
One of the main purposes of the documentary is education. In addition to a timeline, maps and charts that border the transcripts, the book also contains discussion questions and activities ideal for classroom exercises.
The complete box set is available at record stores, retail outlets and on www.rhino.com.
The four volumes are compiled chronologically.
One part features survivors memories of their lives before World War II, illustrating the gradual rise of anti-Semitism. Survivors describe their lives before the reign of Hitler, which were mostly jovial. This provides a strong contrast to their experience of exile on ghettos and deportation to death and concentration camps.
"All of us were hungry and cold and frozen," says Meyers. "We were barefoot and it was snowing. But luckily I didn't lose any toes. I didn't lose my feet and I'm still dancing."
A second volume features survivors' sagas of liberation and re-entry into freedom and society. They have vivid recollections of companions who survived the concentration camps, only to die when their digestive systems could not process the food brought to them by American soldiers.
The collection features two Japanese-American soldiers sharing affecting recollections of their wartime experiences. These men fought to liberate Jews on behalf of the United States government while their families remained in Japanese concentration camps are grimly ironic.
"You know this interpreter that we had used to be a political prisoner," says former Japanese-American soldier Lawrence Mori. "He couldn't understand what we, being Japanese, were doing in the United States Army."
This project, according to Notowitz, is just as timely today as it was 55 years ago.
"All but one of the people I spoke to were young when this happened to them," says Notowitz. "This is very much the end of our ability to speak one-on-one with Holocaust survivors because they're dying out. And each survivor is such a miracle."
Indelible stories of Holocaust are told by survivors, soldiers
(From the Philadelphia Inquirer May 2, 2000. Also ran in the Orange County Register and in many Knight Ridder papers across the country.)
by Sandy Bauers
Schlomo Berger, born in 1919 in Poland, remembers Aug. 9, 1942. It was a Sunday. The Jews in his town were told they must leave their homes and were brought to the ghetto. The next day, he was taken away to work. His mother, his sister, and lots of other families were herded into railway cars, 180 to a car.
"The trains left, east. . . . They took them to Belzec. Belzec was not a concentration camp. Belzec was just, they had crematoriums, they came in there, they gassed them, they burned them. I don't know anybody that came back from Belzec."
Berger's heartrending story is one of many on a new oral history, Voices of the Shoah, narrated by Elliott Gould and produced by Rhino Records (4 hours, $54.98 on cassette, $69.98 on CD, phone 310-441-6628).
These indelible stories of the Holocaust are told by its survivors - some of whom had never before spoken of the things that happened to them until they agreed to participate in this project.
The program also includes memories of witnesses. Two Japanese American soldiers talk about witnessing the horrors of Dachau - even while their own families were being held in camps in the United States.
A tank soldier who was part of the group that discovered Dachau tells how he and other horrified GIs handed out all the food they carried - candy bars, cookies from home, K rations, C rations.
"We didn't know that that was the worst thing we possibly could have done, and many of them died because of it - and they died terrible deaths," he recalled. "The guilt of killing these people just at the moment of their deliverance was a terrible, terrible guilt."
Many of the speakers break down weeping at some point in their narratives. Listeners may feel like it, too, as they progress through a saga that is both powerful and moving, not to mention chilling.
The project was the idea of Richard Foos, president of Rhino Records, who was prompted by a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. When he looked in the gift shop for a memento to "keep fresh the memories of my visit," he was disappointed that there were no oral histories. He decided to change that. His production was released in time for May 2 - the Day of Remembering.
The package includes a book with the text of the program, additional reading material, and lots of photos.
Here, also, are pictures of executions, of bodies. A map shows the locations of the concentration camps, of which there were 17, and the death camps - six.
The production has a cautionary note, saying the contents are so disturbing that children under the age of 13 should not listen without an adult present. I agree.
The only flaw in the program is the inclusion of music and sound effects, as if the words alone were not sufficient to hold one's attention or to get across whatever is being expressed. Rather than enhancing the narrative, it intrudes.
