Refugee Ban With Holocaust Parallels

“An America which turns away refugees is not America. We forgot that during the Holocaust. Let’s never again forget who we are,” writes Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS. Hetfiled was one of many to point out a compelling coincidence: President Trump issued his controversial refugee ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. [Read more…]

Opening Reception for Two Special Gershman Y Exhibits

We invite the public to a reception celebrating the opening of two extraordinary exhibits running concurrently at the Gershman Y: Letters from my Grandparents: The Art of Ruth Schreiber and A Close Look Inside James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym: Photographs by Jano Cohen.

Gershman Y Exhibit-Ruth-Schrieber-image-1-600x400“Letters from my Grandparents,” which closes March 30, is a mixed-media exhibition that carries substantial history and emotional import. The artist, Ruth Schreiber, has spun her family history into drawings, sculptures, clothing, table settings and more in her ongoing tribute to her grandparents, who perished in the Holocaust but managed to write approximately 200 letters and postcards to their five surviving children between 1939 and 1942.

Enthralled with the famed James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym in West Philadelphia, photographer Jano Cohen made many visits to the gym over the course of a year, earning members’ trust and photographing the gym’s regulars, teachers and students. The result of this intimate access is a collection of photographs comprising the exhibit “A Close Look Inside James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym,” brought to the Gershman Y through a collaboration with the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center. This exhibit will close on March 8.

The January 26th opening will include light bites, libations and comments from the artists themselves. You can register for the opening online at or by calling 215-545-4400.

PJFF Double Feature: “The Kozalchic Affair” and “And Then, Violence”

Two films for the price of one: a documentary feature and a narrative short. In one, an Israeli learns of his father’s unexpected heroic past during the Holocaust; in the other, a young Jewish woman — a law student who lives with her parents — depicts the fear Jews live with in Paris in the current climate of terrorism and increased anti-Semitism.

Buy tickets to these films here.

The Kozalchic Affair
Itzak Shaked, the son of two Holocaust survivors, lived an average life in Israel as an industrialist, until learning the true identity of his father, Yakov Kozalchic.

Known as “The Warden of the Death Block,” Yakov was a Jewish Kapo in Auschwitz who sacrificed his life to save as many of his fellow brethren as he could. His story begins in Poland, but truly takes off in the 1920s when Yakov is found working alongside Al Capone and the infamous German heavyweight Max Schmeling in New York City. From joining the circus as a musician to returning home to start a family in Poland, Yakov seemed to have lived an outrageously full life before seeing it torn apart by the Nazis. Separated from his wife and children, who were imprisoned in Treblinka, Yakov was sent to Auschwitz, where he managed to save himself from the gas chambers through his connections. However, he was unable to escape his placement as Jewish Kapo of Block 11. While carrying out Nazi orders, that if defied were punishable by death, Yakov used the little bit of independence and access he had to benefit his fellow prisoners and save as many Jews and Poles as possible.

Now 68-year-old Itzak embarks on an unforgettable journey to recover his father’s past and meet the people whose lives Yakov changed forever. In Hebrew with English subtitles, “The Kozalchic Affair” tells their stories.

And Then, Violence
Rebecca, a French law student living with her parents in the heart of Paris, runs out to the kosher supermarket to buy wine for a dinner party. However, after the terror attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the recent anti-Semitic attacks occurring in her own neighborhood, Rebecca is far from at ease navigating the streets surrounding her home.

Official selection of the San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle Jewish Film Festivals, “And Then, Violence” — in French with English subtitles — paints a vivid picture of the complicated reality of anti-Semitism and the subsequent fear Jews experience in Paris every day.

PJFF Film: “Every Face Has a Name”

A refugee boat docks in the harbor of Malmöš, Sweden, on April 28, 1945. Swedish newspaper photographers are on the scene to document the influx of its diverse group of German concentration camp survivors. The faces among the crowd belong to Jewish refugees from all over Europe: Polish mothers and children, Norwegian prisoners of war, members of the French Resistance, British spies, and perhaps the most unique among them, an Italian-American who was visiting her grandparents in Italy when the Nazis mistook her for an espionage agent and deported her to Auschwitz.

In “Every Face Has a Name,” director Magnus Gertten tracks down many of the previously anonymous individuals featured in Gustaf Boge Claredio’s black-and-white film reel (originally shot for broadcast on Swedish National Television) and asks them to discover themselves anew via the archival footage captured of their extraordinary entry into Sweden. Their profound recollections of being ferried to liberation are not only miraculous and moving, but offer a poignant window into the experiences of current refugees seeking asylum in Europe and around the world. This fascinating documentary, which was awarded the Church of Sweden’s significant cash prize at Gothenburg Film Festival, interweaves present-day images of war evacuees from Africa and the Middle East to remind us of our collective responsibility toward sheltering displaced persons regardless of homeland.

Buy tickets here.

The Arnold and Esther Tuzman Memorial Holocaust Teach-In

This biennial event draws hundreds of people to Gratz College for an afternoon of special programming on the Holocaust and genocide. Particularly exciting this year is the keynote address, which is being delivered by Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, the Emory University professor and expert on Holocaust denial, who was sued for libel in the United Kingdom for labeling English historian David Irving a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt’s trial is the subject of the new motion picture “Denial.”

The keynote address will be followed by two sessions in which participants can choose among a list of seminars on a wide range of topics, including music from the Holocaust, survivor stories, discussions of other genocides and much more. Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, a survivor of genocide in Darfur who was presented the International Women of Courage Award by Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton, will share her experiences during one of these seminars. See the brochure for all seminar descriptions.

