fbpx
Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Story of Orphaned Holocaust Survivors: ‘The Windermere Children’

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Several books and films have told the story of the 10,000 Jewish children who were spirited out of Europe during World War II on Kindertransport trains to safety in Great Britain. Lesser known is the smaller post-war British mission to rescue Jewish orphans who had survived concentration camps and help them reclaim their lives. The story is the subject of the PBS drama “The Windermere Children.” The title is a reference to a lake in the Lake District of England. The refugees lived there for four months in 1945.

“It’s a redemptive story about these children coming out of a horrendous experience,” screenwriter Simon Block told the Journal. He said his challenge was to strike a balance between history and drama, and endeavor to accurately represent the collective and individual experiences of those involved. Scenes paint disturbing images of life behind barbed wire, depicting the traumatized children trembling in their beds and stealing bread even though there was plenty.

“We didn’t want it to be a miseryfest but we didn’t want to soften it,” Block said. “Windermere was fantastic for the children during the day because they could run around free and take part in activities. But at night, many of them succumbed to horrible nightmares that persisted later in their lives. In the camps, it was survival at any cost, and that doesn’t translate well to society, where you have rules. They had to learn a whole new way of life at Windermere.”

Another challenge was that the Windermere survivors — who today number less than 30 of the original 300 — are elderly, “with recollections that aren’t always consistent. They were only at Windermere for four months, so their memories of it aren’t as clear as their memories of the camps and what happened to them,” Block said. “It was a question of combining their stories in a way that was accurate but allowed different stories to be told in parallel.”

The appeal of the project, he said, was both the little-known piece of history and its relevance today. “It came to my attention at a time when there was a lot of debate in the U.K. about what to do about child refugees from Syria. This [film] shows what can be done if you regard child refugees not as a threat but as people who need help.”

Most of the research had been done before Block was brought on board the project in late 2016, when interviews with survivors continued. Filming took place in 2017 and 2018 in Northern Ireland, standing in for the similar landscape of the real location, a busy tourism destination. (Also, the Calgarth Estate, where the children lived, was demolished in the 1960s.)

“Windermere was fantastic for the children during the day because they could run around free and take part in activities. But at night, many of them succumbed to horrible nightmares that persisted later in their lives.” — Simon Block

Actors Thomas Kretschmann (“The Pianist”), Romola Garai (“Atonement”) and Iain Glen (“Game of Thrones”) play the adult counselors in charge and Polish-speaking actors were recruited for the young survivor roles. Some of the real people whose stories are portrayed in the film appear at its end and we learn that they went on to lead productive and sometimes illustrious lives in England, Israel and America. One survivor became the captain of the British weightlifting team in two Olympics and was knighted in 2008. “Even the ones who have passed away have left children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Block said. “Their legacy has survived. There was a reunion in Prague a few years ago and hundreds of people came.”

A London native and son of London-born parents whose forebears came from Lithuania and Belarus, Block grew up in a “fairly secular” Jewish home, attending synagogue on the High Holy Days and “barely making it through” his bar mitzvah with the aid of a rabbi-recorded haftarah portion. “I’m interested in my heritage to an extent. I’ve been involved in projects about Jewish people that have come my way,” he said, including a stage adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel “Everything Is Illuminated.”

Block began his career in the theater and segued to television and film projects, the World War II series “Home Fires” and the Ben Kingsley film “The Physician” among them. “I like the collaboration aspect of theater but there’s also something very exciting about going onto a film set that your script is responsible for. They’re re-creating what you’ve imagined,” he said. “You get different things from different mediums.” He currently has several new TV projects and one film in early stages of development.

Block hopes those who watch “The Windermere Children” appreciate it both as a story of redemption and its larger message about the value of welcoming refugees. “The approach of the British government then toward refugees stands in stark contrast to the approach now, in this country and all over the world,” he said. “The number of refugees is much larger now and the feeling is negative: ‘We don’t want them here. They take up too many resources.’ [The U.K.] had to be pressured to let any in.”

He noted the patriotism and appreciation of the Windermere refugees, who have given back to Great Britain “for taking them in and giving them the opportunity to renew their lives. You don’t have to be scared of people who want to live in your country. I think that’s a good message to convey.”

“The Windermere Children” premieres April 5 on PBS.

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Home Shalom Monday Message #20

Home Shalom promotes healthy relationships and facilitates the creation of judgement free, safe spaces in the Jewish community. Home Shalom is a program of...

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Jewish Congressional Candidate Alex Morse Faces Allegations of Inappropriate Relationships

He argued that his relationships were consensual but acknowledged that he has "to be cognizant of my position of power."

What Midrash Can Teach Us About Our Current Social and Political Turmoil

There is a lot to be learned from the margins, and from the spaces and silences between words and sentences.

Israeli Protesters in L.A. Call on Netanyahu to Resign

45 Israeli Americans gathered outside the Israeli consulate building on Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood, calling on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.

Culture

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Elton John Says He and Husband Signed Letter Condemning Racism, Anti-Semitism

"There is no room for any kind of prejudice in music, or in society as a whole."

Former Major League Player Cody Decker Says Anti-Semitism Is ‘Rampant’ in Pro Baseball

"I hate every half-measure response Major League Baseball always makes.”

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Virtual Theater: ‘Fugu’ Tells Little-Known Holocaust Story

"Fugu" is based on the little-known history of how Japan sheltered 6,000 Lithuanian Jewish refugees in the city of Kobe, to protect them from the Nazis.

Latest Articles
Latest

Massachusetts Man Arrested for Allegedly Vandalizing Synagogue, JCC

He's also accused of yelling at parents and children at a JCC.

Israel Will Be Happy With President Biden

It is important to remember that in politics, we choose between existing alternatives, not creating our own imaginary world.  

More Than 120 Jewish and Pro-Israel Organizations Call on Facebook to Adopt IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism

"We cannot afford to lose any more time in fighting this bigotry and preventing violence.”

From Iraq, With Love: How to Make the Perfect Sabich

Our family still eats this meal every Shabbat and even if my mother is hosting, I make the eggplant and butternut squash.

Hollywood

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

The Bagel Report: An American Pickle? Sounds Crazy, No?

Erin and Esther dive right into the barrel and pickle their minds in the majestic, artisanal brine that is Seth Rogen's "An American Pickle,"...

Shlomo Fischer: The Jerusalem Protests

Shlomo Fischer and Shmuel Rosner discuss the almost daily protests aking place in Jerusalem. Who are the protesters? Why are they protesting? And how...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x