Having a character talk about horses going by in the street and hearing an accompanying clop-clop of the shoes is silly. Listening to a seemingly endless polka - or whatever that tune was - is downright annoying.
But this is small criticism.
Foos writes in a prologue that the tragic events of the Holocaust "should be forever ingrained in our hearts and minds to ensure they are never repeated. . . . For ourselves and our children, we must continue to do our part in preserving the record of the Holocaust."
The Rhino production helps accomplish that.
San Diego Union-Tribune
To the astonishing, irrefutable and morally binding evidence of the
Holocaust as the unspeakable tragedy that must be spoken, add this superb
collection of four CDs organized by Rhino Records' Richard Foos and
produced by David Notowitz, a key person behind the wonderful 1996 film
With profits going to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the
handsome boxed set (with large booklet, narration by Elliott Gould) brings
together the voices of those afflicted by the Shoah years. The four discs
concern: the coming of hell and the horror of the camps ("We lived on . . .
a volcano, you know"); the experience of liberation and postwar survival;
reflections of soldiers who entered the death camps, and the mercy work of
Rabbi Abraham Klausner, and finally personal memories of Shoah offspring
Dr. Gary Schiller and ghetto child Dana Schwartz. Cassettes are also
available; of course, parental discretion is mandatory.
Never Forget the Voices
By Adam Sternberg McGovern
Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust
The true terror of the 20th century has been that what militarism couldn't destroy, the marketplace might erase. Luckily, the 1990s trend of oddly reassuring Holocaust blockbusters has been a spur rather than an impediment to the substance and diversity of Holocaust documentation. A major one is this four-CD set, the only widely available oral history of the Holocaust in this medium.
Many survivors, refugees, liberators, and descendants tell their stories here, in reminiscences clearly allowed to take their own course, without questionnaires or time-limits. Excerpts are alternated for a lively and natural conversational feel, opening out from a chorus of interwoven accounts to longer personal narratives midway through the set.
The incidents of intimate atrocity and charity are what resonate most deeply, re-personalizing events whose collective scale could be overpowering at the time and numbing in retrospect. Unknown stories of resistance and forgiveness offer hope, just as a clear-eyed view of uneven endings -- lingering traumatic associations, persistent post-war prejudice, the compromises of survival -- guards against complacency.
The testimony of Japanese-American GIs who fought Hitler while their own families lingered in the Stateside version of the concentration camps, and of a Jewish chaplain's crusade to help neglected survivors in defiance of U.S. Army red tape, pre-empt self-congratulation while offering uplift and even humor.
A 100-page book adds engaging and challenging study material. A well-played Jewish-traditional score complements the quotes in a mood-setting but not manipulative way... this project pricelessly evokes the sweep of the century in all its optimism and despair, becoming an important handbook for understanding history, and maybe even continuing it.
Above review exceprted from CDNOW.COM.
Voices of the Shoah, Remembrances of the Holocaust
Rated 8 (out of 10)
How could it happen? Could it happen again? The big questions surrounding the holocaust are far more often asked than answered. That's why it's refreshing when an analysis comes along that offers not just horror, but perspective as well. The groundbreaking audio documentary Voices of the Shoah, through its multifaceted handling of humanity's darkest hour, comes closer than most broad-appeal treatments to laying out the varied pieces of this baffling chapter in history. What we end up with is a set of tools for our own analysis, with shock being but one of many.
Shoah started as an ambitious effort to produce the only existing oral account of the holocaust while survivors were still present to give a first-hand version. Narrated by Elliott Gould, the 4-CD collection provides accounts from survivors, escapees and U.S. military personnel, along with a book containing transcripts and easily digestible history. The picture of suffering is rounded out with a view into the larger climate of discrimination, a rare survey of the aftermath and a glimpse into the recesses of the human spirit that allowed for hope and survival. And the accompanying materials, with photos, maps, sidebars and timelines, make sure that the testimony never loses us in relation to historical reference points.
The first half moves mostly chronologically from the seeds of anti-Semitism, through ghetto and death camp conditions, liberation and the post-war plight of homeless Jews. The succession of events is told in alternating voices. The cruelty is vivid, but these stories are moving in other ways, as nearly equal time is given to the forces within the victims that allowed for coping with, and even subverting, the reality. The second half shares accounts from some who were there, but witnessed the tragedy from various outside perspectives. Striking accounts from a U.S. soldier whose tank division liberated the Dachau concentration camp recreate the intense emotional outpouring by servicemen who had experienced no less than full combat. While the evolution of the Nazi program of hate and extermination is a necessary part of Shoah's agenda, more weight seems to be given to the question of why the rest of the world failed to act decisively.
Voices of the Shoah can only begin to tell how it could have happened, serving as a good overview that doesn't get too bogged down in politics and scholarly rhetoric. The focus here is closer to home: real people reacting to the unfathomable. As the story unfolds, it can't help but bring to mind parallels of hate even in our own time, and in this way Shoah serves as a warning that, yes, it could happen again. So, if lessons from the past are what we need as prevention, this is one effective and captivating way to package them.
by John Srebalus, CheckOut.com
(Printed April 28, 2000)
David Notowitz talks about his five years producing Rhino Records' definitive audio presentation of survivor testimony
By Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer
It sounds like a no-brainer: an audio documentary featuring firsthand Holocaust survivor accounts. Yet despite the familiarity of the concept behind "Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust," the project's producer, filmmaker David Notowitz, insists that "until now, nothing like this has ever been done and released to the public in audio. It sounds strange, but it's true."
The pet project of Rhino Records President Richard Foos, "Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust" is a four-CD set released in mid-March that recreates and explores the Holocaust -- including circumstances leading up to it, and its aftermath -- through the power of oral history told by those who lived through it. In fact, Notowitz confirms that aside from "Voices"' narrator, actor Elliott Gould, every voice heard on the box set is that of an actual survivor.
An observant Jew living in the Pico-Robertson community, Notowitz came to Rhino's mixing boards with much experience, having already explored Jewish themes as a film editor on "The Last Klezmer" and as the Emmy-nominated filmmaker behind "Carpati." When he assumed the reins of "Voices," Notowitz found that he could not use much of the 180 British archive interviews Rhino had acquired. So he started conducting his own interviews, culling Holocaust memories from 25 survivors.
"I wanted to go much more in-depth, before the war, so people would understand what was lost," says Notowitz, who was very curious about the turbulent era's less-emphasized, relatively mundane aspects of the Jewish experience, such as Shabbat traditions, and the Yiddish spoken in the home. Notowitz also did not refrain from confronting survivors with some weightier questions, such as "Why did this happen to you?" and "After experiencing the Holocaust, do you still believe in God?"
"It goes both ways," Notowitz discovered of whether or not the survivors he spoke to embraced or rejected the teachings of the Torah. "Some came out with a stronger belief in God. One person or another saved them -- that was a miracle. One man said to me that he promised God that if he got out of there alive, he would put on tefillin every day. He still does that now."
Fortunately for the native Californian, the Holocaust did not figure into the history of his own ancestors, who have lived in America since the end of the 19th century. But having worked on "Voices of the Shoah" for more than five years, Notowitz has developed a special connection with the project. Not only did he gain a comprehensive under-standing of what the European Jews experienced during World War II, he developed a strong bond with the survivors that he encountered.
"I've done tons of interviews. I thought I could be objective," says Notowitz, who spent many long hours listening again and again to the emotionally wrenching testimonies of his subjects. "By the end of the week, I was having pretty intense nightmares. I realized that I had to back off from stacking too many interviews in one week because of the intensity."
