In a study released in April 2018, more than one-fifth of millennials surveyed said they haven’t heard of the Holocaust or aren’t sure if they’ve heard of it. A full two-thirds couldn’t identify what Auschwitz is. (In case you’re in that demographic, in the early 1940s, it was a Nazi concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million Jewish prisoners were executed.)
It’s sad evidence of the fact that even the grossest of atrocities and the lessons to be learned from them can fade into the sands of time, and it’s a large part of the reason behind the title of the documentary film, “A Call to Remember: The David Schaecter Story,” which will air Thursday at the Aspen Jewish Community Center (435 W. Main St.) at 5:30 p.m. It will be followed by a conversation with Schaecter, a Holocaust survivor, director Ken Winikur and producers Dennis Scholl and Michael Berenbaum.
The 31-minute film consists of Schaecter, who will turn 89 next week, telling his story of growing up as a boy in a mostly Jewish wine-making village in Slovakia, being rounded up by the Nazis and sent off in cattle cars to Auschwitz, and his daring escape as the Allies invaded. Schaecter’s excellently recounted tale is accompanied by sometimes disturbing archival footage to create a moving film experience that it would do everyone – not just millennials – some good to see.
Though he survived and eventually made his way to Miami, Schaecter lost his entire family in the Holocaust and now works to make sure the 6 million others Jews who died and the dwindling number of survivors will never be forgotten. He helped establish the Miami Holocaust Memorial in 1990 and is a docent to teenagers involved in the March of the Living, a program that brings young people to Poland to march from Auschwitz to Birkenau (another concentration camp) each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The film arose from Schaecter’s friendship with Scholl, a part-time Aspenite, who admitted to not knowing his friend’s harrowing background for the first decade and a half they knew each other.
“David and I have been friends for over 35 years in Miami, and for the first 10 or 15 years, I never knew that David was a survivor. It’s not something he spoke about,” said Scholl. “One day we sat down and began to talk, and he began to tell me his story, and his story is, of course, incredible.”
With the aid of Berenbaum, a Holocaust expert and scholar, Scholl and Winikur got Schaecter to open up about his experience in vivid detail and premiered “A Call to Remember” at the Miami Jewish Film Festival in January 2018. Since then it has shown at a handful of prestigious festivals and events around the world.
The film is making a stop in Aspen, on its tour to make sure people never forget, because both Schaecter and Scholl spend time here anyway, and because the Aspen Jewish Community Center seems to have found its niche in the busy world of Aspen events. It’s part of what the center’s founders envisioned for the community when they opened the JCC four years ago.
“We wanted to make sure it’s a community center so it can be used for events that don’t necessarily have to be Jewish,” said Inga Johnson, the JCC’s director of catering and conferences.
Those events include things like movies, symposiums, lectures, fitness classes and music lessons. Art exhibitions occupy the downstairs gallery space, and the facility runs its own catering business for in-house and off-site events, headed by French-Moroccan executive chef Stanley Coriat.
The JCC’s own events typically involve a Jewish perspective, but they seek to use that perspective to examine the greater, non-religious aspects of current events and topics, and the area’s non-Jewish culture vultures have started to catch on.
“They come to a lot of the programs,” said Johnson. “And the response has been growing over the years. ... This year we have at least three events a week and we also do a lot of outside events that we cater.”
Johnson admits that, despite all that, many people in town still aren’t familiar with the JCC and all it offers. If you’re among that demographic – especially if you’re a little fuzzy on what the Holocaust was – Thursday evening would be a great time to learn more and help make sure that a dark period of history and its lessons don’t fade away.
“David has made it his life’s work to make sure that young people hear his story and that they never, never forget what happened,” said Scholl. “He’s able to go to the concentration camp where he was and show the kids he brings with him on the March of the Living his bunk. I mean, it’s there.”