Survivor to speak after Misa’s Fugue at the Roper, accompanied by director and liberator

January 10, 2014

What’s Happening

Sunday, Jan. 19, 2 pm

To Frank Grunwald, an industrial designer and accomplished sculptor in his spare time, memories of the Holocaust and the 10 concentration camps he endured were something he’d left far behind. Active only in recent years in his Indiana community’s Holocaust speakers’ association, he now speaks about his experiences because he feels it is his obligation. Never did he imagine that his story would be made into an award-winning documentary, Misa’s Fugue, which will be a highlight of the Virginia Festival of Jewish Film, presented by Alma* and Howard Laderberg.

Grunwald caught the attention of filmmaker- turned-teacher Sean Gaston in 2010. Gaston had spent 15 years in the film business and had recently become a media studies teacher at Fleetwood Area High School in Pennsylvania, when he traveled to Indianapolis for a Holocaust Conference. Grunwald was one of the guest speakers. “I couldn’t believe how eloquently he spoke and how well he told his story,” says Gaston. “When I heard him speak, my mind began to race. He was so adept with his iBook, and had so many photos of his family. I thought: this could be a project, a documentary on this man and his past, but I was also sure that someone this exceptional already had a documentary of some sort made about them.”

After his talk, Gaston approached Grunwald about making a movie, and discovered that nothing had been done. “I was ecstatic,” says Gaston. “I could see Frank narrating this entire film, using the photographs his family’s housekeeper had passed on to him after the war, and incorporating the letter his mother wrote to his father the day she was taken to the gas chambers.”

When Gaston returned to Pennsylvania, he immediately initiated the collaborative process that would become Misa’s Fugue. He brought together 10 faculty members spanning six departments along with 200 former or current students from Fleetwood Area High School to create the feature length documentary.

Fellow teacher Jennifer Goss (the historical consultant and producer), her husband (a photographer), a camera man, and Gaston, set up in Grunwald’s house and let him speak. The five and one-half hours of video footage were edited by students; English teachers had students pull the narrative out of the interview; and Goss’ social studies students searched for primary source documents related to Grunwald’s story, finding such items as deportation papers for his family and identity cards at concentration camps.

The movie is marketed to Holocaust organizations and to schools across the country, including the Holocaust Commission of the UJFT, which invited Grunwald to be its guest speaker at Yom Hashoah last spring.

Profits from the film go to distributing it to more schools and Holocaust organizations. Initially hoping to sell 500 copies, the film has sold more than 3,000 so far, and is still going strong. Through its White Rose project, the Holocaust Commission made a gift of the film to every public and private middle and high school in Hampton Roads this fall.

“I never really wanted to be public with my story,” says Grunwald. “But it’s too late now. I have sacrificed my privacy for the sake of education. I feel now that there’s no time to be sentimental or retrospective. I’m more interested in telling the truth. But I’m no one special, I just made it through, and most Holocaust children didn’t, so I’m lucky to have survived.”

The screening at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center will be the first time Grunwald and Gaston will appear together, due largely to illnesses and scheduling conflicts. Local liberator Bill Jucksch will also be a part of the post film discussion. Jucksch, a liberator of the Gunskirchen camp, from which Grunwald was ultimately liberated, spoke at last year’s film festival.

“Of all the screenings, I am most looking forward to the one in Norfolk,” says Gaston. “I am so proud of what we’ve accomplished. As your community will see and hear [once again], he’s a very special guy.”

For tickets, call 321-2338 or go to the film festival page of SimonFamilyJCC.org. The film is free to students and educators and is shown in partnership with the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

by Leslie Shroyer

Letter to the Editor