It was also while composing "Voices" that he found his beshert in the person he had hired to help him conduct those difficult, charged interviews. He and his wife, Aviva, a nurse for the L.A. County Health Department, will celebrate their third anniversary this summer.
Notowitz, who received creative carte blanche putting together "Voices of the Shoah" (which, incidentally, has no connection with the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg), says that he would work with Rhino Records again in a heartbeat. He observes that the hip, West Los Angeles-based company offered crucial and insightful feedback every step of the way and that they were smart to pursue an audio format that can be listened to on the home computer or in the car.
"Audio allows you to really experience, to use your imagination," says Notowitz, who first tasted the power of the medium listening to "Mystery Theater" and old radio programs.
He particularly commends Foos for greenlighting and championing "Voices," despite its inherent commercial challenges.
"He has the resources to do it, and I'm thankful that he did," says Notowitz, who recalls Foos sharing with the producer-filmmaker his father's reaction to the project. As the elder Foos told his son: "This makes me more proud than anything you've ever done."
The four CD box set "Voices of the Shoah: Remembrances of the Holocaust" (also available in cassettes) can be found at retail record stores or through RhinoDirect at www.rhino.com. Proceeds from the project will go to beneficiary agencies of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. To contact David Notowitz or for more information about his work, visit www.notowitz.com.
Survivors' moving stories fill CD of oral history
LOS ANGELES -- "Do you have nightmares?"
When schoolchildren ask Holocaust survivor Siegfried Halbreich this question, he answers that he never has nightmares -- "because I live with it, day and night."
The testimony of the 90-year-old Los Angeles resident, who survived five years in six concentration camps, is among those of 180 men and women interviewed in the United States, Canada and England and heard in a unique, four-hour oral history, "Voices of the Shoah: Remembrance of the Holocaust." The poignant stories of the survivors, from their early childhood to old age, have been collected in a four-volume boxed set narrated by actor Elliott Gould available on both CD and audiocassette.
David Notowitz, the audio's producer-director and a former Bay Area resident, spent thousands of hours editing the tapes. "I don't want to waste a moment of my listeners' time," he said. "Every cut, every decision I make, is made with listeners in mind."
Notowitz, who grew up in San Carlos, attended Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City. He went to college at U.C. Santa Cruz, where he majored in film and video production. Until this project, he has generally stuck to film and video at his L.A.-based production company. He spent much of the 1990s focused on Jewish topics.
He edited "The Last Klezmer," a documentary about the last living klezmer musician in Poland. He also produced, shot and edited "Carpati," a documentary about one of the few Jewish Holocaust survivors in Ukrainian Carpathia. His decision to work on Jewish subjects hit him in college. "In my high school, out of 2,000 people, only 14 were Jews. That's less than 1 percent. When I moved into the dorms at Santa Cruz, it seemed everyone was Jewish. I asked around and discovered that nearly 25 percent of the student body were Jews. Here I was confronted anew with figuring out my identity," he said. "At the same time, I discovered film. I wanted to combine my newly sparked interest in my Jewish roots with my love for filmmaking. Every year, I would go to the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco and spend all week watching films and dream of having my film up there, playing to a packed audience."
Both "The Last Klezmer" and "Carpati" did find their way to the film fest, the former in 1994 and the latter in 1996.
"Voices of the Shoah" was released last month by Rhino Entertainment, which describes the set as the first-ever audio documentary of the Holocaust. All proceeds will be donated to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which participated in the project. The audio collection, the culmination of a five-year project, is complemented by a 100-page hardbound book, with complete transcripts of the spoken testimonies, historic photos, explanatory essays, a timeline of events, maps, charts and a glossary. In addition, there are suggested questions and activities for parents and teachers, as well as a list of additional teaching resources and Web sites. The Rhino production has no connection to Steven Spielberg's widely publicized Shoah Foundation, which has videotaped the stories of some 50,000 survivors.
The first volume of "Voices" features survivors' remembrances of life in Europe before World War II, the rise in anti-Semitism as Hitler gained power, and the Jewish experience in ghettos and concentration camps.
