HOUSTON, TX (Aug. 11, 2011) – A feature-length documentary that tells the story of Jewish immigrants who escaped the Nazis and then returned to fight them in World War II will be screened for the first time in Texas this September at Holocaust Museum Houston.
First-time filmmaker Steven Karras, who directed the documentary “About Face: The Story of the Jewish Refugee Soldiers of World War II,” will discuss the film that chronicles the journey young Jews took from Nazi victims to Allied soldiers following the screening on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Theater at Holocaust Museum Houston’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. Admission is free, but seating is limited and advance registration is required. Visit www.hmh.org/RegisterEvent.aspx to RSVP online. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in film communications, Karras’ research of Jewish World War II veterans led him to German and Austrian Jewish refugees who served as Allied soldiers in the conflict that defined a generation. Their accounts inspired the creation of the 97-minute documentary, "About Face," which focuses on the powerful experiences of the Jewish refugees-turned soldiers, who fought with distinction in the Allied armed forces.
Karras created the documentary after spending more than 10 years conducting approximately 200 interviews with European-born Jewish combat veterans of World War II. He selected 27 for the movie and the accompanying book, “The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II,” released by Zenith Press in 2009. The first-hand accounts of the men and one women offer a unique perspective on the Jewish experience in the global conflict. Karras will sign copies of his 320-page book after the screening.
Karras said he first became interested in Jewish veterans when he was a boy.
“The idea of exploring the subject of German and Austrian born Jewish World War II veterans had been floating around in my head ever since I was 12, when a counselor at my overnight camp told me about his father,” he said. “For years after that, I kept my eyes open for similar stories – stories to read but not record.”
He began interviewing and recording the stories of Jewish veterans in 1998 after watching “Saving Private Ryan,” Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning World War II film starring Tom Hanks as an Army captain searching for the lone surviving brother in a military family.
It is estimated that 10,000 Jews born in Germany and Austria served in the Allied military in World War II, according to the Jewish Journal. Karras chose to focus on the veterans who were in different campaigns in which Jewish refugee soldiers served: from North Africa and Italy to the Normandy invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and the occupation of Germany.
One of those soldiers was Heinz Kissinger, who later changed his first name
to Henry and became the 56th U.S. secretary of state. In an interview with Karras, Kissinger tells the director that he was sent to Europe as a rifleman with the 84th Infantry Division.
“I had the right to arrest anybody I wanted for security reasons, which was a strange reversal of roles,” Kissinger said. “Of course, no German ever claimed to have been a Nazi.”
His remarkable story is just one of many gathered by Karras, who has compiled nearly 1,000 hours of video and audio oral histories and has amassed a large archive of unpublished memoirs, photographs, newspaper articles, family memorabilia and war records.
“I was really lucky to sit down with certain gentlemen and women whose stories had anecdotes that had never been told in the aggregate and needed to be shared: a Jewish commando story liberating his own parents from a Nazi concentration camp, a G.I. in Normandy interrogating a former classmate, or a former refugee who had lost several members of his family in the Holocaust translating and demanding the unconditional surrender of all German forces from top ranking Nazi brass,” said Karras, who is also the co-founder of Beach Street Educational Films Foundation and Buddy Pictures, Inc.
Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum of the American Jewish University is the documentary’s executive producer and wrote the book’s foreword. John Cale composed the film’s musical score and actor Peter Coyote narrated it.
Karras, who is also a screenwriter, is currently working on a screenplay based on the accounts of the individuals he interviewed.
The screening coincides with Holocaust Museum Houston’s new exhibition, “Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War,” curated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City. The award-winning exhibition runs through Dec. 31, 2011 in the Museum’s Mincberg Gallery.
The screening is provided with special thanks to United Airlines, the official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston.
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
Holocaust Museum Houston’s Morgan Family Center is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004. For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.