A First-Person Account from Europe
July 18, 2023

In June, filmmaker Philip Paluso and JCRC Senior Associate Amber Maze filmed on-location for Sweet Lorraine in Auschwitz, a feature-length documentary JCRC is producing on local Holocaust Survivor Frank Grunwald. Despite multiple travel issues, they secured amazing footage, met incredible people, and stood in sobering locations.

Their travels began in Linz, Austria. Local historian Angelika Schlakl took them to the Mauthausen concentration camp, where Frank was imprisoned for several weeks after being sent on a death march from Auschwitz. They filmed in the stone quarry and viewed the “Stairs of Death” that weak and starving prisoners were forced to climb. Angelika relayed the camp’s history as they filmed in barracks akin to what Frank would have stayed in, the appellplatz (roll call area), the inmate showers, and the former gas chamber.

Philip and Amber next headed to Prague, Czechia, where Frank’s horrific journey began. Their location manager, Tomáš Vach, guided them to Bubny Rail Station, Frank’s childhood home near the Old Town, and the Jewish Quarter. The following day, they traveled to Terezín (Theresienstadt), an 18th-century fortress turned into a ghetto camp by the Nazis. Terezín served as a propaganda tool for the Nazis to deceive the international community about their treatment of Jews. While imprisoned in Terezín from 1942-1943, Frank often spent his days sketching and making rudimentary carvings out of loose bricks. Prisoners faced a grim reality. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and malnutrition led to widespread disease and death. Philip and Amber filmed throughout the grounds, including a recreation of the living facilities, the former prisons, and the rail line.

After Prague, they traveled to Auschwitz. Their guide, Łukasz Lipiński, took them into the main section of the original camp so they could film the exteriors of the buildings and the artifacts within before tour groups arrived. In Auschwitz II-Birkenau, they went to BIIb, formerly known as the “Czech Family Camp,” where Frank and his family arrived from Terezín in December 1943. Very few structures remain, with the former stove the only thing standing amongst the rubble. They filmed the selection platform, where Frank saw his mother and brother for the last time, the barbed wire fence where Frank desperately tried to throw a coat over to his father, and the remains of the gas chamber where Frank’s mother and brother took their last breaths. This was Amber’s fourth time visiting Auschwitz. This time was incredibly sobering, knowing that this was where Frank suffered and lost his family.

The opportunity to follow in Frank’s footsteps and gather footage was a transformative experience. It allowed us to connect with history, honor Frank’s family, and remember the victims of the Holocaust. This was a journey that demanded reflection, remembrance, and a commitment to fostering an environment that understands and values educating about the Holocaust.

During a time of increased antisemitism and a rise in Holocaust distortion, sharing Frank’s story has never been more critical. Sweet Lorraine in Auschwitz will preserve the memories and experiences of a local Holocaust Survivor and serve as a tool to educate others about the devastating consequences of antisemitism and hate.

This documentary and its accompanying educational curriculum can only be completed with your support. Thanks to a generous matching gift of $25,000 from Steve Jacobs and the Sharon Jacobs Fund, we have secured half of the amount needed to finish this project. JCRC has had many within the community step up to help reach the matching goal, but we still need additional donations to unlock the gift. You can make an impact on Holocaust education and countering antisemitism by giving to this project. For any questions, please contact Amber Maze at amaze@indyjcrc.org.