Temple Beth El member Michele Willner Levy is the primary subject of a new documentary by Lehigh Valley filmmakers Julian Farris Films.
Fate linked Michele Willner Levy's parents together from the day they were born to Jewish families in Nuremberg, Germany. Frieda Kort and Charles Willner shared a birthday: Dec. 18, 1907. Soon they would share a life together.
She had dreams of becoming a singer. He was adept at art, design and sewing. But they were coming of age as a dark cloud began to spread across Europe. Charles saw the writing on the wall and fled to Paris in 1933, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party rose to prominence. Frieda soon followed, but her parents and brother stayed behind in Germany.
“I don’t think she ever saw her mother or brother again,” Levy said.
The Willners rejoiced in Michele's birth in 1938, just weeks after Kristallnacht. But soon there would be very little to celebrate. As reported by HAKOL in July, Charles was separated from the family; Frieda and Michele escaped Paris just as the city fell into the clutches of the Nazis. In the years that followed, there was sickness, hardship, hunger, fear, and then, finally, news of her family that would break Frieda’s heart.
“The whole family was dispersed,” recalled Levy. “Nothing was ever the same.”
Now Michele Willner Levy is the keeper of her family’s history. She has a treasure trove of artifacts from that time: pictures, passports and handwritten letters that mask an unspeakable horror, and tie her to a past she never knew. Initially among the Holocaust’s youngest survivors, Levy is now among its last; the number of those directly impacted by Hitler's atrocities decades ago dwindles every day. But, like all survivors, Levy is a voice for all those who were lost, and the Julian Farris Films teams says it’s honored to be entrusted with her unique and powerful story.
“The most important thing of the whole film is that this is the last generation,” said Jaccii Farris, president of Julian Farris Films. “These are the last generations to hear first-hand about the account of pain and torture and devastation. There needs to be a record because pretty soon the living record will be gone.”
“Letters to Frieda” is currently being filmed with a premiere date set for Jan. 27, 2015, on WFMZ TV. The date was chosen because it is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Completion of the film and its accompanying educational materials will require community support. Julian Farris Films has partnered with Haydenfilms Institute to raise the funds that are necessary to cover production costs. All contributions to the project are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law through Haydenfilms Institute. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Holocaust Resource Center of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.
A special preview of the film and an introduction to its potential use as a Holocaust education resource in Pennsylvania schools will be the subject of a gathering at the Jewish Community Center of Allentown on Sunday, Oct. 19, from 5 to 7 p.m. All members of the community are invited to meet Levy and members of the Julian Farris Films team, and help in ensuring that such an important story is preserved for all generations to come.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Schlossberg and other local officials will be in attendance.