Last September, award winning German documentary filmmaker Britta Wauer (EGON SCHULZ: A HEROES DEATH, THE RAPPAPORTS, OUR THREE LIVES, and others) spent two months in and around New York researching and filming her first feature length documentary titled GERDA’S SILENCE. I was the NY production manager for this documentary and, upon completion have now had the pleasure to review the film.
Based on German journalist Knut Elstermann’s book of the same title, the documentary was produced by Volker Hahn, of Cologne based production company ZEITSPRUNG ENTERTAINMENT and premiered theatrically in Germany on November 6, 2008.
GERDA’S SILENCE tells the devastating and dramatic life of Gerda Schrage. Born into a Jewish working class family in Berlin in 1920, Schrage was one of the few Auschwitz survivors. Now 88 years old, she resides in New York City.
After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust, Gerda first returned to Berlin at the end of the war and continued to live there until 1947 when she immigrated to New York, leaving her past behind. Since arriving in the US some 60 years ago, Gerda has never talked about her story…
She remained silent about her past until 2005, when Knut Elstermann, the grandson of Schrage’s best friend in Berlin, asked to interview her. During these interviews, which were later published in a book, Gerda Schrage slowly starts to talk about her life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
Britta Wauer’s documentary, based on Elstermann’s book, slowly and very sensitively uncovers, discovers and confronts some of Gerda’s story. Wauer displays her pain, her loss, but also celebrates the strength and courage of this remarkable woman. The film also gives the audience some insight into Gerda’s life since moving to New York.
Upon her arrival in New York, Gerda worked as a furrier, her trained profession, for nearly three decades. She married another Holocaust survivor and had a son, Steven.
Besides recounting Gerda’s life, Wauer also carefully explores how one person’s life-story impacts the life of the next generation. Gerda’s son, Steven, and Knut Elstermann, grandson of Gerda’s best friend in Berlin, present the next generation affected by the fate of the previous.
At one point in the film, Gerda summarizes that she does not regret keeping quiet for long. She is convinced her husband and son would not have understood her at the time. Now, Gerda says she feels liberated having shared her story with the world. She only wished for her son not to feel as anguished. Elstermann, on the other hand, contemplates early on whether his need to tell Gerda’s story was also about his journalistic urge to find a unique story—an important thought that a lot of filmmakers are confronted with when working with someone else’s life story.
In addition to the contemporary footage, Wauer—together with editor Berthold Baule—incorporates a wealth of well researched archival material that beautifully illustrates Gerda’s past in Germany and the US. GERDA’S SILENCE is a quiet film about a soft spoken person and takes the time it needs to tell its painful truth. Filmmaker Wauer succeeds in painting a dignified and respectful portrait of a brave woman who survived against all odds. An important documentary that reminds us that each and every survivor’s life story is a unique one.
For further information on the film, please visit: www.gerdas-schweigen.de