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Category: Director’s Diary

More about Aba Lewit

Aba Lewit was born on June 24th, 1923 in Poland. He survived the concentration camps of Płaszów (Poland) and Mauthausen (Austria). Today is Aba Lewit’s 97th birthday. We all shall thank him for his brave engagement against Neonazism and extreme right policies.

Aba Lewit has no grandchildren. He shared his story on camera with me. It was one of the greatest gifts I received in my life.

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Mockup

Before we went to the stage we set up a mockup of the train compartment in order to adjust camera angles. Of course we had to apply some changes to the original compartment, but I think one doesn’t notice.

This setup is a crucial point for a low budget production. Every mistake has significant effects to the film.

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My shoes are broken

This is my diary’s entry from February 1st 2019 – exactely one year ago. We where traveling to Terezin, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen and Dachau to shoot additional footage.

European landscapes and in between concentration camps that have been made into memorials. Visitors lost in small groups over the endless yard of the Dachau concentration camp. Affected students whispering piously, teachers lectureing with soft voices.

Thousands of kilometres, pictures, words, so many memorials and museums. The ice flower at the window of a barrack in Mauthausen. I think of Aba Lewit. Whoever survived the Holocaust was lucky. Luck. Pure luck. Coincidence.

We are pressing our footsteps into the untouched, hard snow of the concentration camp in Landsberg am Lech. My winter shoes are broken. The rubber dissolves from the leather, small black pieces crumble, putting their own trail in the snow. Herbert Schrott’s father froze here in the winter of 1944/45. A few weeks later the camp was freed by the US Army.

The head of the Landsberg am Lech memorial tells me that the camp was always as clearly visible from the road like it still is today. The upperclass from Landsberg was invited to concerts in the camp. The ladies came in summer dresses wearing large hats. Everybody knew it. The Volk has democratically elected Hitler into power. The united German Reich has decided to extinguish over 6 Millions Jews.

I am filming the view of the camp, paning from the street to the semicircular concrete barracks, over which the snow has settled like a cloth. They look like the dwellings in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. A trilogy by the way, which is interspersed with Nazi symbolism. Confusing. I feel sick.

We’re heading south, crossing the alps to Carinthia. Another dark chapter in Austria’s WWII history: Frenetical racism, nationalism and hatred, greed.

And my shoes are broken.

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Who we are

Born in Vienna Katharina’s first passion was the cello, before she became an actress. She was trained in Austria and LA, performed in countless films and theatre productions. Her career brought her also to the »SALZBURGER FESTSPIELE« as well as to the stunning performances of Jaqueline Kornmüller’s »GANYMED« in the Museum for Arts in Vienna or »IN THE HEART OF DEMOCRACY«, staged in the Austrian Parliament. Katharina already participated in political discussions when she was a student, and she committed herself to social, ecological and health issues.

For several years she moderates several commemoration events in Austria, such as the Holocaust Memorial Day or the “FEST DER FREUDE”, the annual celebration of the liberation from Nazi Germany on May 8th 1945. In 2007 she founded the “Backyard – Manufaktur für Film” production company together with her husband Fabian.

Fabian studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and started his career as a cinematographer for TV and motion pictures, before he began to write screenplays and to direct films that focus on actual social topics and political developments. In addition to several screenplays he wrote a couple of articles for newspapers, as well as two novels and a travel narration. A special focus of Fabians work lies on trauma & generations.

Our small production company is based in a backyard close to Vienna’s most famous Naschmarkt. We produced the documentary »Greece in Bloom« at the peak of the Greek debt crisis in 2012. Only two month after the tragedy of Lampedusa on Oct. 3rd 2013, when 366 people drowned a few meters off the European borders, we started to shoot the documentary »Lampedusa – No Island«. Two years later we made a film about Vienna’s »Integrationshaus«, an institution which was founded in the middle 1990’s and which is specialised on the integration and treatment of traumatized unaccompanied minor war refugees. Meanwhile Katharina is the chairwoman of the board of this institution.

We have one adult daughter and two cats.

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The Jewish Cemetery

A small group of volunteers regularly takes care of the Jewish Cemetery in Vienna 18th district, Währing. We visited them work on November 1st, 2018.

As you know we filmed a lot of different commemoration events. The mood on this day was unique and touching. For the mostly catholic Austria November 1st is a holiday that refers to the catholic “Allerheiligen”. A day on which many visit the graves of their ancestors.

During all the work I didn’t see any more impressive and intense event of commemoration. All the Austrian families, who are buried here, all Jewish, all killed by Austrians. Most of their relatives were extinguished in the death factories of Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen or one of the other concentration camps. Those don’t even have a grave.

A special thank to our dear friend Niki Kunrath, who organises not only these meetings with passion – but many other commemoration events in Vienna, too.

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Austria

Heinz Fischer was born on October 9th, 1938 in Graz, Styria. He took office as President of Austria on 8 July 2004 and was re-elected for a second and last term on 25 April 2010, leaving office on 8 July 2016. As a young lawyer he uncovered in 1965 the political scandal of the anti-Semitic professor Taras Borodajkewycz at the Vienna University of World Trade.

Franz Vranitzky (born on October 4th, 1937) is an Austrian politician. A member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), he was Chancellor of Austria from 1986 to 1997. On 8 July 1991 Vranitzky he acknowledged a share in the responsibility for “the pain brought, not by Austria as a state, but by citizens of this country, upon other people and peoples”, thereby departing from the hitherto official portrayal of Austria as “Hitler’s first victim.”

Both, Vranitzky and Fischer, appear in our film contributing important views on Austria’s political development after WWII.

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Hungary

Of course the series is closely connected to Austrian history, but many dialogues go far beyond that. The episode I like to introduce to you this week focuses on the Nazi regime in Hungary. But Europe’s post war history, the iron curtain play an important role, as well as the fears that rise from nowadays political developments – in Hungary as well as in other parts of Europe and the USA, too.

Ilona Baczynski has not talked about her story until recently. Not even all members of the family knew that she is Jewish and escaped the Holocaust only by luck. Her grandson Nicolas seems eager to know the exact details of her life between Hitler’s terror and the Soviet threat finally finds a supposed happy ending in Vienna decides to keep her roots to herself after she has married her Catholic husband.

Historical focus of the episode: Hungary, Budapest, Horthy, 1956, Vienna, Cold War, State Treaty

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Richard & Solomon Wadani

Richard Wadani’s son emigrated to Australia over 40 years ago. Due to the long distance, he has seen his grandson only twice in his life, the language barrier made discussions within the family quite difficult. Thanks to a simultaneous translation, the two can now talk directly with each other for the first time. Richard Wadani is born in Prague, but belongs to the Austrian ethnic group which becomes German after the Anschluss. His family has to leave Prague for Vienna, where Richard is recruited by the Wehrmacht and gets to see the suffering of the people in Ukraine. Again and again he steals food supplies from the Wehrmacht to distribute them to the people. He is convicted for theaft but succeeds in avoiding a punishment and he comes to the Western Front from where he deserts to England. There he joins the Czech army. When the war is over, he finds his mother back in Vienna, while she already reached an age at which she cannot and does not want to leave Vienna anymore. In Vienna, Richard meets lots of hostility and disregard for deserters. His biggest success is the construction of the Deserteursdenkmal in Vienna. His grandson is a young man who passionately asks questions and who listens to many of Richard’s stories for the first time in his life.

It was a very touching and intense moment to meet the Wadani – family. Thank you for your cooperation!

Historical focus: Prague, Vienna, Ukraine, deserters

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