Howard Chandler remembers well the day his family was expelled from his hometown of Wierzbnik, Poland.
He remembers the exact date — Oct. 27, 1942 (it was a Tuesday).
He remembers it was “a beautiful fall day.”
And he remembers how the family tried to hide his younger brother — the smartest of his siblings, he said — with a Catholic family, and how that family apparently betrayed the boy.
Chandler, now 84 and living in Toronto, displayed his remarkable recollection of his Holocaust experience in a new documentary, “Memory: A Holocaust Survivor’s Story.”
The 51-minute film, produced by Dennis S. Woytek, assistant professor of journalism and multimedia arts at Duquesne University, will be the last of six films screened at the 2012 Human Rights Film Series (subtitled “Dignity & Disgrace”) at Duquesne, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m., Power Center on Forbes Avenue, on the Duquesne University Campus.
The film was made with the support of Classrooms Without Borders, a nonprofit that connects teachers to multicultural experiences, and several other funders.
Woytek will speak at the screening, as will Alan Rosen, an author and lecturer from Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research.
“Memory” is a six-chapter film juxtaposed with an on-camera interview with Chandler, family photos of his early days and death camps, and scenes from a recent trip he made with members of Classrooms Without Borders to Wierzbnik — today known as Starachowice — and the camps where he was imprisoned. Chandler acted as docent on that trip.
The aging survivor vividly recalls details of his early days and his relations with his Christian neighbors, the ghettoization of his community, including the eroding living conditions in Wierzbnik as Jews from other parts of Poland were sent there, then eventually deported to Treblinka, where they were killed. That fate also befell his mother and sister and younger brother following their expulsion, while Chandler, his father and brother were spared to work in a nearby munitions plant.
Chandler actually escaped at one point, but he returned because he knew 10 Jews, including his father and brother, would be shot if he didn’t. He also knew Poles might turn him in for a reward of a bag of sugar and a bottle of vodka.
“This was the worth of a Jew,” he said.
After the war, Chandler feared returning to Poland and reclaiming family property after hearing that other Jews who had done so were shot.
Woytek made the film with the assistance of Jessica Blank a Jewish student and senior digital media arts major at Duquesne.
“Our goal as a documentary film crew was to record the events, the experiences of the group and to record Howard Chandler as he again walked in his footsteps that brought so much sadness more than 67 years ago,” Woytek said in an online statement.
While not the first film about a Holocaust survivor returning to Europe, “Memory” candidly distills the Holocaust experience through the eyes of one man, whose recollection is hardly dimmed by the passage of time.
Perhaps because of his young age — he was 14 when the Nazis sent him to slave labor — Chandler is able describe his experiences as if they were recent occurrences. Whatever the reason, this short documentary is worth viewing.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)