Volume two includes survivors' memories of liberation, life after the war, adjustment to freedom, and emigration to Israel or the West. The third volume deals with Jewish American and Japanese American soldiers who witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps and a rabbi who went to Europe to help survivors.
The final volume includes the personal account of a woman who survived in a small Polish village by hiding her Jewish identity, and the attitudes of a second-generation survivor in dealing with the legacy of the Holocaust.
"Voices of the Shoah: Remembrance of the Holocaust" ($69.98 on CD, $54.98 cassette).
To buy Voices of the Shoah, click here.
(Printed April, 2000 in the Jewish Standard of New Jersey)
Filmmaker turns up the sound on the Shoah
Alexandra J. Wall
When David Notowitz, a filmmaker and producer, finished making "Voices of the Shoah," recently released on Rhino Records, a friend pointed out that it took him almost the same amount of time to complete it as the entire duration of the Holocaust.
The irony of that fact is not lost on him. "I have no answer to that," Notowitz said, in a telephone interview from his office here. "All the millions of Jews killed in the same time that I've been trying to do this little project about it."
But calling it a "little project" is an understatement. For "Voices of the Shoah," survivors' testimonies culled from over 180 interviews were edited down to fit on four compact discs, making up the first audio documentary of the Holocaust. Elliott Gould narrates.
Most, but not all, of the participating survivors live in the Los Angeles area. A few were interviewed in England.
The project was the brainchild of Richard Foos, the president of Rhino Records. After visiting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., Foos was surprised to learn that while books and videos about the Holocaust abound, there was no audio counterpart. He spoke to John R. Fischel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who immediately pledged his cooperation. And then the pair approached Notowitz.
At first, Notowitz was unsure whether the project appealed to him. "I was worried, 'Oh no, another Holocaust project,'" he said. "But then I realized there's never been anything like it."
Notowitz had long been involved in Jewish projects. He was the editor of "The Last Klezmer," a 1993 documentary film about the last living klezmer musician in Eastern Europe. The film won two awards at the Berlin Film Festival. He was also the producer and editor of the Emmy-nominated "Carpati: 50 Miles, 50 Years," a 1997 film about the life of a Jewish man in the Carpathian Mountains in southwest Ukraine.
More recently, Notowitz has been involved in a Jewish arts organization whose members teach Los Angeles public schoolchildren to explore their own roots through art.
"I've always been interested in film and the Jewish side of myself and combining them into one. I've always been looking for those kind of projects," he said. Although primarily a film and video producer, Notowitz was quick to expound on why, in some cases, audio can be more powerful than video.
"Video places the images in front of you. What you see is set in stone," he said. "With audio, it sends you back in your own memory, and you put your own experiences into the project. You're including yourself in it more. It's as if your great-grandma is whispering in your ear."
While Notowitz had distant family members who were killed in the Holocaust, he had not met many survivors. He spent at least four hours with each of the 25 survivors he interviewed.
"I really wanted to go in depth," Notowitz said. He asked the survivors about their lives before the war and their families, "but I wanted something more to it. I wanted their philosophy on the war, why did this happen, what's the purpose of it, did it change their view of God?"
Volume I features survivors talking about their lives before the war, the increase of anti-Semitism, the deportations, and the concentration camps. Volume II includes liberation, life after the war, and the immigration to Israel and America. Volume III features the recollections of Jewish-American and Japanese-American soldiers who liberated Dachau and a rabbi who went to Europe to help survivors. Volume IV is just two people, one hidden child and one son of survivors, talking about the legacy of the Holocaust.
Notowitz said that after immersing himself in such a project, "I have a much deeper amazement about the value of life. [The survivors] had such strength and perseverance. And that they could come out of it and decide to get married again, maybe their children were killed, and their parents were all killed, yet they still had the strength to put together new families, hoping the world would be different for them. I really gained a lot of strength from that."
