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Michael King


By A. Shmuel, posted Nov 24, 2011

Oneof the highlights of this year’s Rady JCC Tarbut festival was the screening of Emmy award-winning filmmaker Michael King's film The Rescuers, with a question and answer session with the filmmaker King present and moderated by BelleMillo, chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre.
The Berney Theatre was full for the screening of the film, which is the compelling story of 13 European diplomats who worked to save Jews during the Holocaust. Yet, it is also a search for solutions to the horrors of genocide today. Working with Stephanie Nyombayire, a young Rwandan anti-genocide activist, and Sir Martin Gilbert, renowned Holocaust historian, King travels across the globe to interview Holocaust survivors and descendants of the diplomats who rescued tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps. These heroes included, Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese Imperial Consul in Kaunas, Lithuania, who acted against the specific instructions of his government and issued transit visas to 3,000 Jews; Selahattin Ülkümen, the Turkish Consul-General in Rhodes, Greece, who saved some 200 Jews from certain death in Auschwitz, Hiram Bingham the American Vice Consul in charge of visas stationed in Marseilles, France, who, working closely with Varian Fry, of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Bingham was, in part, responsible for saving more than 2,000 Jews. the German trade attaché, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz in Copenhagen who arranged for Sweden to take in over 7,000people; and Raoul Wallenberg, Swedish First Secretary in Budapest, whose efforts helped to save over 100,000 Hungarian Jews. 
As Nyombayire embarks upon this quest in an effort to uncover potential solutions for the ongoing genocide in Darfur and elsewhere, what emerges from the journey is a testament to the ways in which the inherent good in the human spirit can trump institutional evil. It also asks the question: what causes some to take action in extraordinary circumstances such as these, no matter the risk, while others remain silent? Nyombayire pressingly asks an interviewed diplomat, “Why can’t saving lives be policy?"
By highlighting the actions of some of the Diplomats who during the Holocaust risked their lives by going against the ruling authorities, the film begs the questions...”What would you do?” “What is a life worth?”
The film’s theme is heroism, but not the heroism that is applauded with medals. Rather, the heroism that usually takes and/or costs a lifetime to, if ever, be revealed. It’s the behind the scenes stories—the human acts of bravery, courage, and righteousness. For those who enjoy a documentary film, this is a quality piece of work that can add to ones understanding of genocide. It gives a voice and a face to a Rwandan survivor and adds to the historical knowledge of the Holocaust.
Following the film presentation, Michael King took questions from the audience, noting that the “film changed my life.” It was on a trip to Israel and a visit to Yad Vashem that the seeds of inquiry had been planted leading to this being his chosen project. I found he spoke very eloquently to the varied comments and concerns raised by the largely Jewish audience.
When asked about Holocaust deniers, he responded “Ignorance can only be fought with education.”
When asked if he encountered any resistance from the governments of the counties he travelled to, King answered “No, all were very accommodating.’
King also indicated that the US government will be using the film as a tool to educate diplomats, and hoped it would be included in school curricula. During the talkback session, Martin Zeilig asked Belle Millo about enquiring as to whether the film could be included in the educational experience of the planned Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Millo responded that she would follow up on the matter. Millo thanked King for making the film and reminded the audience that “that we have a sacred duty to speak up in the face of injustice and racism and we must never be bystanders.”
Batya Gall, who attended the evening said it was a “very educational film” and “‘worth seeing.” That seemed to be the sentiment of the evening.
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