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Film, class tell Holocaust survivor's story

April 13, 2006

Photo of a 14-year old Gloria Lyon, the Holocaust survivor who is the subject of Professor Jameson Goldner's filmBy inviting Holocaust survivor Gloria Lyon to speak to students about her life, Professor of Cinema Jameson Goldner turned his class, Film and the Holocaust, from political to personal.

At his March 23 class in the August Coppola Theatre, Goldner screened his film "When I Was 14: A Survivor Remembers" to about 50 students. Shot mostly by Goldner over a 12-year period, the film is the story of Lyon's life as a Jewish teenager interned at Auschwitz and six other Nazi concentration camps from April 1944 to May 1945.

The film follows Lyon, as an adult, into numerous schools as she tells her story to students. It also documents Lyon's return visits in 1987 to Auschwitz, her old Czechoslovakian neighborhood in what is now part of the Ukraine, and the home of a Swedish family who took her in. She also finds a culvert under an old dirt road outside of Auschwitz where she hid, naked, for several days and nights to avoid being taken to a gas chamber.

Lyon still cries when she watches the film, which she said makes her tremble and feel "like jelly" inside as she watches herself on film reunite with members of the Swedish family who cared for her, or views the black-and-white pictures of her emaciated, 15-year-old body just after her liberation.

Despite needing a cane in each hand to stand and walk, Lyon stood for more than 30 minutes as she spoke to Goldner's students after the film screening.

"I hope that students I speak to learn to be kind to each other, and that they judge each other by their humanity, not by their skin or hair color, or the shape of someone's eyes," Lyon said before class. "They should respect humanity."

Student Dina Wilson, after watching the film and listening to Lyon speak, said the experience was a precious gift she will not soon forget.

"It was amazing to me that someone who had been through the horror she described could retain such an amazingly kind, gentle, loving and earnest spirit," Wilson said. "She gave out big, warm hugs, which made at least one of us cry afterward."

Goldner, who has taught cinema at SF State since 1963, has shot about 100 films. He has taught the Film and the Holocaust class, offered by the Cinema Department and Jewish Studies Program, each spring for 10 years. Lyon visits the class each semester that it is offered.

A mutual friend introduced Goldner and Lyon more than 20 years ago, and the two became fast friends. After Goldner suffered a stroke in 1987 and funding for "When I Was 14: A Survivor Remembers" had depleted, Lyon was eventually able to secure funding from a German industrialist, and Boston filmmaker Marlene Booth, who agreed to finish the film. It has aired on the Sundance Channel and screened at film festivals nationwide, winning Best Documentary at the 2001 California Independent Film Festival.

"The minute we started making the film I knew it could somehow bring to light the human condition, and what we are capable of doing to ourselves if not careful," Goldner said. "[The film] shows that it's up to all of us to be committed to the betterment of humanity."

-- Student Writer Gary Moskowitz with Matt Itelson


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Last modified April 13, 2006 by University Communications