A 100-page book accompanies the CDs and features photographs of the survivors who took part, along with complete transcripts of their testimonies, historical photos, a timeline, maps, and a glossary. There is also an educational component to help parents and teachers explain the Holocaust to children.
Notowitz said he's hoping that history buffs will be interested in the project, and naturally, he expects a lot of his listeners to be Jews. But the project is for "anyone who is interested in the nature of humanity, and how something like this could ever have happened."
"I didn't make this for me," Notowitz concluded. "I hope other people will also listen to it, and learn from it. A project that sits on the shelf is no good to anyone."
The set is available for a suggested price of $69.98 on CD, $54.98 on cassette. It is available at retail outlets or directly from Rhino at www.rhino.com. All proceeds will be donated to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
Notowitz A different sort of Hollywood Jew
By Jon Kalish
June 27, 2000/ 24 Sivan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LOS ANGELES media producer David Notowitz edited "The Last Klezmer," Yale Strom's video documentary on an aging Jewish musician in Poland. He shot, edited and served as a producer on Strom's "Carpati," which told the story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor who was close to Gypsies in the Ukraine.
More recently Notowitz edited "Waging Peace," a documentary for Disney about 30 teens from opposing sides of crisis-plagued regions of the world who are brought to Venice, Italy by Elie Wiesel's Foundation for Humanity to discuss, argue, and explore solutions to the pain and trauma in their lives. The documentary focused on seven teens from Ireland, Israel, South Africa and Oakland, California.
His newest work, "Voices of the Shoah", is an audio documentary accompanied by a 100-page book. It was recently released by Rhino Records. JWR's Jon Kalish conducted the following interview via email.
JWR: You not only work in audio and video but you have a hand in web production as well. What are you doing in that medium?
DN: I've been trying to get a web site going which would bring Jewish artists together from around the world. It would be a place where Jewish artists could interact and share their work and possibly collaborate. It would be a place where Jewish artists and buyers of Jewish art can meet in a comprehensive, worldwide and professional site for interaction. I want to create a place to find news about Jewish art and artists, to find the latest grant and job opportunities and to create a place where a person could hire professional artists of all kinds: musicians, storytellers and dancers.
The trouble for Jewish artists has often been that we're spread out all over the world--spread thin and far--and this web site might be the first time ever that we could economically meet, talk and collaborate even if we are separated by thousands of miles.
JWR: So much has been written and produced about the Holocaust. What drew you to the subject? And why an audio approach?
DN: Where I grew up, in San Carlos, California, there seemed to be very few Jews. You had to take a ten minute drive south to reach our synagogue. In my high school of 2000 people, there were 14 Jews. That's less than 1%.
When I moved into the dorms at the University of California, Santa Cruz, it seemed everyone was Jewish! I asked around and discovered that nearly 25% of the student body were Jews. Here I was confronted anew with figuring out my identity.
At the same time I discovered film. I wanted to combine my newly sparked interest in my Jewish roots with my love for filmmaking. Every year I would go to the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco, spend all week watching films, and dream of having my film up there, playing to a packed audience. Then, in 1993, after working in the industry for 4 years, I got the dream job of editing a film that became The Last Klezmer. Spent a year editing Last Klez. It went on to be named a top-10 film of 1994 by Sneak Previews on PBS. It showed at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.
With Voices of the Shoah, I never had to send a resume or apply for the job because people knew about me in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Richard Foos of Rhino wanted the project made, and he came to John Fishel, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation. John Fishel and the Federation's survivor organization, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, came to me.
There have been many projects made on the Shoah, but there has never been made anything in audio. When I learned this, I had to be involved.
I grew up listening to old radio adventures as I fell asleep. My favorite still is Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall. What an amazing way to stimulate the mind!
Audio gives a totally different experience than film. Film fills your imagination. With all your senses being overloaded--voices, image, music, even tactile experience of intense sound effects on your body--there is no room for putting yourself into a project. An audio project leaves space for the listener to fill with their personal images and experiences.
