- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

Ursula Rosenfeld, 75, is arguably the most touching interview subject in the new documentary feature "Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport," which begins an exclusive engagement today at the General Cinema Mazza Gallerie.

Kurt Fuchel, 68, is undoubtedly the most winning single presence. While the former seems to transcend acute camera shyness while sharing memories of an exiled and grief-haunted youth, the latter takes to camera scrutiny like a duck to water. Vintage photos of Mr. Fuchel as a boy tend to confirm him as a puckish "natural."

Mrs. Rosenfeld, a widow and mother of four who lives in Manchester, England, and Mr. Fuchel, a twice-married father of two daughters and three stepdaughters who lives on the north shore of Long Island, were in Washington earlier this week to attend an "East Coast premiere" of the movie hosted by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Press interviews at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel paired Mrs. Rosenfeld with the writer-director of "Into the Arms," Mark Jonathan Harris, an Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker who also is a faculty member at the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Fuchel was joined by producer Deborah Oppenheimer, drawn to the project as a "labor of love" while serving as executive producer on the television sitcoms "The Drew Carey Show" and "Norm."

Miss Oppenheimer's German-born mother, who died in 1993, had been one of the beneficiaries of a refugee program known as the Kindertransport, contrived to rescue a fragment of the European population threatened by Nazi enmity and persecution.

Organized by the British government with commendable swiftness and efficiency in the immediate aftermath of Kristallnacht, the outburst of government-sanctioned atrocities against Jews on Nov. 9, 1938, the program led to the migration of 10,000 children from Germany, Austria and later Czechoslovakia to England.

Limited to children between the ages of 6 and 16, the rescue operation obliged the young exiles to be separated from their parents, in order to quell fears of overwhelming the labor market.

A similar program was proposed for the United States but failed to survive congressional hearings. Kindertransport departures began in Berlin on Dec. 1, 1938. They ceased after the outbreak of war on Sept. 1, 1939.

• • •

At 14, Ursula Rosenfeld was one of the older Kinder. She and her older sister Hella were residing in a Hamburg orphanage when selected. Their father, a deportation victim of Kristallnacht, died soon afterward at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Their mother perished in a death camp during the war.

Initially sent to live with a widow in Brighton, England, the girls spent most of the war years in hostels established for Kindertransport children who did not attract foster families.

Kurt Fuchel, whose parents were Viennese, was no doubt an irresistible adoption prospect. The twinkly-eyed and playful little boy preserved in family photos remains abundantly evident in the grown man, a retired computer scientist who now works part time and participates in a senior education program at the State University of New York at Stony Brook "where retirees can teach what they know to other retirees."

He has completed courses in photography and memoir-writing, although his own memoirs "still need to be put in better order." He admits to suffering a "bout of depression" after retiring from the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island five years ago.

"It's a mixed bag," he concludes. "The loss of daily structure was hard. Going from fairly well-respected pro to [a crank]. But things have looked up since. I keep busy."

Mr. Fuchel was adopted by a British couple, Mariam and Percy Cohen, who had a young son of their own. Mrs. Cohen, now widowed, is also an eloquent interview subject in the movie.

Mr. Fuchel's parents, along with one of his grandmothers, survived the war. His mother and father were sheltered in rural France, his grandmother on Malta.

A bittersweet postwar reunion relocated Mr. Fuchel once again, in Toulouse, France. The family made a final move to the United States in 1956 when their immigration quota number came up.

The filmmakers were alerted to Mrs. Rosenfeld and Mr. Fuchel by video interviews they had agreed to tape several years earlier with Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, one of the archive resources that proved essential to planning and making the movie.

A reluctant subject, the soft-spoken Mrs. Rosenfeld had been maneuvered out of seclusion by one of her three grandchildren.

"She had read an article about the foundation," Mrs. Rosenfeld explains. "Unbeknownst to me, she wrote the group and said, 'My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. Would you be interested in talking to her?' She told me about it some days, or weeks, later.

"They did get in touch with me, and I made a tape. I thought it would take about 10 or 20 minutes. It turned out to be a very lengthy interview."

Mrs. Rosenfeld and her sister left Germany only weeks before the war started. Both were reluctant to dwell on their experiences or solicit a sympathy they regarded as unmerited.

"After all, it was our parents who did the suffering," she says. "The whole generation that was left behind. We were fortunate to have been rescued. To be honest, I've been able to live as full a life, as fulfilled a life, as I could possibly have lived. I can't really say that life has been cruel to me in the later years, since I left Germany.

"But now I'm getting older, so life is fairly precarious. I felt perhaps I should leave some kind of legacy to the children about what happened.

"I started writing but couldn't do it. So in many ways I was grateful for the opportunity to have things drawn out of me by people as skillful as Mark. Now that I have talked in some detail, maybe the writing could be easier."

Mr. Harris explains that in selecting interview subjects, "We wanted a representative sample. People who had come from the three countries. Those who lost parents, those who found parents. Good placements, bad placements. I was also keenly interested in people like Ursula, who hadn't talked much about their experiences or were struggling with it."

"I still think I'm appalling when I see it," Mrs. Rosenfeld remarks. "It quite upset me that I showed so much emotion."

"No, no," Mr. Harris objects, "shy people are often very effective on camera. Some of the most dramatic moments in the film come when you see the child still alive inside the adult. With Ursula I think that happens when she recalls crossing the Dutch border."

Mr. Harris won an Academy Award in 1997 for a documentary feature about Holocaust survivors titled "The Long Way Home." His new movie will be eligible this year, perhaps to the disadvantage of the endearing, Washington-based "Life and Times of Hank Greenberg."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide