A New Link in the Holocaust Chain

Young Henry and his older brother simply had faith — on a daily basis, they reassured each other that they would survive.

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be producing a feature film, about the life story of a Holocaust survivor, I would have thought you were crazy. 

Now, I’m the crazy one, as many filmmakers can probably identify with.

A year and a half ago, while traveling in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, I met Dr. Corey Samuels. Our conversation led to her mentioning that her grandfather, now 88-year-old Holocaust survivor and author, Dr. Henry Oertelt, was looking for a screenwriter to adapt his book, "An Unbroken Chain: My Journey Through the Nazi Holocasut," for the big screen.

I expressed interest, and Corey promised to get me a copy of the book — a nonviolent story that has been used in schools and colleges to educate students across the U.S. on hate issues for the past 40 years.

Suffice to say, it changed my life.

In the story, young Jewish Berlin resident, Henry, experiences 18 separate but equally crucial “links” in the chain of events that kept him alive and ultimately led to his freedom. From a Nazi foreman who helped him escape the Gestapo to the SS General who gave him the medical treatment he needed, Henry faced encounters and situations that changed his destiny from ages 12 to 24.

I grew up in (now infamous) Cumberland, Rhode Island — as did the Farrelly brothers. We were the only Jewish family. For whatever reason, teachers either didn’t teach us about the Holocaust … or worse, they did. But it didn’t catch my attention as a young student. 

The same when I moved to Sharon, Massachusetts, for high school — perhaps they had already taught the subject in Sharon Junior High. I really don’t know how I managed to go to college without ever becoming educated on the subject.

I lived a fairly sheltered life while employed in technology marketing, and never directly experienced any prejudice. Like many people, I did see "Schindler’s List" — and for better or worse, that film was my introduction to the Holocaust. Ironically, Henry Oertelt’s story was chosen as one of five in the Shoah Foundation’s website, Surviving Auschwitz.

By reading Henry's book, I learned about how the Nazi hate campaign began. Germany had just lost a war, and many people were unemployed and desperate to find work so they could put food on the table for their families. Hitler promised and delivered jobs; ultimately his propaganda campaign succeeded not because people agreed with him, but because they were indifferent. Until it was too late.

My takeaway from the story was that young Henry and his older brother simply had faith.

On a daily basis, they reassured each other that they would survive, even as many people laughed at them and thought they were crazy. I remember thinking, if Henry could survive the Holocaust with a positive attitude, imagine what this story could do to inspire others.

And so, I continued on this journey. I ultimately met Henry, optioned the book and wrote a business plan. I discovered that Michael Jacobs, an old high-school acquaintance was now a producer and distributor and brought him and his company, MarVista Entertainment, on board. We determined that our ideal budget was $4 million, along with another $2 million for P&A. We plan to continue fundraising for three months and aim to film in winter, 2010.

We thought 6 million seemed like an impossible number — and a familiar number, the number of Jewish victims in the Holocaust. We finished a short on our project, and when we showed it for the first time during Holocaust Remembrance Week, a few people tried to give me money.

It was then that we realized we needed a nonprofit partner, and “Six Million for Six Million” was born.

Henry will receive his third honorary doctorate this fall from St. Olaf College. He will certainly leave his audience with his signature parting words, “If you absolutely have to hate … hate hate.”