By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Rebecca Brown always knew that her grandmother, Lila Millen, was a Holocaust survivor, but it wasn’t until she interviewed her for her Memphis religious school’s film project, “Names, Not Numbers,” that she began to understand how very young she was at the time.
Brown, the daughter of Joel Brown and Natalie Brown of blessed memory, became involved with the project with her fellow classmates at the beginning of the calendar year as part of the Jewish history project promoted by the Margolin Yeshiva there.
This Jewish history project continued last year’s film project, where members of the school traveled to Poland to interview Holocaust survivors. This year the students were encouraged to interview their own family members who were survivors. In addition to her grandmother, Brown was also able to interview her great-aunt, Anne Levy, who was Millen’s older sister.
The project was coordinated by their teacher, Talya Suna, and Tova Rosenberg, the founder of the organization Names Not Numbers, for which the film is also titled. The organization, which also maintains a website, has sponsored several film and other multi-media projects to record interviews with Holocaust survivors.
At the beginning of the year, the students were trained by a member of the Names Not Numbers organization as to best practices for interviewing. “They got a new lady to come and she taught us how to correctly interview,” Brown recalled. “We practiced with her (and) she would critique us.”
Then, Millen and Levy made the journey from New Orleans to the Memphis school, where they were filmed digitally and interviewed by Brown.
The class also benefited from a videographer, who came down and showed the students proper techniques for capturing images. The organization brought in all the cameras and all of the technology needed to film and edit the interviews.
The challenge was met rather quickly by the students, who filmed the interviews in the winter, but thought about how the final work might best be rendered. “We waited a few days,” Brown noted “It might have been a week later.”
The interviews fall into three categories: before the war, during the war and post-Holocaust.
One of the most compelling and famous stories Brown learned more about involved a doll. “She didn’t know she was Jewish,” Brown explained. “She really thought she was Christian. Her dad gave her this doll, if she was going to give up her Christian books.”
Brown was pleased that she was able to see and hold that very doll today. “That’s kinda like her token,” she mused.
Brown noted that her grandmother was very fair and looked more Aryan than Jewish, which was why she was able to pass as a Christian child. She said she was sad to hear how her great aunt (Levy) had an entirely different time during the Holocaust, because of her dark, Semitic features.
Levy spent most of her days secreted inside a custom made bureau, making certain to be as quiet and still as possible, so as to prevent discovery.
“She saw her sister going out and living this somewhat normal life,” Brown noted. “And she had to sit in the dark all day. It wasn’t fair to her.”
“Names, Not Numbers” will be shown free to the public at the Gerson Katz Chabad Center of Metairie, 4141 W. Esplanade Avenue, North, on Sunday morning, August 5 at 11:00 a.m.