If I place on tape the sounds of footsteps going into a house, what house do you imagine? YOUR house--the house in which you grew up. Your life and experiences become attached to the audio you hear, so this reaches more deeply to affect you.
Richard Foos envisioned Voices as an audio project from the very beginning, and I was very excited to be a part of it.
Because this is on CD and cassette, people will be able to listen to this project in their cars and in their computer, to share it with their families and friends, and to learn and grow from it in schools and universities. It is a great educational tool.
JWR: What were the survivors in L.A. like?
DN: I felt that the survivors I met were astoundingly powerful individuals. All had gone through such hell and still they came out with the will to rebuild their families--to remarry if their spouse had been killed, to have new children, to move to America and learn a new language and culture, and to rebuild their careers. For some, their main goal was to rebuild the Jewish people. For others their goal was to relate to whoever would listen to the experience of the ghettos and camps. For years, many Americans in the United States didn't want to listen to the survivors.
Survivors wanted so much to talk, and yet no one would listen. In recent years more people have been listening.
And I have learned much from the strength and perseverance of the survivors.
JWR: The decisions you have to make about what to include and what to leave out can be difficult. What would you say about the decision to make the documentary as long as it is?
DN: There was a huge amount of material. Before I even got involved, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust had been taping interviews of survivors. I went through those interviews, and found that although the interviews were good, I needed to do interviews myself.
I wanted to ask questions that projects like this had not asked. I wanted to ask about Jewish life in the small and large cities of Europe PRIOR to Hitler's rise. I also wanted to ask philosophical questions" What have you taken from this experience? What have you learned from it? How did it affect your Jewish observance and belief in G-d? I often spent 4 hours interviewing each survivor. From that I chose the very best pieces and intercut each survivor to create a dramatic journey. A documentary needs to be structured like any feature film, with a beginning, middle and end. But unlike a normal feature film, this story is ALL true.
There were far too many powerful and inspiring and miraculous stories to include all of them. I had to cut and cut and cut.
Rhino always told me, "If you need us to make it a 5-CD set, fine. If you need it to be more, fine." They only wanted one thing--a good project, and that has always been my focus.
The length of the project was determined by the quality of the material. My goal is to never waste a moment of a listener's time. In terms of the overall "layout of the project," it is 4 hours long, and I never intended people to listen to the whole thing non-stop. Some people might want to listen to stories about pre-WWII Jewish life while others might want to hear about the ghettos. Still others might want to hear the story of a young girl whose father bribed a peasant farmer so she and her mother would be hidden in a barn for the duration of the war.
With that in mind I broke the project in many small, distinct sections to allow for targeted listening. There are 119 tracks!!! The CD has each track is listed in the book for ease of access.
JWR: What's next for you in the way of Jewish projects?
DN: I have a few exciting ideas and we'll see who might be interested to help me make them a reality.
You need to have a very long-range vision, sometimes 5 years down the road! You need to have patience and lots of tenacity. And you need to envision the audience--sitting in a dark theater or in front of a TV or listening on their stereo--experiencing your project.
In terms of Jewish projects, right now I am doing something a bit off the wall -- consulting for a Jewish cemetery about creating a short Shoah video that would play within an outdoor granite kiosk as part of their newly built Holocaust memorial.
Simply said, this is one of the most important collections to ever emerge on the spoken word scene -- the first, and only comprehensive audio documentary of the Holocaust, as told by survivors and witnesses.
The four CDs feature first-person accounts (drawn from more than 180 interviews recorded between 1988 and 1998), traditional music of the era and solid narration by Elliott Gould. An accompanying 100-page hard-bound book includes complete transcripts, historical (and often disturbing) photos and suggested activities and questions for parents and teachers to use to help explain the horror and its repercussions to children.
Rhino must be commended for donating sales of each set to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
An essential to everyone's library.
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