Schedule: Special programming for teachers begins at 9 a.m. Doors open for the main program at 1 p.m., with the program beginning at 1:30.

Admission Fees: General admission is $10; higher fees for teachers and attorneys seeking professional education credit.


PJFF Film: “The Last Laugh”

Can humor be found in the darkest of places? For comedians, the Holocaust has often been considered a taboo subject, a no man’s land for jokes — a place you don’t want to go as an entertainer. In “The Last Laugh,” a filmmaker sets out to challenge this assumption and find out if joking about the Holocaust and other human atrocities is ever acceptable.

Juxtaposing clips from films, performances and interviews with top comedians and prominent Jewish leaders (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Susie Essman, Judy Gold, Abraham Foxman and Shalom Auslander) with an intimate profile of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone (as well as other survivors), director Ferne Pearlstein weaves together a poignant and in-depth exploration into what is and is not off-limits in comedy.

A powerful documentary about a controversial subject, “The Last Laugh” in no way undermines the horrors of the Holocaust, yet it still succeeds in putting a smile on your face. After all, what can be more heartening than witnessing the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of tragedy?

This film was an official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.

Special Event: The film is followed by panel discussion and reception. The guest speakers are the film’s director, Ferne Pearlstein; Paul Lewis, author and professor of English at Boston College; and Elliot Ratzman (moderator), visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College. There has also been an exciting last-minute addition to this list of special guests: the Emmy Award-winning comic Judy Gold.

Buy tickets here.

PJFF Film: “Karski & the Lords of Humanity”

As a debonair, trained diplomat with a worldly air about him, Jan Karski looked forward to a promising future in the Polish military. Unfortunately, his professional ambitions were cut short when Germany invaded his home country in 1939. Captured by the Red Army and transported to a labor camp in the Soviet Union, his life took an unprecedented turn.

Karski managed to escape Soviet imprisonment and returned to Poland to join the Resistance. Moving on to spy for the Allied forces, he completed multiple undercover missions during World War II, including the infiltration of the Warsaw Ghetto and a Nazi transit camp. His missions succeeded in accelerating the flow of information coming out of occupied Europe to the Allies in both England and the United States, and ultimately supplied substantial proof early on that Polish Jews were being exterminated en masse.

In “Karski & the Lords of Humanity,” Karski recounts his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto, his witnessing of the brutal torture committed by the Gestapo, and the refusal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to recognize his claims of Jewish extermination by the Third Reich. Karski’s courageous efforts during the war are explored through Emmy Award-winning director Slawomir GrŸünberg’s ability to combine brilliant animated sequences with the expert use of archival footage and interview segments, taken from Karski’s testimony in “Shoah,” Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary about the Holocaust.

Slawomir GrŸünberg will be a guest speaker at this presentation of his film, along with Rebecca Erbelding, curator and research historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

This film was an official selection of the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the Jewish International Film Festival in Australia, and the Westchester Jewish Film Festival.

Buy your tickets to this documentary feature here.

PJFF Film: “Keep Quiet”

By his mid-twenties, Csaná‡d Szegedi, a fervent Holocaust denier and outspoken anti-Semite, rises up through the ranks to lead the Hungarian far-right conservative Jobbik Party. Cofounder of the Hungarian Guard and serving his country in the European Parliament, Szegedi, with his extremist views and racist agenda, ascends the political ladder. That is, until the day a rung gives out and Szegedi comes tumbling down.

Discovering that his grandmother is a survivor of Auschwitz and he is, indeed, a Jew, Szegedi has no choice but to come to terms with his true identity. After the initial shock subsides and members of his own party begin to turn against him, Szegedi, desperate and alone, seeks the help of a local Orthodox rabbi. Agreeing to take Szegedi under his wing despite protests from his peers, the empathetic rabbi aids Szegedi in his unbelievable transformation from raving anti-Semite to devout Jew.

“Keep Quiet” is a powerful and unsettling documentary that leaves you questioning the veracity of Szegedi’s intentions to embrace his faith and start his life anew. With rich archival material, captivating interviews, and incredible véritéŽ footage, viewers are encouraged to make their own judgment. Is Szegedi telling the truth or is it all an act?

The guest speakers at the film presentation are Elliot Ratzman, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Swarthmore College, and Árpád v. Klimó, professor of Modern European history at the Catholic University of America.

This film was an official selection of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It is a documentary feature in Hungarian with English subtitles. Buy tickets for the film here.

PJFF: The Origin of Violence

In this film, which was the official selection of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the protagonist, Nathan Fabre, teaches in a French-German school while working on his thesis about French resistance to the Nazis during World War II. During a research trip to Buchenwald, he discovers a photograph of a concentration camp prisoner who strikingly resembles his own father. Back in France, still haunted by the image, Nathan looks to his father for answers but is met with impenetrable silence. Committed to learning the truth, Nathan pursues the matter himself by digging deep into his family history, meanwhile complicating his relationship with a young German woman, whose family history is similarly murky.

By interviewing curators of the Holocaust memorial, tracking down survivors who may have known the man in the photograph, and confronting all of his living relatives, Nathan pieces together secrets that have been kept hidden for more than 60 years.

Based on Fabrice Humbert’s semi-autobiographical, prize-winning 2009 novel of the same name, “The Origin of Violence” will have you on the edge of your seat through its innovative use of flashbacks to provide a reason for the protagonist’s history of unchecked anger.

The film is in French and German with English subtitles. Ian Fleishman, assistant professor of German Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, will be the guest speaker at the film presentation.