What We Carry premiere a huge success

June 10, 2016

Other News

Audience members take their seats before the premiere. By the time the film began, the Sandler Center had reached its seating capacity, and reported a standing room only crowd of more than 1350.

Audience members take their seats before the premiere. By the time the film began, the Sandler Center had reached its seating capacity, and reported a standing room only crowd of more than 1350.

Like a blustery March day in 2012, May 22, 2016 was a day full of anticipation for the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater.

Four years ago, we had a new product no one had heard of called What We Carry. The innovative and interactive program combined a documentary film in which the subject’s voice alone tells the story, with an accompanying vintage suitcase filled with replicas of mementos and artifacts seen in the film.

Our dedicated volunteer Commission members, donors, and the UJFT had put a lot of time, money, and effort into finding a successor to our survivor Speakers’ Bureau, and we thought we’d figured out the formula.

The overflow crowd who attended the East Coast Premiere of four What We Carry films on March 25, 2012, at the TCC Roper Center for Performing Arts in Norfolk proved that we were onto something.

Since then, What We Carry presentations have been seen by more than 20,000 people—among them students, military audiences, and educator and community groups from California to Jerusalem. Buoyed by the overwhelmingly positive response and repeat requests, we embarked on a journey to capture three more stories in 2014—that of Holocaust survivor Alfred Dreyfus, death camp liberator Bill Jucksch, and freedom fighter and righteous Gentile, Dame Mary Barraco.

We engaged our original filmmakers, Amber Howell and Janice Engel, and they began the creative process anew while we continued to share the original four stories based on the experiences of David Katz and Hanns Loewenbach (of blessed memory), and Dana Cohen and Kitty Saks.

May 22, 2016 was “show time” for the three new films and the exquisite new suitcases created, like the original four suitcases, by local artist, Perry Deglandon.

Anticipating at least as many audience members as we had at the first premiere, we booked the beautiful Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, which seats about 1,300 people. We had great press in the weeks leading up to the free event from radio, TV, and newspapers, as well as good old-fashioned word of mouth from hard working Commission members. While RSVPs were not required, more than 1,100 people let us know they’d be coming.

The more optimistic among us expected a full house, and we got one. The day was a huge success, with staff at the Sandler Center numbering the standing room only crowd at 1,380. All three of the films’ subjects were there, and were pleased and proud of the way Amber and Janice had brought their stories to life, and how Perry had encapsulated the items they would “carry.” The reactions and feedback from others who saw the new films were overwhelmingly positive and affirmed all of the hard work that went into the creative process, fundraising, and planning the premiere event.

If you missed the May 22 screening, the new films will be uploaded in the coming months to our website, www.HolocaustCommission.org. Links to the first four films can be found on our What We Carry page, and we encourage you to book a presentation for your school or group. A presentation includes one film with an accompanying suitcase, and is led by a Holocaust Commission docent who provides supplemental information, guides discussion, and answers questions.

For more information, call 757-965-6125, or email info@holocaustcommission.org. To see photos from the Premiere, visit www.fb.com/holcommission.

Responses following the What We Carry screening on May 22:

When I was growing up, it was just another story. It wasn’t that big a deal. My uncles and grandfather told me many times that their story was not really that difficult. There were many that suffered a lot more, and that we should really be telling stories about them. I think what’s really lost sometimes is that there were many people who risked their lives to save my father and his family, and I want you all to realize—each and every one of you have to stand up at some point and make a stand when you see something that’s not right and help others. That’s what I’ve learned from my Dad, and I hope you carry that with you today.
Mark Dreyfus, son of Alfred Dreyfus

When there’s a miracle, you have to publicize it. It’s moving that such a large audience has heard these stories, and it’s gratifying to know they’ll continue to be heard. For me, and so many others, it’s part of our Jewish identity—this connection to the past and knowing what people before us have done to stay Jewish.
Brett Levi, grandson of Arthur Dreyfus

I have heard these stories forever, and it was moving and powerful to experience it with so many others. While all the stories were so diverse, even though they were of the same moment in history, they all had the same message—that of perseverance and doing whatever is necessary in order to survive. These films make the stories very personal, and don’t just summarize what happened. They make us go into our own minds and think about what we would do in those moments or at those decision points.
Claudia Dreyfus, daughter of Arthur Dreyfus

I would like to thank everyone who is here today. This audience has touched me deeply. Believe me. I never thought when I was walking in here today that I would see so many faces, so many people to greet us and to say, “Thank you.” This is, to me, a gift from God. And I thank the people who have been working so hard to make this possible. I refused it so many times, but I just thank God and thank you, for forcing me, and for coming to my home. Your kindness, your friendship, will always be admired, and I thank all, all, all of you. This is the greatest country in the world.
Dame Mary Barraco

I just returned from the viewing of What We Carry. I cannot thank you enough for presenting these films to the public. It was such a remarkable journey through the eyes of those three remarkable individuals.
Diane Johnson, community member

Kudos to you on the three new documentaries in the What We Carry project, and thank you for presenting them at the Sandler Center! I think high school and college students, who are considering how they can make an impact on the world, would be the ideal people to see them!
Susan Hurley, community member

I can’t thank you enough for the hospitality shown at the Sandler Center. We sat directly behind Bill Jucksch and were deeply moved by the videos and the entire presentation. You touched many, and are destined to do the same to many more in the future.
Tabb Pearson, teacher, Salem High School

The What We Carry premiere was one of the all-time highlights of our Jewish communal programming. You each work hard and creatively all year to make What We Carry impactful and successful. I applaud your efforts throughout the year and, especially, on May 22. Congratulations on a job well done.
Jay Klebanoff, president, UJFT

You DO make a difference—but your work makes a greater difference because you preserve the stories for all time that sometimes are relegated to the back chapters of secondary school history books, or worse, become research for the few who choose to make it a part of their own personal enrichment. The call to action whilst these men and women are still with us is the only way to try to prevent another human calamity.
Bobby Melatti, former board member, Virginia Beach Public Schools

Today’s What We Carry event was very powerful, very moving, very necessary, and most appreciated by the audience. The audience was right there with each moment of the three films. It was most impressive…I really just wanted to thank the donors and the Commission for their foresight for the production and fortitude. [The films] fulfill their purpose…They are vital repositories of survivor/rescuer/liberator history and lovely artistic renderings of individual lives. Most importantly, they are valuable pedagogical tools targeting school children and young adults.
Dr. Annette Finley-Croswhite, Old Dominion University

Our family found the stories of the What We Carry series profoundly moving. It seems impossible for anyone who views these important films to not have his or her view of the world changed forever. Thanks so much!
Jeff Jucksch, son of Bill Jucksch

by Elena Barr Baum

Letter to the Editor